AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – At times during Larry Brown’s sleepless night, the Detroit coach probably blamed Rasheed Wallace for the defensive mix-up that led to Robert Horry’s winning 3-pointer in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
But on Monday morning, Brown refused to criticize his star forward in public – even though he reminded his players “about 25 times” to prevent the Spurs’ best clutch shooter from taking a 3-pointer.
“Ultimately, maybe we didn’t say it enough,” Brown said at the Pistons’ training complex before their flight to San Antonio for Game 6 on Tuesday night. “That’s coaching. I just think it was a great player trying to make the right play. … I don’t want any one guy to take any (blame) personally. This is not track and field. This is a team sport.”
Many Pistons fans didn’t see it that way after Wallace inexplicably tried to double-team Manu Ginobili in the corner. Horry, who inbounded the ball with 9.6 seconds left, got the return pass and hit his fifth 3-pointer of the night, leading to San Antonio’s 96-95 victory.
“I guess there was miscommunication,” Brown said – careful not to say much more.
Callers to local talk-radio shows had plenty to say, flooding the airwaves with calls for Wallace’s head. Though his defense on Tim Duncan has been superb, the forward hasn’t been impressive with the ball in the series, scoring less than 13 points a game.
Wallace is widely credited with transforming the Pistons into a championship contender last season, though he only averaged the same 13 points a game. Detroit has received more benefit from his defense and his indomitable attitude.
“Our spirits are still high,” Wallace said Sunday night in his typically brief postgame comments. “In order to win this series, you’ve got to win four games, not three.”
By the time Horry’s decisive 3-pointer hit the bottom of the net, it was past the bedtimes of most of North America’s children – and Horry is among the players and coaches who would prefer to play the Finals games a bit earlier.
“I hate that the games are so late,” Horry said. “I’m mad when I get home and I can’t get anything to eat. I can’t find any restaurants that are open. I think they should be at 7:30.”
Every game in the series has started after 9 p.m. EDT – including Game 1, which featured an elaborate pregame musical number. Game 5 went to overtime at 11:59 p.m.
The NBA believes its television ratings benefit from the late starts. Horry isn’t so sure.
“I’d be turning the TV off, going to bed and watching David Letterman or Jay Leno,” Horry said.
If the San Antonio Spurs win one of the series’ final two games, they’ll rescue point guard Tony Parker from the memory of another embarrassing performance in the Finals.
Parker has been soundly outplayed by Detroit’s Chauncey Billups in the first five games of the series. Parker scored 14 points in Game 5, but just two after halftime – and his defense on Billups was so poor that the Spurs had to use Manu Ginobili against the Pistons’ point guard.
San Antonio won despite Billups’ 34 points, keeping Parker off the hot seat for another day. Though he’s averaging 14.8 points, he has just 18 assists in the series.
Parker has an abnormal amount of playoff experience for a fourth-year pro who turned 23 last month.
He has been in 65 playoff games, including 21 this season – and he was outstanding in last season’s playoffs, averaging 18.4 points and seven assists. He had his best pro statistics this year, averaging 16.6 points and 6.1 assists during the regular season.
But in his two trips to the NBA Finals, he has struggled to keep up with the league’s elite point guards.
Two years ago, he took on New Jersey’s Jason Kidd – and though he played well in the first three games, he scored just 21 points in the final three, also playing sub-par defense. In the Spurs’ clinching victory over the Nets, he split playing time with Speedy Claxton, who played all the important minutes.
Around the Finals
The Finals have been tied 2-2 on 23 previous occasions. The winner of Game 5 has gone on to close out the series in Game 6 just 10 times, but they’ve only lost the final two games six times.
“Horry tied his career high for a Finals game, set in Game 4 of the 1995 Finals with Houston against Orlando. Horry is hoping to join John Salley as the only NBA players to win championships with three different teams.
“Detroit has lost all three of the overtime Finals games in franchise history. … The Pistons used just seven players in Game 5 – the first time a team used so few players since Game 6 of the 1992 Finals, when Portland used just seven in a loss to Chicago.
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