The marketing departments at ABC and the NBA are quietly weeping into their beers. For them, an NBA Finals featuring the champions of the last two years is hardly reason to be optimistic about ratings. Not only are the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons a pair of grimly small-market teams, they feature the two stingiest defenses in the league. For fair-weather fans riding the Heat and Suns bandwagons, this matchup is going to be a slow, ugly grind, but don’t be fooled — we’re not talking about the Nets or the Sixers here. Even if you’re not a fan of great defense, both teams are capable of executing a lovely half-court offense: with Duncan in the middle, the Spurs move the ball as well as any team, and Detroit’s ability to set a forest of picks on every play gets its guards free for lots of open shots. However, even the best half-court game is going to end up on the low-side, scoring-wise, and that was certainly the case tonight, as the Spurs took Game 1 of the 2005 Finals, 84-69.

Most of the previews for the Finals focused on the matchup between guards Manu Ginobili and Rip Hamilton. As most people expected, Manu was picked up by long-armed Tayshaun Prince, while Rip was marked by tough perimeter guy Bruce Bowen, and both had a hard time getting their motors running. The real pairing to watch in the backcourt was at point guard, where Tony Parker and Chauncy Billups took turns showing each other what they can do on offense: Parker weaved through a gaggle of defenders in the lane to get a pile of layups, while Billups used his size to get whatever shot he wanted off, single-handedly keeping Detroit in the game while the rest of its offense went dead cold for long stretches. It took us a while to really see these matchups, though, because the first half was marked by a series of weird substitutions, as coaches Greg Popovich and Larry Brown tried to kick-start their offenses with forgotten players like Glenn Robinson, Devin Brown, and Carlos Arroyo.

San Antonio finally managed to pull away in the 4th quarter, as the triple scoring threat of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili finally got into gear and broke down Detroit’s defense. Manu in particular got off a number of highlight shots over, around, and through whatever defenders the Pistons threw at him. At one point, the cameras zoomed in on a sign held up by a fan that had his face photoshopped onto a picture of a Jedi knight, giving him the name “Obi-Wan Ginobili.” The name is apt: in a series long on defense and short on running, Manu’s flashy, fast-paced game may be the marketing department’s only hope.