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Published: Wednesday, 6/15/2005

Ben returns to form just in time to save Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - This was exactly what the Detroit Pistons needed.

The Pistons needed to strike the first blow against the San Antonio Spurs last night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. They needed to find out what works and stay with it.

The Pistons needed to know that things are never as bad as they seem.

More than anything else, the Pistons needed to feel good about themselves again.

Mission accomplished.

Now, do it again.

Detroit 96, San Antonio 79 at the Palace was a breakthrough of major proportions for the Pistons.

The Pistons made the Finals a series again with San Antonio leading 2-1, instead of the laugher it was threatening to become.

For 48 intense, spine-tingling minutes, the Pistons were the Pistons again.

In other words, look out San Antonio.

The Pistons did to San Antonio at the Palace what San Antonio did to the Pistons at the SBC Center.

The Pistons outplayed, outworked and outhustled the Spurs.

The Pistons finally shut down Manu Ginobili, who had shut up the Pistons by averaging 26.5 points and leading San Antonio to a 2-0 series lead. Ginobili was held to seven points.

On the game's opening play, Ginobili threw a pass that was intercepted by Ben Wallace. Big Ben dribbled down court, dunked ferociously, drew the foul and gave the Pistons a 3-0 lead.

Ginobili suffered a leg injury on the next play and limped off the court. He would return, but Wallace's early three-point play inflicted more damage to San Antonio's psyche than any physical pain Ginobili may have felt.

San Anotnio coach Gregg Popovich conceded as much. With the Pistons leading 92-77 and just over two minutes remaining, Popovich lifted Ginoboli, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

Wallace, who left to a standing ovation, made the Pistons go last night.

He isn't the Pistons' most talented player, but in terms of setting the table and clearing the dishes, he's their most valuable player.

Wallace, for whatever reason, had played like Mike Wallace in the first two games, averaging 7.0 points and 8.0 rebounds.

Wallace was everywhere last night.

He thought he had won the opening tap, but when the officials awarded the ball to San Antonio, Wallace swiped the inbounds pass from Ginobili, setting his three-point play in motion.

A short while later, he rejected a Duncan shot. He threw down another thunderous dunk.

All within the first five minutes of the game.

Wallace made more big plays in the first quarter of Game 3 than he made in Games 1 and 2 combined.

Talk all you want about Rasheed Wallace needing to bring his "A'' game against the Spurs.

Debate, if you must, the merits of Richard Hamilton locating his shooting stroke.

To beat San Antonio last night, the Pistons needed Ben Wallace at his absolute best. He was exactly what the Pistons needed.

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