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Before the season even began, changes were afoot in the NBA. The Charlotte Bobcats participated in their first season, prompting the league to expand to three divisions in each conference. The New Orleans Hornets, who seemed to be an odd fit in the Central Division, moved to the West and joined the Southwest Division. In all, three new divisions were formed: the Northwest, Southeast and Southwest.
Steve Nash, a free agent in the summer of 2004, went from Dallas to Phoenix. Meanwhile, Lakers big man Shaquille O’Neal was traded from L.A. to Miami. Both players subsequently took their teams to new-found heights once the 2004-05 season tipped off.
Nash set the league ablaze with a frenetic pace that resulted in a league-best 62 regular-season wins for the Phoenix Suns and an MVP award for Nash. Out in Miami, O’Neal teamed with young star guard Dwyane Wade to help Miami up its win total by 17 games and take hold of the No. 1 seed in the East.
The season was marred on Nov. 19 by an ugly brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, in Auburn Hills, Mich., between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. The fight spilled into the stands and would later become known as the “Malice at the Palace.” Nine players — most notably the Pacers’ Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal and the Pistons’ Ben Wallace — were suspended for a total of 146 games, which also sparked numerous lawsuits and other legal challenges. Artest, the first player into the stands, was suspended for the remainder of the season.
Once the playoffs began, Miami and Phoenix held form and eventually found their way to their respective conference finals. But the fundamentally sound and slower-paced San Antonio Spurs would eliminate Nash and the Suns in six games. In the East, Miami pushed Detroit to a Game 7, but Wade struggled mightily after missing Game 6 with a rib injury and the Heat lost 88-82 at home. The stage was set for a Pistons-Spurs NBA Finals.
The back-and-forth series was tied 2-2 before Robert Horry of the Spurs delivered a vintage clutch performance in Game 5. He finished with 21 points, scoring all of them in the final 17 minutes of the game and capped off his night with a 25-foot 3-pointer that gave the Spurs a 96-95 overtime win. Behind the steady play of eventual Finals MVP Tim Duncan (who averaged 20.6 points and 14.1 rebounds in the series), the Spurs closed out Detroit in Game 7 for their third championship in the Duncan era.
Eastern Conference first round
Detroit defeated Philadelphia (4-1)
Indiana defeated Boston (4-3)
Miami defeated New Jersey (4-0)
Washington defeated Chicago (4-2)
Western Conference first round
Dallas defeated Houston (4-3)
Phoenix defeated Memphis (4-0)
San Antonio defeated Denver (4-1)
Seattle defeated Sacramento (4-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Detroit defeated Indiana (4-2)
Miami defeated Washington (4-0)
Western Conference semifinals
Phoenix defeated Dallas (4-2)
San Antonio defeated Seattle (4-2)
Eastern Conference finals
Detroit defeated Miami (4-3)
Western Conference finals
San Antonio defeated Phoenix (4-1)
San Antonio defeated Detroit (4-3)
Points — Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers (30.7)
Assists — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (11.5)
Rebounds — Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves (13.5)
Steals — Larry Hughes, Washington Wizards (2.9)
Blocks — Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz (3.3)
FG% — Shaquille O’Neal, Miami Heat (60.1)
FT% — Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers (93.3)
3PT% — Fred Hoiberg, Minnesota Timberwolves (48.3)
Most Valuable Player — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
Rookie of the Year — Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats
Defensive Player of the Year — Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
Most Improved Player –Bobby Simmons, L.A. Clippers
Sixth Man of the Year — Ben Gordon, Chicago Bulls
Coach of the Year — Mike D’Antoni, Phoenix Suns
All-Star Game MVP — Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers
Finals MVP — Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs