San Antonio Spurs: The toughest NBA championship, a retrospective

By Maitland Rutledge
San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili during a game against the the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on November 7, 2005. (Photo by Bill Smith/WireImage)
San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili during a game against the the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on November 7, 2005. (Photo by Bill Smith/WireImage) /

Of the San Antonio Spurs’ five NBA championships, which one was the most challenging?

Throughout NBA history, there have been great finals matchups. The San Antonio Spurs have played against tough teams in its five NBA championships series, but one turned into a classic battle. In 2005 San Antonio met the defending champion Detroit Pistons in the Finals, who pushed them to seven games.

The Pistons were coming off of an improbable championship run. In 2004 they beat the favored Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. Detroit defeated Los Angeles in five games to win their third championship. Led by Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace, Detroit was looking for back-to-back championships in 2005.

It was already shaping up to be an epic finals battle in the first game. Detroit jumped out to an early lead but led by Manu Ginobili’s 26 points, San Antonio took Game One 84-69. Game Two was more of the same. Ginobili finished with 27 points and Tim Duncan finished with 18 as the Spurs blew the Pistons out 97-76.

Heading to Detroit up 2-0, the Spurs were looking to put a stranglehold on the series. The Pistons proved to be better on this night. Hamilton and Billups put up 44 combined points and Detroit blew San Antonio out 96-79 in Game Three. It got even worse for the Spurs in Game Four. The Pistons came out firing on all cylinders again with Billups and backup point guard Lindsey Hunter dropping 17 points each. This proved to be the most lopsided game of the series as Detroit won 102-71.

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With the series tied at two and another game at the Palace, San Antonio was looking for answers. They got one in the form of forward Robert Horry. Horry became a playoff hero for the Lakers during their championship run in 2002, burying a game-winning three against the Sacramento Kings in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals. He resumed his role late in Game Five. After a close battle all night, the game went into overtime. With five seconds left, Horry hit a three-pointer from the left to win it 96-95. He finished with 21 points and went 5-6 from beyond the arc.

After a dramatic win and up 3-2, San Antonio looked to have all the momentum going back home for Game Six. Detroit would not surrender their crown easily as they managed to pull away in the fourth quarter. Hamilton led the way with 23 points and the Pistons kept their season alive with a 95-86 win.

Now it was all or nothing in Game Seven. It was another tightly-contested one throughout. With over seven minutes to go in the third quarter, San Antonio trailed by nine and Detroit looked like they were about to blow the game open. Duncan helped the Spurs climb out of the hole and the game was tied going into the fourth. Duncan continued to step up along with Ginobili and the Spurs prevailed 81-74. Duncan was named MVP of the finals and San Antonio won their third championship in franchise history.

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While the Spurs have faced good competition in all of their championship series, the 2005 finals against Detroit stands out from the rest. There was so much talent on both teams and it went to seven games. This finals series should be considered one of the best in NBA history.