The NBA finals were a seven-game series that boiled down to a three-gamer that boiled down to a one-and-done that, tied 57-all after three quarters, boiled down to 12 minutes of basketball. That’s not quite true, though: the turning point was halfway through the 3rd quarter. Tim Duncan had been dogged for a week by doubts about his ability to come through in the clutch. Having failed to score for most of the quarter, he put the ball up through a double-team, and it bounced off the rim; he grabbed the offensive rebound, pump-faked, and put the ball in the hole, drawing a foul. Then — and you could see the monkeys flying off his back as he shot it — he hit the free throw. There was no denying it after that: Tim Duncan was unstoppable for the rest of the game, and although Detroit kept it close, San Antonio never let them get close enough, rolling to an 81-74 win and a 4-3 series win to get their third set of rings in seven years.

It was a much better game than the gruesomely low score would suggest; certainly better than the last Finals Game 7, in which we were subjected to John Starks’s meltdown for the ages. It helps that Manu Ginobili was finally able to go off, at last getting a few of the acrobatic, highlight-reel drives that have become his trademark. Tony Parker and Brent Barry didn’t do much in this game (or in this series, really), but their lack of contribution was cancelled out by weak outings on the part of Detroit’s backcourt rotation of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Lindsay Hunter.

The Pistons’ frontcourt was what kept them in the game, and really in the series. In addition to repeatedly cutting off drives by Parker and (for most of the game) Ginobili, the two Wallaces and Antonio McDyess gave Detroit some sorely needed scoring. In fact, while Tim Duncan deserved his Finals MVP trophy simply for not cracking under the pressure, this series kind of makes me wish that the award could be given to a player from the losing team, because Ben Wallace morphed into a different player over the course of the last five games. In addition to his fantastic defense, he seemingly overnight developed a scoring game that, if the guards had been able to shoot at their normal rates, would have easily put Detroit over the top.

At any rate, we enter the long dark period between NBA seasons, with only women’s basketball and a whole ton of baseball around to tide us over until next fall. At least we’re sure that there’ll be a season next season, thanks to the fact that unlike the fools running the NHL, David Stern and Billy Hunter know what side of the bread their butter is on — and that side doesn’t involve a lockout.