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Nets Give It Best Shot

They shoot 35.9% and blow a 15-point lead but still beat the Spurs, 77-76, to even series at two games apiece.

June 12, 2003|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Be it ever so humble, it's a real series, at last.

Throwing out every bit of available Jersey lore, including an appearance by the Devils bearing their Stanley Cup and Bruce Willis leading cheers, the New Jersey Nets blew a 15-point lead in the third quarter Wednesday night, then came from five points behind in the fourth to beat the San Antonio Spurs, 77-76.

The NBA Finals are now tied, 2-2, the highwater mark for the Eastern Conference in the last five Finals, which are now guaranteed to go six games, for the second time since 1998.

"That was a big-time win for us," said Net Coach Byron Scott. "

Not that it's one of the classics yet. The Nets may not be able to score a lot of points on the Spurs, but then, the Spurs aren't scoring many on the Nets.

The Nets have been particularly successful in defending Tim Duncan, the two-time reigning MVP, who scored 30 points in Game 1 and has been held to an average of 21 since, while shooting 44%. Wednesday night, he had 23 and shot 10 for 23, including two airballs.

Before Wednesday, 21-year-old Tony Parker was the one bailing the Spurs out, but young players are always forgetting things, such as how to play the game.

Parker suffered through a dreadful one-for-12 shooting game, along with Stephen Jackson (one for nine), Bruce Bowen (two for nine), Malik Rose (missed all nine) and Manu Ginobili (three for 10).

Add it all up and the Spurs shot 28.9%, a remarkably low mark even for this series.

The Nets had been moldering for two days off of being asked about Jason Kidd's slump, Kidd's inability to contain Parker, Richard Jefferson's slump and the fact that across the Hudson River, TV ratings were running around 10 and no one seemed to know there was a "local" team involved.

For their part, the Nets wondered out loud why the Spurs were getting to shoot 10 more free throws a game and Duncan was getting away with so much stuff.

Game time found neither team looking ready. The first quarter was the usual torpid disaster with the Spurs leading, 18-16.

In the second quarter, Duncan got in foul trouble and had to come out with 3:32 left. The Spurs were their usual lost selves without him, and the Nets closed the half with an 11-2 run, then boosted their lead to 15 early in the third period.

The Spurs came charging back, grabbing the lead back before the end of the third quarter, stretching it to 61-56 early in the fourth quarter.

But it's hard to put anyone away when you can't hit the ocean from a boat. The Nets stayed with the Spurs on sheer effort, out of necessity since they weren't shooting up any storm (35.9%, with Kidd going five for 18), either.

With the Spurs leading, 71-70, Kenyon Martin got inside for a layup attempt that the taller Duncan blocked from behind.

Martin got the ball back and put it up again. Duncan blocked this one, too.

Martin got the ball back and went up again. Duncan blocked this one, too, but Kevin Willis fouled Martin going up. With 1:12 left, Martin made two free throws, putting the Nets ahead to stay, it turned out.

Ginobili got a good look at a three-pointer but missed.

The Nets got the ball back. Kidd ran the clock down and missed a 16-footer, but Dikembe Mutombo rebounded it. Then Kidd ran the clock down and missed an 18-footer; this time Duncan and Ginobili collided trying to rebound it and the ball rolled back to the Nets.

It was one of those nights for the young Spurs, but that's kids for you.

"Tony has to do a better job of staying involved in the game and picking and choosing his moments, and I don't think Tony did a very good job of that tonight," Spur forward David Robinson said.

"He's so talented, he's got to understand, he plays a big role for us so he has to come in there and make good things happen. You don't make good things happen by necessarily standing out there and taking ill-advised jump shots."

Game 5 is Friday.

"It wasn't very pretty," said Scott of Game 4. " ... This series is going to be played like this pretty much the whole series. Might as well get used to it."

That's easy for him to say. On the other hand, it may not be a great series but, at least, it's a series.

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