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When a Finale Isn't Close to Grand One

June 10, 2003|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Well, nobody's perfect.

The NBA Finals' search for glamour, or competition, or scoring, or ratings, or anything, continues, but it's going to require a rally by someone.

Some of these, like glamour, are beyond control. Others, like scoring, the league has, at least, tried to deal with. But with some, like the competitive balance between East and West, the approach has been one of patience, like that of an ostrich.

The Spurs, who just regained their home-court advantage, lead the Nets, 2-1, and will go for an early KO with a victory in Wednesday's Game 4.

Winning on the road is difficult ... unless you're a West team in the Finals. Sunday's victory by the Spurs made it six in succession over the last three Finals, with the Lakers winning all three games at Philadelphia in 2001 and both games here last spring.

The East hasn't won at home since the Indiana Pacers, trailing, 3-1 in 2000, bounced back to rout the Lakers in Game 5. The Lakers then finished them off in Staples Center in Game 6.

Nor is this going over well with the viewing public. TV ratings have plunged into the 6s, 40% below last spring's 10.2 for the Lakers' sweep of the Nets.

The games are being eclipsed by events the NBA once ran far ahead of.

In Los Angeles, the Ducks' participation in the Stanley Cup finals raised hockey ratings above the NBA's. With Funny Cide trying for the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes posted a 10.4 overnight nationally, beating the NBA Finals for the first time.


Nor is the game, itself, looking so good.

The most momentous decision coming out of last week's meeting of the competition committee in Chicago, was a recommendation to extend the use of instant replay for buzzer-beating shots.

Aside from that, the game was deemed to be in good shape, or as Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said:

"Our committee was of the view that they are very happy with the way the game looks now.... We really think we have something now where all five players have to play and there's a lot more ball movement and it looks a lot better."

Unfortunately for the league, it still hasn't found a way to make scoring, which has dwindled almost annually since the mid-'80s, go back up.

Sunday it scraped bottom when the Spurs and Nets tied the Finals record for fewest points in a half (63, set by the Knicks and Rockets in 1994) and set one for fewest points in a quarter (nine, by the Nets in the second period). This includes the eight finals from 1947-54, before the shot clock.

In a headline, the New York Times noted, "In Feeble Battle, [Tony] Parker and Spurs Find a Way."

Not that this should have been a surprise. The Nets may be overrated as a scoring machine (they were No. 14 in scoring, No. 14 in shooting percentage, No. 22 in three-point percentage) but they're underrated as defenders, finishing No. 2 in points allowed at 90.1 even as they pushed the pace.

Meanwhile, the Spurs were the NBA's No. 3 defensive team, even as they opened up their game.

"You know, I think in general what people have missed is that these are two good defensive clubs," said Spur Coach Gregg Popovich. "We scored points against other people in the playoffs [read: Lakers, against whom they averaged 100 points] and this season, we ran a lot and scored points. So did New Jersey....

"So now you've got two of the best defensive teams in the league

Of course, it's still early in this series so anything can happen, theoretically.



NBA Finals

*--* SAN ANTONIO VS. NEW JERSEY Spurs lead best-of-seven series, 2-1 GAME 1 San Antonio, 101-89 GAME 2 New Jersey, 87-85 GAME 3 San Antonio, 84-79 GAME 4 Wednesday at New Jersey, 5:30 p.m GAME 5 Friday at New Jersey, 5:30 p.m GAME 6 Sunday at San Antonio, 5:30 p.m.* GAME 7 June 18 at San Antonio, 5:30 p.m.* *if necessary All times PDT


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