Manu Ginobili started the game's decisive surge by bowling over Ben Wallace early in the fourth quarter Thursday, a play that resulted in a disputed foul on Wallace and started the San Antonio Spurs on their way to an 84-69 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Argentine-born Ginobili had an awesome second half, especially in the fourth quarter when his drives into the lane produced several impressive baskets. Ginobili shot 9-for-10 in the second half and led all scorers with 26 points.
"I struggled in the first half so I was very upset. I tried to come back with more energy and more aggressiveness," Ginobili said.
Tim Duncan added 24 points and 17 rebounds and Tony Parker scored 15 points for the Spurs, who recovered from an early 13-point deficit to win the opener of the series -- only the third time in NBA history the past two champions have squared off in the finals.
Game 2 is Sunday night, and in all likelihood it'll be another defensive-minded, grind-it-out game. At least that's what this one was until Ginobili started doing his thing.
The third-year guard shot 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter to help San Antonio outscore the Pistons 29-16 over the final 12 minutes.
"Manu had one hell of a night, and we did play good `D' in the second half. We boarded well, so we put ourselves in position where we could win a basketball game, but offensively, it was Manu Ginobili. He was something else," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Neither team scored more than 20 points in any of the first three quarters.
The point total tied for the fourth-lowest in the finals in the shot clock era, eight off the record set on April 7, 1955, when Fort Wayne beat Syracuse 74-71. The Pistons' 69 points were the third-lowest in the finals, 15 off Utah's total in a 42-point loss to Chicago on June 7, 1998.
San Antonio began to pull away after Wallace was called for the technical foul for ripping off his headband and complaining after he was called for the blocking foul when he thought it should have been a charge on Ginobili.
Ginobili's free throw started a 5-0 run that ended with him driving the lane and again flattening Wallace -- this time with nothing called -- to make it 60-53. Two more drives into the lane ending in baskets followed during a 7-0 run, Ginobili drawing a foul against Richard Hamilton on the second one and completing the three-point play for a 67-55 lead with 7:38 remaining.
It was 74-57 before Detroit had a 10-0 run to quiet the Spurs' home crowd, but Ginobili brought them back to life by driving the lane for a left-handed dunk and then knocking down a 3-pointer with 2 minutes left.
Chauncey Billups scored 25 points to lead the Pistons.
Hamilton shot 7-for-21 and scored 14 points for the Pistons, who missed at least a half-dozen layups before Wallace lost his composure to shift the momentum squarely to the Spurs.
Everybody expected defense to dominate the finals, and even the historic lows of Game 1 didn't surprise the players who caused them.
The clubs' 153 total points and the Detroit Pistons' 69 points were the lowest totals in an opening game of the NBA's final playoff round since 1954, when Minneapolis beat Syracuse 79-68. Only two teams ever scored fewer points in a finals game than Detroit did in the face of San Antonio's aggressive "D."
But the game wasn't a one-sided whitewash, or the result of a dismal shooting night by either team. The NBA's top two defensive teams during the regular season simply played their usual tough-nosed basketball, and the 84-69 final score was a fitting result.