SAN ANTONIO (AP) – In the end, it didn’t really matter whether the true MVP of the Finals was Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili. The big winners were the San Antonio Spurs.

The confetti had been swept away Friday from the downtown streets where thousands partied into the wee hours of the morning following San Antonio’s Game 7 victory over the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

What remained was the Spurs’ legacy.

For Duncan, it’ll be a summer of basking in redemption after he put together his strongest quarter of the Finals, a series-altering 12 minutes that negated an otherwise pedestrian effort for a player of his caliber.

For Ginobili, it’ll be a chance to enjoy the latest accomplishment in a career defined by his uncanny knack for winning.

For the rest of the NBA, including the Pistons, it’ll be a summer of trying to make the right moves in an effort to elevate to the level that the Spurs reached for the third time in seven years.

“We just have to remember this feeling, remember how it feels to lose with somebody celebrating in front of us,” Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said.

“I’m sure that we’ll be back here again.”

Duncan won the Finals MVP award over Ginobili by a vote of 6-4, with ballots cast by four beat writers from Detroit and San Antonio, two broadcasters, three national NBA writers and fans who voted online.

The wisdom of that choice was an object of debate in the hours following San Antonio’s 81-74 victory, with Ginobili’s backers arguing that he was the Spurs’ best player in Games 1 and 2, and in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Ginobili also was the one who threw the pass to Robert Horry for the game-winning shot in overtime of Game 5.

Duncan’s 12 points and six rebounds in the third quarter of Game 7 put the Spurs in control, a factor that must have weighed heavily in the minds of those voters who cast their ballots late in the fourth quarter of the final game.

“I don’t know if it was about the critics. I doubt that he knew anybody was criticizing him, because he’s not that kind of guy who’s going to be worried about what people say,” Ginobili said. “But he always feels so responsible, he’s so hard on himself every time that he doesn’t play that good. I knew sooner or later he was going to show up, especially down the stretch.

“That shows the character and the type of player he is, so I’m very, very proud to be his teammate.”

The championship was the latest in a long list of accomplishments for Ginobili, who won an Olympic gold medal last summer, an NBA title in 2003 and Italian League MVP awards in 2002 and 2001.

A larger segment of the global population gained an appreciation for his special talents during the Finals, and his partnership with Duncan should make the Spurs the odds-on favorite to repeat as champions in the 2005-06 season.

It’s up to the other 29 NBA teams to find a way to catch up to the Spurs, a process in which the next step comes Tuesday with the draft. The Milwaukee Bucks hold the first pick, and the Los Angeles Lakers – with Phil Jackson back at the helm – will have a lottery pick to add a young talent to their core led by Kobe Bryant.

The Phoenix Suns, who finished the regular season with the league’s best record behind MVP Steve Nash, are already at work trying to find a big man to help them better compete with Duncan in the Western Conference. Talks with the New York Knicks about a Kurt Thomas-Quentin Richardson trade were ongoing Friday.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were also looking to retool around Kevin Garnett after dropping from conference finalist to a lottery team, while the Miami Heat were preparing to lock up Shaquille O’Neal to a long-term contract that will take him through the remainder of his career, the plan being to keep South Beach a springtime NBA hotspot for the next several years.

Detroit will move forward with or without coach Larry Brown, who planned to check into the Mayo Clinic on Wednesday to undergo a surgical procedure to attempt to correct a bladder problem. Brown said he did not want to go through another season dealing with the effects of the medical problem, and he could retire from coaching if doctors cannot cure him.

Nate McMillan and Flip Saunders are the leading candidates to take over as coach of the Pistons if Brown leaves, but it could be until August before he knows whether he’ll be fit enough to prowl the sidelines again – or whether his future lies in someone’s front office.

“I felt for him and his group,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “because they’re just as good as we are.”

Just as good? Not quite.

Almost as good would be more accurate, and the Spurs have the championship trophy to prove it.

AP-ES-06-24-05 1455EDT

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