King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Will the real Spurs and Pistons please show up -- on the same night? Plus: Phil Jackson back with the Lakers.

By Salon Staff
Published June 15, 2005 6:22PM (EDT)

If we could just get the San Antonio Spurs from Games 1 and 2 onto the same floor as the Detroit Pistons from Game 3, the NBA Flyover Finals would really have something going.

The Pistons finally showed why they belong in the Finals Tuesday night, blowing open a close game in the fourth quarter to win going away, 96-79. All three games in this series have been routs, the first two going to the Spurs.

Ben Wallace, who had somnambulated through those first two games in San Antonio, came to life back home with five blocks, 11 rebounds and 15 points. Rip Hamilton scored 24 points, backcourt mate Chauncey Billups added 20, plus seven assists, and the Pistons shut down two of the Spurs' big three, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

The Pistons played with energy and fire that had been missing in the first two games, while the Spurs did a Pistons imitation. They were the ones who were flat this time, and they came unraveled in the decisive fourth period, at one point turning the ball over twice in a row against a three-quarter-court press. College-boy stuff.

So it's a series now. The Spurs still lead 2-1, but that looks a hell of a lot different than 2-0. As Al Michaels pointed out repeatedly on ABC, a series can't get any closer than 2-1 after three games, though Michaels, with programming to sell, failed to mention that the Pistons are still in serious trouble.

It's true you can't get closer than 2-1, but Detroit still must win three of the next four games, two of which would be played in San Antonio, where the Pistons looked helpless Thursday and Sunday.

That means they have to either sweep the next two in Detroit, then try to win one out of two in Texas, or they have to try to sweep in Texas after splitting the next two at home. It's hard to say which seems more unlikely, but Eva Longoria grabbing Michelle Tafoya's microphone so she can talk to America about her man Tony Parker seems more likely than either.

So wouldn't it be something to see Ginobili playing like his mad-dog self on the same night that Ben Wallace is playing like his mad-dog self, with the title on the line?

Ginobili started the game with a turnover, a foul and a banged-up knee in the first 30 seconds. He never got going and finished with seven points on only six shots, the first time this playoff season he didn't score in double figures.

The Spurs hung around for three quarters thanks mostly to Tony Parker, the third of the big three, who scored 21, and Brent Barry, who came off the bench to hit 4-of-5 and score 10 points.

Early on it looked bad for the Pistons because they seemed to be playing like gangbusters, dominating the action, igniting the crowd, but every time you looked up they were leading by one point. And toward the end of the first quarter they were trailing by six.

The Spurs, so dominant through the first two games, appeared poised to shrug off the Pistons' fast start and continue on their merry way to a sweep.

But the Pistons wouldn't let them. Antonio McDyess had a monster game off the bench. Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace did just enough to help Detroit's stellar backcourt, and Ben Wallace blocked five shots, all in the first round, on the way to the Pistons blocking 10.

The big news in the NBA Tuesday wasn't Game 3 of the Finals but the Lakers re-hiring Phil Jackson as coach after a year without him. That is what it is, and a great game in these Finals won't change it.

But we're still due for a great game in these Finals. Thanks to the Pistons waking up Tuesday night, we're guaranteed at least two more shots at one.

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Can Phil Jackson turn a team around? [PERMALINK]

The Los Angeles Lakers have re-hired Phil Jackson as coach after a year in the wilderness for both.

Kobe Bryant, whom Jackson called uncoachable last time around, has presumably learned at least part of the lesson of 2004-05, which is that he can't be the whole show. Otherwise Jackson probably wouldn't have signed back on. Bryant was lukewarm about Jackson as rumors swirled, but issued a statement Tuesday supporting the hire.

So for the first time in his career Jackson, owner of nine championship rings, takes charge of a team that's not already a contender. He took over the Chicago Bulls in 1989 and the Lakers in 1999, both teams having been to the playoffs five years in a row.

Red Auerbach, whose coaching record of 10 NBA titles Jackson is chasing, has long downplayed Jackson's achievements because he never had to turn a team around, the way Auerbach did when he took over the woeful Boston Celtics in 1950.

Auerbach never mentions that the Celts' big turnaround happened in a fledgling 11-team league that included the Indianapolis Olympians, the Washington Capitals and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks -- all of whom you've never heard of for good reasons -- but he's an old man and a Hall of Famer so he can get away with some bitchiness.

Anyway, Jackson gets his chance to turn a team around now because the Lakers went 34-48 this year and missed the playoffs by 11 games. They're a poorly constructed club, with lots of small forwards, no center to speak of and a journeyman point guard. And unless they pull off something creative they're hamstrung for the next two years by salary-cap issues.

I think he'll do it. The idea that Jackson won all those championships only because he had superstars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in Los Angeles, that anybody could have won with all that talent, is preposterous. When not playing for Jackson, that quartet has combined to win zero championships, a number I don't think will ever change.

On paper I thought the Lakers would be a fringe playoff contender this year, and they were looking like they might be for a while, but they collapsed after coach Rudy Tomjanovich resigned for health reasons. At the time they were on pace to win 48 games, which would have gotten them the last playoff spot.

The Lakers' cap problems will probably keep them from contending for a title for a while, but they're already a playoff contender again without touching the roster.

Let's see someone claim that anybody could take a team to the playoffs with Chucky Atkins playing 35 minutes a night at point guard.

Previous column: NBA lockout?

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