The defending champion Detroit Pistons summoned the energy they had been missing in the first two games, and the NBA Finals took a completely different turn, too.
Playing with a furious vigor that was nowhere to be found in San Antonio, Ben Wallace and Richard Hamilton led the way as the Pistons dominated the final 14 minutes and defeated the Spurs 96-79 in Game 3 Tuesday night.
Television ratings have been down and interest has been low, but the best-of-seven series suddenly looks much more competitive and a little more compelling.
"I think we figured out how hard we have to play," coach Larry Brown said.
No longer is there a chance for a sweep, and never again will anyone question whether the Pistons can even play with the likes of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Co.
Ginobili got hurt in the game's first 30 seconds was a non-factor for the first time in the series, and Duncan could not match the energy or enthusiasm generated by Wallace, the Pistons' Defensive Player of the year. Wallace's dunk with 4:27 left gave Detroit ia 15-point lead at 88-73 and the Pistons held on easily from there.
Now, the Pistons will look to even the series at 2-2 in Game 4 on Thursday night and ensure a trip back to Texas.
Hamilton scored 24 points, including 10 in the third quarter when Detroit took the lead for good, and Chauncey Billups added 20. But although the Pistons got most of their points from their backcourt tandem once again, they were anything but a two-man team.
Wallace had 15 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and three steals, and Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess each added 12 points.
Detroit became the first team to score 90 points against the Spurs in 13 NBA Finals games, putting together the type of poised, pumped-up performance they hadn't displayed since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Miami.
Detroit had lost by 15 and 21 points in the first two games of the series, but they ditched the downtrodden demeanor that contributed to their undoing in Games 1 and 2.
"You know, tonight we really came out here and took care of business at home," Hamilton said. "We defended, we helped each other out and we got a win."
Everything about the Pistons was different, from their defensive intensity to their dedication in terms of getting more people involved on offense. Hamilton was more assertive in shaking off the pesky defense of Bruce Bowen, Prince was much more effective limiting Ginobili, and Wallace seemed especially motivated to put two very sub-par performances behind him.
"He was great. He played with energy and got their crowd into it," Duncan said. "Their aggressiveness was up, and that in itself fueled what they were doing."
Wallace blocked his five shots in the first quarter alone, and he had half of Detroit's offensive rebounds in the first half when Detroit had a 24-12 edge in points in the paint and an 11-0 advantage in fast-break points.
He set the tone right from the start, stealing the opening inbounds pass after he was called for a jump ball violation, then racing downcourt for a dunk and a three-point play.
Wallace ended an eight-game streak of scoring in single digits and a five-game streak with fewer than 10 rebounds.
Ginobili went down just a few seconds later, bruising his left thigh in a collision with Prince just 21 seconds into the game.