SAN ANTONIO - There is no bigger stage in the world of basketball than Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The lights don't shine any brighter than this.
Game 7 stands alone.
"You either win it all, or you go back home with nothing," San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili said yesterday. "The whole season becomes one final game."
When it comes to drama, tension and anticipation, Game 7 is the most fitting way to crown a champion, separating the best from the very best, and doing it all under a winner-take-all format.
It's the purest thing in sports.
"It's like a last-man-standing kind of thing," said Spurs forward Robert Horry. "You can't hide. It's the ultimate pressure game. But you know what they say about pressure. It can burst a pipe. Or it can make a diamond. It can heighten your awareness, or it can make you shrivel up."
Horry will be the only player in the game tonight who has played in an NBA Finals Game 7. He did it in 1994 for the Houston Rockets when they beat the New York Knicks, the last time the NBA had a Game 7 championship.
For Horry, it was his first of five NBA titles. In Game 7, New York's John Starks made just two of 18 shots, sinking his team as he fired away.
"To play in a game like this, it's a dream game," said Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, who played in a Finals Game 7 for Detroit but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988. "This is what every kid playing basketball envisions, being in a Game 7. It's a special, special game, but it's all about how you respond."
Although these Pistons haven't been here before - they won the title last season in five games - they have gone through the fun of other playoff Games 7s.
They beat the Orlando Magic in a first-round Game 7 in 2003. They beat the New Jersey Nets in a conference semifinal Game 7 in 2004. And they beat the Heat - in Miami - in the Eastern Conference finals Game 7 this year.
They also have Larry Brown, one of only two coaches in league history to win two or more playoff Game 7s away from home.
"These kind of pressure games, I just love them," said Detroit point guard Chauncey Billups. "But I'm not going to get too high or too low. We're still the defending champions. We've been down this road before."
The Pistons are trying to become the first team since 1977 to lose the first two games of the Finals and rebound to win the title. They also are trying to become the first team in league history to win the Finals by winning games 6 and 7 on the road.
They beat the Spurs, 95-86, in Game 6 on Tuesday night, their first win in San Antonio since 1997. But that was only after the Pistons lost Game 5 in Auburn Hills, Mich., on a late three-point binge by Horry.
The Spurs, despite winning the NBA title in 1999 and 2003, have no Game 7 experience at any level of the playoffs. Yet they do have home-court advantage tonight.
"I've never been in a Game 7," said Spurs star Tim Duncan, a two-time Finals Most Valuable Player. "I'm just excited about it. There is a lot of nervous energy, and too long until the game is going to be here."
The Spurs yesterday tried to discount their lack of Game 7 experience, believing that the home court will override any pressure they feel.
"I don't look at records or percentages or who has won Game 7s and all that kind of stuff," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "We'll go through the same routine we do for every game. You won't really feel the pressure. You just do your job."
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Game 7 tonight
Matchup: Detroit Pistons vs. San Antonio Spurs in deciding game of NBA Finals
Site: SBC Center, San Antonio
TV: Chs. 2, 7