Game 1 of the NBA Finals is always a feeling-out process. For the Detroit Pistons, it is a chance to actually breathe a little after a harrowing two-week series with Miami.
The Pistons will be loose and active, while the pressure to win the opening game falls on the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs will be anxious to be on the floor – having rested for eight days since beating Phoenix and winning the West.
The matchups will be interesting to watch. I would expect Gregg Popovich to sic his Doberman, Bruce Bowen, on Richard Hamilton. The Spurs' coaching staff likes to identify one player on the opposition whom it can take out of the equation by defending him with Bowen. Against Denver, it was Carmelo Anthony. Against Phoenix, it was Shawn Marion. Hamilton is the Pistons' best offensive player, so it makes sense to assume Bowen will try to hound him. The series could ride on this matchup.
Detroit has its own defensive stopper, of course, in Ben Wallace. Big Ben will get his chances at Tim Duncan, but I would expect Larry Brown to start Rasheed Wallace on the Spurs' superstar. Rasheed's length bothers Duncan, and putting Ben on Nazi Mohammed will allow him to do what he does best – roam and help from the weak side.
Regardless, Brown will undoubtedly employ at least three and possibly four defenders on Duncan throughout the series. Both Wallaces and Antonio McDyess will play him, and even Elden Campbell could see spot duty. This rotation will help Brown keep his front-court players out of foul trouble.
The guard matchup is fascinating and promises to be electrifying. If Hamilton has to guard Manu Ginobili, will it take away from his offensive output? Or will Larry Brown attempt to use Tayshaun Prince to stop the Argentinian dynamo? Ginobili and Parker penetrate at will, and it's imperative for the Pistons' guards to keep them out of the lane as much as possible. Look for Chauncey Billups to occasionally take Parker down to the post in an effort to make him work defensively.
Off the bench, Robert Horry will play a huge role. He will spend a lot of time defending Rasheed Wallace because he can guard him inside or out with his own length and speed. That matchup will allow Duncan to guard Ben Wallace and stay in the paint to anchor the defense.
The two coaches are best friends and share similar philosophies, so it should be no surprise that the game plans will be similar. Each coach will preach over and over in this series the importance of not giving up fast-break points. These are the two best defensive teams in the NBA, so each one wants to make the other score in the half court. No easy task. That could make for low-scoring, intense battles.
The Pistons can do some damage on the offensive boards. They get a lot of second-chance points because of the speed of their front line, and they are long and active. But if they commit three men to the offensive glass, they must be aware of San Antonio running the ball back at them. Parker and Ginobili are murder when they get the ball in the open floor.
Game 1 will offer a glimpse of what we can expect to see in this series. San Antonio needs to get on the right track. With the 2-3-2 format, the home team's goal is to return for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead, but that could be awfully difficult without a win in the opening game.