Detroit Pistons: Reliving the epic 2005 NBA Finals

Turning back the clock and reliving the Detroit Pistons most recent NBA Finals appearance.

Earning that elusive NBA championship once is eclipsing history, but back to back titles will forever enshrine NBA teams from historic to legendary. That’s what the 2004 defending champion and 54-win Detroit Pistons were en route to do when they met the five-time NBA champions Greg Poppovich and San Antonio Spurs in the epic 2005 NBA Finals.

For the Pistons, it was the second time in as many years they faced elimination in their journey to the Finals. This season, instead of the New Jersey Nets, it was the menacing duo of Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal that propelled Detroit to a 3-2 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat, boasting 59 wins and the best regular season record in the East, were throttled in a 91-66 blowout game 6 at the Palace of Auburn Hills as wounded Dwayne Wade watched in dismay from the sidelines.

Related Story: Ranking the top three performances at The Palace

The Pistons narrowly closed out the series in a game seven in Miami due in part to clutch free throw shooting by Chauncey Billups, and had only two days to prepare for the daunting Spurs in San Antonio.

For the past three seasons, both the Pistons and Spurs placed in the top three in points allowed. In 2005, San Antonio was first, followed by Detroit. The Pistons played more methodical and ran set plays to script efficient shots each trip down the floor.

The Spurs were considered quicker in their tempo and relied on a young and nimble Tony Parker to pilot their system. But it wasn’t just Parker that churned the Spurs. Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry all were equally crucial in Popovich’s dynasty.

Seeking a second title in as many years, the Pistons lured teams in with painstaking pace and relied heavily on the mid-range of Richard Hamilton. Against the Heat in the conference finals, Hamilton averaged nearly 24 points per game.

Hamilton’s motor was always firing, and his iconic curls and cuts in the mid-range catapulted the Pistons offense to success.

Although Hamilton churned, it all started with Mr. Big Shot himself Chauncey Billups. Billups shot a remarkable 42 percent from behind the long line in 2005, and undoubtedly controlled Detroit’s pace.

Tayshaun Prince was the youngest and most versatile athlete for Detroit and Rasheed Wallace solidified the post, with Ben Wallace anchoring the paint. Ben Wallace earned defensive player of the year in 2005, averaging nearly a double double and 2.4 blocks per game.

Arguably Detroit’s most valuable bench player in quite some time was the addition of Antonio McDyess. Averaging eight points and six rebounds per game in the playoffs, McDyess provided a much needed jolt to the second unit.

With all that being said, this was the perfect matchup for that coveted title. Both teams were strikingly similar and the respect between the two was unparalleled. What would occur next would be complete combat between two ferocious-minded defensive prowess’s in a grueling seven game series.

Game One

The start of the 2005 NBA Finals couldn’t have gone better for the defending champions. The Pistons sprinted to a 17-4 lead halfway through the first quarter. Detroit maintained a lead throughout the first half as Billups showed the San Antonio crowd who the 2004 Finals MVP was.

With over six minutes to play in the second quarter, Billups stole an errant pass and jetted down court with numbers. Horry was the only man back and Chauncey left his ankles superglued to the hardwood. A flashy fake behind the back, followed by a lay in that was so silky smooth it has to be seen here:

https://youtu.be/GVmFT-Oijlg?t=217

The Pistons took a two point lead into half time and the teams were deadlocked for most of the third quarter. But as the fourth and final quarter rolled on, an Argentinian by the name of Manu Ginóbili took center stage.

Ginóbili cashed in 15 of his 26 points in the final period and had an array of floaters, dunks and long distance snipes that put the Pistons in a tough position.

Detroit was able to cut the deficit to seven with just over two minutes to go, but Ginóbili swiftly drove through the lane on a one-handed slam and hit a three in front of McDyess that pushed the game away for good.

Billups did come away with 25 points in the opener, but Ginóbili, along with Tim Duncan (24 points, 17 rebounds) were too much for the already gassed Pistons.

Final: Spurs – 84 | Pistons – 69

Also: Did the Pistons just offer J. Cole a job?

Game Two

Although Detroit wanted to make it apparent that they couldn’t afford another defensive let down, they came out rather flat in game two. Ginóbili hit a three pointer over Prince for the first basket of the game as the Spurs took early control quickly.

Detroit didn’t have a plethora of dazzling plays to show for, but Rasheed Wallace’s put back in the first quarter was an absolute jaw-dropper that can be seen here:

https://youtu.be/RJZJzBcSvvI?t=477

San Antonio took a 30-19 advantage into the second quarter and continued to motor into the half with a 58-42 lead. Detroit’s uncharacteristic play haunted them all night as they missed nine shots from within four feet of the basket, to go along an ice cold 0-for-6 from the three point line.

The lone bright spot for the Pistons was McDyess who contributed 15 points. However, Ginóbili (27 points) and Duncan (18 points, 11 rebounds) lit up the scoreboard once more to give the Spurs a commanding 2-0 series lead.

Final: Spurs – 97 | Pistons – 76

Game 3

With the series shifting to Detroit for game three, the Pistons couldn’t have asked for a better start to ignite the Palace of Auburn Hills crowd. After a jump ball violation, Ben Wallace knocked away a pass and galloped down court for a jam plus a foul.

https://youtu.be/o281TWIGpg0?t=6

San Antonio took a six point lead into the second quarter, but a fired up Pistons squad narrowed the deficit to just one at the half. That momentum only enlarged into the second half led by Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups who combined for 44 total points on the night.

The Spurs wouldn’t go away for most of the third quarter but the Pistons punched the gas pedal in the fourth to victory. This was the first time any opposing team scored 90 or more points in a Finals game against the Spurs ever in history.

Final: Pistons – 96 | Spurs – 79

Game Four

If game three was a bounce back, game four was utter dominance. For the Pistons, it was a complete and full-balanced attack led by key reserves in Lindsey Hunter (17 points, five assists) and Antonio McDyess (13 points, seven rebounds).

Detroit ran off with a 15 point lead in the first half and continued to pour it on in the second half. They forced the Spurs to 17 turnovers and 37 percent shooting, and never let San Antonio even think about a possible comeback.

With only four turnovers in the entire game, Detroit set a record in the Finals for taking immaculate care of the basketball. Billups added 17 points and seven assists, and Rasheed Wallace was added to the list of players who hit a three pointer in the series other than Billups.

Final: Pistons – 102 | Spurs – 71

Game Five

Before we begin the recap of this one, there has to be something said. You knew that there was going to be one of these games in this series. There had to be at least one close game where one team was going to fling themselves forward with momentum.

Game five will forever go down as one of the more memorable games in finals history. It was the closest of them all as it was tied on 18 separate occasions.

One of those 18 times happened to be at the break as the game was tied at 42 all. The third quarter was back and forth as Rip and Chauncey steadied the Pistons onto the nail biting fourth quarter.

Now, everyone in Detroit knows about “Mr. Big Shot”, but the Palace got to know in a matter of minutes another big shot nickname. With Duncan having a rather off night, “Big Shot Bob” otherwise known as Robert Horry was poised to land onto the scene.

After Billups hit an extremely difficult fadeaway near the foul line, Horry fired back with a top of the key triple to put the Spurs up by one. Billups came back for two of his 30 points and Duncan continued to struggle as he missed six straight foul shots in the fourth. Ginobili had a chance to win it at the buzzer but missed his lefty lay up, followed by a missed tip in by Duncan as time expired.

In overtime, the Pistons came out firing on all cylinders with Prince and Billups contributing. Rasheed hit an iconic turnaround in the post to Detroit up 95-91 with 1:30 to go. But as painfully as it may seem to watch, here comes “Big Shot Bob” with five gut wrenching points to lift the Spurs and give them a 3-2 series lead.

The dagger was with under 10 seconds left, Wallace trapped Ginobili off the inbound pass and left Horry wide open to let it fly. Prince was late to contest and the series shifted on one shot. The Pistons had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but Hamilton’s shot was off.

https://youtu.be/ZqK7uzHkZls?t=662

Final (OT): Spurs – 96 | Pistons – 95

Game Six

Rasheed Wallace made premiere emphasis on putting game five behind him. He scored six early points and Tayshaun had a catapulting jam with his strong left hand that can be seen here to give the Pistons an early lead.

https://youtu.be/ZIDJIjOZ3Tg?t=140

Later, an alley oop connection between Prince and Wallace charged up the Detroit bench. As resilient as the Pistons were, the Spurs punched and clawed back. In the second half, it was Billups who cashed in on uncontested threes.

Actually, it was Billups and Hamilton who led in the third quarter with 19 points combined on 7-for-11 shooting. Detroit stretched to an 80-73 advantage, but the Spurs bounced back to make it a one point game.

Rasheed came back into the game and hit three clutch shots including a three to make it a five point game with over three minutes left. Hamilton led all scorers with 24 points and the Pistons needed clutch free throws down the stretch to completely seal the deal.

It was first time a road team forced a game seven in NBA Finals history.

Final: Pistons – 95 | Spurs – 86

Game Seven

The treacherous journey that the Pistons endured to get here was history in the making. This team tied the 1994 New York Knicks for the most games ever played in playoff history, and tacked on two overtime sessions as well.

But none of that matters in game seven. Everything can be thrown to the wayside. Just like the previous two games, this one was close throughout. In the second quarter, Ben Wallace had three straight flushes inside to keep the game tied.

He also added a fadeaway jumper in the first that could have been mistaken for Rasheed’s iconic fadeaway. Wallace should never be under toned for his defensive prowess and this particular play has to be recognized. He stonewalls Duncan and then distributes the ball to Prince in the open floor for an easy flush.

https://youtu.be/I09XXn416fM?t=244

McDyess’s bank shot half way thru the third quarter gave Detroit a nine point advantage. But the Spurs would not falter as Duncan carried them back with 10 of the teams final 18 points in the third quarter to tie the game at the end of the period.

With San Antonio hitting back to back triples by Bruce Bowen and Horry, Rasheed Wallace ripped off six straight points to give the Pistons life. Duncan was lethal passing out of the double team late and found Ginobili for a wide open three to give the Spurs their biggest lead of seven with just under three minutes to play.

That proved to be just enough as Ginobili finished with 23 points and Finals MVP Duncan lead all with 25. It was the third time Duncan received Finals MVP honors.

For the Pistons, it would be the last time they’d reach the Finals since 2020 as it’s been over 15 years. Head coach Larry Brown bought out his contract and opened the door for offensive guru Flip Saunders to lead the Pistons to a franchise-record 64 wins the next season.

Winning one championship is a tall task, let alone back to back. The 2005 Detroit Pistons squad was arguably just as good as the 2004 team, and came just a few plays short of earning two Larry O’Brien trophies. Even though the Spurs were champions, the series, and the the opposing team was extremely memorable.

Years later, after all players in that series are well into retirement, Rip Hamilton said something quite bold about the series. After his team knotted the series at two games a piece, he said the Spurs were reeling, and fast.

“This is the first time I’ve ever even talked about it, to be 100 percent honest with you, because it was one of those situations where we knew we had ‘em. We just knew we had ‘em.”

“Years later, I got a chance to play with Nazr Mohammed in Chicago,” Hamilton explained. “Nazr was on that (Spurs) team, and Naz was like, ‘Hey Rip, you don’t understand how mentally broken we were after you guys beat us the first two games in Detroit. We were lost. We thought the series was over.’”
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, when you’re competing against Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and the crew that they had, it was like, alright, you beat ‘em two games, but these guys are going to come back and they’re going to come back harder.’ Not at one point did you think in the back of your mind that these guys were thinking they might lose this series,” Hamilton said.

Obviously the result was quite different as the Spurs lashed back but Hamilton’s words confirm how dominate the Pistons were. For the greater part of the early 2000s, the Detroit Pistons were a team everyone dreaded facing. If above all else, that is what should be recalled and cherished for all Pistons fans.

Next: Second bubble in Chicago reportedly "unlikely"

 

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