Maybe I was hasty when I wrote that the Larry Brown vs. Gregg Popovich coaching matchup was a wash. I said I'd take Popovich's no-nonsense approach over Brown's tiresome neuroses, but there was no real advantage for the Spurs.
After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, I'm not so sure. Brown showed off one of his little neurotic quirks Thursday, and while it's impossible to know how much it contributed to the Pistons' 84-69 loss -- maybe not at all -- it sure looked like a good way to go out and get a loss if you were looking for one.
The game was decided not in Brown's tortured psyche but in the fourth quarter when the Pistons wore down and their interior defense got soft, which allowed Manu Ginobili to take over.
Ginobili, held to four points in the first half and 11 by the end of the third period, scored 15 in the decisive fourth quarter, leading the Spurs on a run that eventually gave them a 17-point lead, then driving for a dunk and hitting a 3-pointer to head off a Detroit rally.
Tim Duncan had 24 points and 17 rebounds. Tony Parker, like Ginobili stymied in the paint early, added 17 points. The defense held Rip Hamilton to 7-of-21 shooting.
Brown's neurotic move involved Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons forward picked up his second foul late in the first quarter, and Brown invoked his fussy rule that a second foul before halftime means you sit for the rest of the half. He just won't have one of his players commit a third foul before the break.
So for the entire second quarter, the Pistons did without Prince, who is a great defender and their toughest matchup on offense. In the first quarter, Prince had five points on 2-of-4 shooting, plus three rebounds and an assist. Not a bad quarter. The Pistons, who had led 17-4, had a 20-17 lead when he went out with six seconds to go. That's how the quarter ended.
In the second quarter, with Prince on the pine, the Pistons were outscored only 18-17. So it didn't hurt not to have Prince in the game.
But what might have happened if Prince were in the game? The Spurs had gone on a 14-3 run to get within three, but the run was over and the game had leveled off. The second quarter was pretty even, with the Pistons stretching the lead out to six and seven points and the Spurs drawing close again each time.
Most of Prince's minutes went to Carlos Arroyo, who was ineffective, hitting 1-of-2 shots and committing two fouls and a turnover in the quarter, leading halftime commentator Bill Walton to ask the reasonable question, "Why is Carlos Arroyo even in the game?"
Because Larry Brown has a rule!
With Prince in the game rather than Arroyo, maybe the Pistons would have built a 10-point lead in the second quarter, making for a very different second half.
Also, what might the rest of Prince's promising night have been like if he hadn't been shut down for an hour?
He came out of the game at 8:52 p.m. CDT. The third quarter began, with Prince finally back on the court, at 9:50. In the second half Prince scored six points on 2-of-8 shooting and had two rebounds and three assists.
He might have had a lousy second half anyway. We'll never know. All we know is he had a good first quarter, then he sat for an hour, then he had a lousy second half.
Brown's foul trouble phobia can make him an opposing coach's best friend -- even if he and the opposing coach weren't already the best of friends, as he and Popovich are. Get one of the Pistons frontcourt men in "foul trouble," meaning two fouls before halftime, and he'll take him out for you and replace him with a journeyman reserve. What a guy.
And for what purpose? Players are allotted six fouls, or one every eight minutes. When you have two fouls, you're not in foul trouble anymore after the fourth minute of the second quarter. You're fine. You're on your way to not fouling out.
But Brown can't stand the idea that you'll get your third before halftime, though he'll put you in to start the third quarter, as if there were any real difference between picking up your third foul in the 24th minute of the game and picking it up in the 25th.
Brown is afraid one of his players might foul out and miss some minutes later, so he sits him down and forces him to definitely miss some minutes now. Maybe this strategy won't ever decide a game, but in what figures to be a tight series, the slightest edge could make a difference, so if I'm on the other bench I'm loving it.
I'll take an opponent as good as Tayshaun Prince definitely not playing over maybe not playing every time.
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Spurs in 7? Readers write [PERMALINK]
Here are a few letters in response to my Flyover Finals prediction, the Spurs in seven.
Stephen Smith: You make a good argument for the Spurs winning the series, but after seeing the way the Pistons pulled out the series against the Heat, I think I'm going to have to adopt your philosophy on the New England Patriots: Until someone shows that they can be beaten in a do-or-die game, don't bet against the defending champs.
And I figured that I should send this in and go on record before the Series starts!
King replies: I appreciate that refreshing approach.
Andy Pearlman: How do you see it going seven games? The Pistons have almost no bench to speak of and they barely beat a team that had every starter injured. Wade doesn't take that rushed 3-point shot near the end of Game 7, it could have very well been the Heat playing in the Finals.
Brown's a fabulous coach and all, but the Pistons had a lot of trouble getting out of the East. I don't see how the best team in the West is going to have that many problems with them. Five seems about right.
King replies: If Game 1, played after your letter was written, was any indication, you're looking pretty good. But we'll see. As Stephen Smith notes and I learned last season, you write the Pistons off at your peril.
Charisse Waugh: San Antonio over Detroit in Seven?! Call me when you graduate from prediction school. Detroit in seven; maybe even six.
No Way Ginobili will be manic against the Pistons. Rasheed is too savvy for Nazr: Billups too big for Parker: and Hamilton too conditioned for Bowen to wear down -- I take Detroit in a Game 7 over the Spurs any day. Detroit is fearless and unflappable in a crunch. The Spurs are great, but do they have Detroit's mettle? I think not.
King replies: I'm self-taught.
Hallur Örn Jónsson:I agree with your assessment of the Finals and that the Spurs are the best team in the league. Still I find it amusing that you seem to have conveniently forgotten that you predicted that the Mavericks would win this year.
King replies: What do you mean I conveniently forgot? I never said the Mavs were the best team in the league, did I? I just said at the beginning of the playoffs that I thought they'd win the championship. I also predicted, on Nov. 1, that the Spurs would beat the Pistons in the Finals.
It's a goal of mine to someday predict, at some point in a single season, that every team in the league will win the championship that year.
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