Basketball: Duncan the destroyer as Pistons are dethroned

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The Independent Online

Tim Duncan led the San Antonio Spurs to their third NBA title, in the decisive seventh game of the finals.

Duncan, named the Most Valuable Player, was superb as the Spurs found the resolve to dethrone the Detroit Pistons with a 81-74 victory. He collected 25 points and 11 rebounds and was the fulcrum of most of the key plays.

Poor performances in the fifth and sixth games of the series had many questioning Duncan's determination but he rescued the Spurs in the third quarter of game seven and controlled the match in the final term.

The Spurs claimed their third title in seven years, also being crowned champions in 1999 and 2003 behind Duncan.

The Pistons were a bitterly disappointed side - even though no team before them had rallied from a 2-0 deficit in an NBA finals series to win a championship, or won the sixth and seventh games on the road in the title series. They came close to pulling off both feats, but the frustration of falling short was obvious in the Detroit locker-room.

"We didn't get it done," Chauncey Billups, the MVP in the 2004 finals series, said. "We're not going home the champs."

One reason they are not is that Billups scored just 13 points on three-for-eight shooting against the Spurs' vaunted defence.

Ben Wallace, the Detroit centre, said: "It's tough anytime you get this close to winning a championship and letting it slip through your fingers,. We let one slip away but you have to tip your hat to the Spurs - they went out and earned it."

After an impressive attacking display in their game-six win, the Pistons could not score freely in the series finale. Richard Hamilton led all Detroit scorers, but he had just 15 points. "You have to take the good with the bad," he said. "We just came up short."

The Pistons were surprise winners over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 championship, but they came into the title showdown this year as the defending champions with higher expectations.

Despite the loss, the Detroit coach, Larry Brown, felt his players had given all they could. "I'm proud of my guys," Brown said. "I'm as proud today as I was on the 16th of June last year [the day they overcame the Lakers]. They [the Spurs] played great, you have to give them credit." Plenty of credit was given to the Pistons from the Spurs' locker-room as well. "They are a great defensive team and they showed a lot of heart," Duncan said. "They made it really tough on you out there."

Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio coach, said at the trophy presentation what he thought of the Pistons and his close friend Brown. "I wouldn't be standing here now if it wasn't for Larry Brown. He's the best," Popovich said. "We just played a great basketball team. I don't know how the hell we did it."

The Pistons may be asking themselves the same question over the summer.