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Spurs Enter New Zone

Switch from man-to-man defense pays off as they beat the Nets, 93-83, to take 3-2 lead in NBA Finals.

June 14, 2003|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Normality (yawn) beckons.

After experiencing something new in this series -- suspense -- Western domination reasserted itself Friday night, when Tim Duncan went for 29 points, 17 rebounds, four blocked shots and four assists as the Spurs beat the Nets, 93-83, to take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals.

The series now goes back to San Antonio for the last game or two, or in other words, summer nears.

"We need to play our best," said the Nets' Richard Jefferson. "You need to be at your best when your best is needed."

That would be Sunday in Game 6.

The Nets needed to be at their best Friday, their "golden opportunity," as Coach Byron Scott called it, but Kenyon Martin, who'd been their best player, averaging 19.5 points and 10 rebounds in the first four games, turned up ill. He went 38 painful minutes, missing six of his eight shots and scoring four points.

Since the Nets hadn't managed to scored 90 points in this series with a healthy Martin, they were in trouble.

As if they didn't have enough problems, Spur Coach Gregg Popovich threw a zone defense at the gang that can't shoot straight. The Nets made their usual 35%, 25% on three-point shots. In other words, this wasn't their night.

The Spurs, now one victory away from being the most beatable champion the NBA has crowned recently, or ever, were coming off a grisly performance in Game 4.

Worse, they had to sit around for two days reading about it in the local papers, as in the New York Post story on Tony Parker's bad night that ran under the headline:

"Frenchie Gets Fried"

Of course, Parker was only one of the Spurs who struggled. Malik Rose, who could have been speaking for them all, said he felt as though he'd turned in only "half a performance."

And so they resolved to bounce back, Duncan as much as any of them after having been held to an average of 21 for Games 2 through 4, while the Nets hacked away at him, and Popovich, who refuses to lobby the officials through reporters, as everyone else does, told Duncan he'd just have to be stronger.

The Nets came out firing early with Jason Kidd dropping his first four shots.

He wound up going all 48 minutes and finished 10 for 23 from the floor, scoring 29 points. In other words, after his fast start, he shot six for 19.

The Spurs led, 42-34, at the half, but the Nets managed to shoot them out of their zone in the third quarter when Kidd made two three-point shots.

Popovich went to man-to-man, but late in the quarter, as if to inform the Nets he thought their success was a fluke, he went back to the zone and the Nets went back to Brick City.

Nevertheless, New Jersey was within 78-76 in the closing minutes when Aaron Williams looped a five-footer high in the air to get it over the Spurs' seven-footers and missed.

At the other end, Duncan was fouled and made two free throws.

Then Steve Kerr, the Spurs' professional spot-up shooter, of all people, tipped the ball away from Martin.

Then Kerr dropped a three-point shot off a pass from a double-teamed Duncan.

In all, Kerr, 37, who thought he was heading for his last roundup in this league, scored six points in his nine minutes, making both his shots.

"I've got the best job," Kerr said. "I play nine minutes and I come in the press room and do interviews. It's awesome."

Maybe Kidd could trade him jobs?

Kidd has said he intends to stay but, asked if this might have been his last game here as a Net, he didn't sound reassuring.

"Well, I gave it everything I had," Kidd said. "I tried to compete at the highest level and I'll sleep good tonight because I left everything out there....

"I thought I played a pretty good game, if that was my last game here. So we'll see."

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