SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE. If it happened the other way....the Miami-Phoenix Finals would be....well, hot. The headlines would have read "Heat-Suns Series To Be Scorcher!". And the American Airlines and America West Airlines would fight over their airfares and their arenas [you are now free to roam around the kitchen]. That Finals would have had Shaq, Wade, Nash, Amare and the Matrix. This series features a Tim, Ben, Richard, Tony, Bruce and a Chauncey....although, there is a Tayshawn, Manu and Rasheed in there. So, while the offensive juggernauts are licking their wounds at home....the adage "defense wins championships" holds true again.
SO, DOES THAT MEAN THAT THIS WILL BE A BORING FINALS?? Well....yes. To the average fan...this sucks. Neither the Pistons or Spurs are glamour teams...which is evident by the fact that many people still don't really respect them. To the purist...this should be a nice chessmatch to watch. It won't be traditional, as the defensive matchups will drastically change as substitutions are made. There are two of the finest coaches in basketball roaming the sideline...and neither is full of gimmicks.
WHO HAS THE BETTER DEFENSE?? That is tough. I will still say Detroit. But their defenses do different things. The Pistons rely more on shot blocking and just forcing their man to take tough shots. San Antonio is more of a double team with quick switches defense that like to get into passing lanes and forcing mistakes. The fact that Detroit prefers not to double team gives them an edge.
WHERE IS DETROIT’S ADVANTAGE?? They play a sort of inverse offense at times. Billups can and will post up Parker quite a bit. He is much, much bigger and more physical. If a double team comes in....Rasheed Wallace and Tayshawn Prince can hit perimeter shots.
Also, Rip Hamilton is a huge problem for the Spurs. Rip is constantly on themove...running off screens. And Rip knows HOW to run off screens and reads how his defender is approaching the screens accordingly. Bowen, who most likely will guard him, is one of the best in the NBA in guarding off of screens. He stays physical and reads screens before they get him. On the other end, Hamilton will get to grab a few breaths as guarding Bowen basically consists of not leaving him wide open.
WHERE IS SAN ANTONIO'S ADVANTAGE??? Their bench. Detroit won the title last year with a very potent bench. It isn't the same this year. The Spurs have Brent Barry who can hit for range and knock down his FTs...Robert Horry who does the same...Glen Robinson who, at times, can give you an 8-pt quarter...and Beno Udrih who can hit jumpers. Detroit relies on McDyess, Hunter and Campbell to fill as stop-gaps. Also, the Spurs offense gives them much more flexibility. The Spurs can play a fast-paced game....or play a grind-it-out style.
WHERE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP?? Prince-Ginobili. Most likely , these two lefties will guard each other. Prince, due to his long arms and hops, can play a tad bit off of Manu...forcing him to shoot rather than drive. But Prince is one heck of a close-out defender. Manu will have to use his variety of fakes and flops to try to draw Prince into some foul trouble. If Prince is out...Manu can play. Yeah, Detroit has a myriad of defenders...but I don’t think any of them can check Manu if Prince is out. Ginobili is so great at making plays that most players won’t try to do....which is awkward for defenders to have to deal with.
WHAT’S THE BEST LATE-GAME MATCHUP?? Most likely, Ben Wallace will float around on defense...helping and cleaning up around the paint. But, when the chips are down in the 4th quarter...Big Ben will be checking Duncan. And whomever gets the advantage there may really, really determine who wins each game. Duncan is one of the best players in the league...but Ben Wallace is the best frontcourt defender the NBA has to offer. Because of that, Duncan may not be as double teams as much as he is used to. No double teams means tougher passing lanes for Duncan. Wallace won’t be scared.....dude has been guarding Shaq for the last couple of weeks....so Duncan is going to have to work to get going.
WHAT NON-STARTERS WILL COME UP BIG?? Of course, Robert Horry gets his name mentioned here. The guy has 5 NBA championships and this is his time to shine. He is very active...defends fairly well....smart passer and hits big shots. For Detroit...Lindsay Hunter will be key. He will have to defend the speedy Parker, all the while keeping cool on the offensive end. There are times where Hunter has the ball late in the shot clock and has no idea what to do with it.
HOW IMPORTANT WILL TRANSITION DEFENSE BE?? Very. Neither team is noted for their running....but the Spurs have the ability to do it and the Pistonsrun the break well also. But, the fact that there will be different defensive assignments on each end will cause a bit of confusion on fast breaks. The key is communication and familiarity with their team defense. Both these teams are great team defenders....so this could become a wash.
WHO WILL BE BETTER IN THE CLUTCH?? I’d have to say Detroit. Billups, Hamilton and Prince are all hitting better than 78% from the line [Billups is 88%] in the postseason. Aside from Ginobili and Barry, the Spurs are rather suspect from the line.
HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE?? Don't let the color of the floor fool you. There is no advantage here. The Spurs went into Phoenix and won 3 games....but went just 1-1 at home. Detroit went into Miami and won Game 7. Needless to say that tough crowds won't get in these guys heads. Bomb threats....well, maybe.
PARKER-BILLUPS MATCHUP: I like Billups here. Parker will use his speed to try to get around Billups....but that speed may slow up a bit if Billups is pounding him on the other end.
BOWEN-HAMILTON MATCHUP: I've talked abou this...and, again, Bowen is going to have to disrupt Rip's rhythm. He can score a variety of ways anywhere on the floor. I'm going with Rip.
GINOBILI-PRINCE MATCHUP: I touched on it....but Prince will really have to stick on Manu. Manu will have to try to not worry so much about picking off passes and stealing dribbles as he does about leaving Prince open and not boxing him out. If Manu can keep his head in the game defensively, he could win this battle.
DUNCAN-R.WALLACE MATCHUP: This should be a great matchup...provided fouls don't become an issue. Both are great players from the ACC...but that is where the similarities end. Duncan is calm and cool under pressure. He plays within himself and rarely tried to do too much. Wallace is fiesty and emotional. If things are going his way, he is so tough to stop. But, if the refs get into his head...he can take himself [and his team] out of the game. Duncan says all of the cliches while Guara-Sheed will say whatever to get his guys going. Excellent battle with TD having a slight edge.
MOHAMMED-B. WALLACE MATCHUP: This one is sort of the odd man out. Neither player will worry too much about the other one. Nazr will keep an eye our for Sheed and some posting guards while Big Ben will have one eye dead on Duncan. Late in the game, Mohammed will be on the pine while Horry is in the game...and then the Wallaces will switch. Big Ben wins this battle
WHO WINS?? San Antonio. I picked them in October and I am sticking with it. I think that Ginobili is going to have a great Finals and may end up being the MVP. This isn't to downplay Detroit....but San Antonio ousted Denver [who was regarded as the best 7th seed ever], Seattle and Phoenix [the team with the best record, MVP and Coach of the Year]. Detroit beat up a dumb Philly team, an injured Indiana squard and a very injured Miami. I just think that Detroit relies heavily on forcing mistakes....and the Spurs aren't going to fall into that trap. Spurs in 5 games.