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Spurs Reduce the 'Risk

They beat New Jersey, 88-77, for second NBA title. It isn't pretty, but at least mitigating circumstances of 1999 lockout season are absent this time.

June 16, 2003|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO — That's two titles, and how many asterisks?

Phil Jackson said San Antonio's 1999 title, which followed a lockout-shortened season, should have an asterisk next to it, and his Lakers must have spent the NBA Finals throwing stuff at their TVs as the Spurs struggled, finally coming from 10 points behind in the fourth quarter Sunday night to beat the New Jersey Nets, 88-77, to become champions again.

Of course, from the Spurs' perspective, they were figuring on rebuilding, with David Robinson on his way out and three of their eight rotation players in their first or second seasons.

Consider them rebuilt.

"How many times is this going to happen?" said a jubilant Coach Gregg Popovich, who'd been curt throughout the series, refusing to give up the microphone in the interview room.

"Do I look like Phil Jackson? This is Popovich!"

Popovich doesn't resemble Jackson, nor did his Spurs resemble the dominating Lakers, who swept the Nets last season; beat the 76ers, 4-1, in 2001; and led the Pacers, 3-1, before winning in six games in 2000.

This series was tied, 2-2, making it the most competitive Finals in five seasons, even if it matched the Nets' gang that couldn't shoot straight against Tim Duncan's not-quite-ready- for-prime-time supporting cast.

The Nets, who were nothing if not game, shot 36% for the series, and, nevertheless, were in it till the end. The last time that happened, players were shooting two-handed set shots for teams like the Rochester Royals and Syracuse Nationals.

Duncan, the Finals MVP, put up one to remember Sunday, narrowly missing an unheard-of quadruple-double: 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks.

Robinson, at 37 a shadow of his once-stellar self, went out on top -- "on the highest of highs," he said -- scoring 13 points with 17 rebounds and two blocks.

He almost didn't get to go out at all. The Nets led for almost all of the first three quarters, going up by as many as 12 points in the third, by 10 in the fourth, and still led by nine with 8:55 left.

At that point, Popovich was jerking players out of the game, one after another, just as fast as the one who was in messed up, before the one he put in messed up, and he had to put the first guy back in.

The pattern was set early when Stephen Jackson turned the ball over twice and missed a jumper -- on their first three possessions. The referee had barely handed the ball to a Net after the last turnover when Manu Ginobili was at the scorer's table, reporting in for Jackson.

In similar fashion, Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen and Malik Rose were tried and found wanting. Bowen, who flattened the Lakers in the second round with 17 three-pointers (in 26 tries), was particularly unimpressive in the Finals with a total of four three-pointers in 14 tries.

Of course, Popovich was running short of players to put in, which is how Jackson found himself back on the court when the Spurs turned up the pressure and the Nets fell apart.

The play the Nets remembered afterward was Ginobili stealing the ball from Richard Jefferson and taking it in for a dunk, but there were more, including rotund Rodney Rogers waddling over to double-team Duncan, whereupon Duncan zipped a pass to Rogers' man, Rose, for an uncontested layup.

Then there were the six shots Kenyon Martin forced up and bricked in the quarter, en route to a memorable three-for-23 shooting night.

Martin played Game 5 with flu but Coach Byron Scott said he was "100% better" before Sunday's game. In retrospect, it looked like Martin's cold moved into his brain.

In any case, the Nets collapsed, the Spurs went on a 19-0 run and that was that.

Jason Kidd, who turned coy about his Net future, was asked later if they'd come unglued.

"A little bit," he said. "I mean, I didn't know they were on a 19-0 run until after the game when somebody said that. For us, we lost our composure."

And who should hit the big shots for the Spurs?

Jackson, whose back-to-back three-pointers pulled them from five points behind to one ahead.

"One thing about Jack, it doesn't matter whether he's in feast mode or famine mode," said Popovich. "At some point, it's going to change to the other one."

All in all, it was more than anyone expected of the Nets and more than the Spurs expected of themselves.

Late Sunday, Robinson was asked if he drinks champagne.

"I just wear champagne," he said.

Well, at least the ending was perfect.



Salute to Admiral

David Robinson, who played his final NBA game Sunday in San Antonio's championship-clinching victory, picked up his play in the NBA Finals against New Jersey:

*--* Reg. Sea First 3 Plyf Rds NBA Finals Game 6 MIN 26.2 24.0 26.8 31 FGM-A 3.1-6.6 2.6-4.8 3.6-6.0 6-8 PCT 469 536 611 750 PTS 8.5 6.8 10.8 13 REB 7.9 6.5 7.3 17 BLKS 1.73 1.0 1.83 2


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