Monday, June 9, 2003

Parker spurs San Antonio win

New Jersey trails 2-1 in series after an 84-79 defeat at home

Gannett News Service

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The NBA Finals have turned into an ordeal of true grit, where the only beauty is defense and nothing comes easy - not scoring, not shooting, and much of the time not watching it.

But if there is glamour, it is the relentless drive of the San Antonio Spurs, and the precociousness of the 21-year-old guard who led them on a ragged Sunday night, as they overpowered New Jersey 84-79 to take a 2-1 lead.

Tony Parker - France's gift to Texas - scored 10 of his 26 points early in the fourth quarter to push the Spurs in front to stay.

And when the game needed to be preserved at the end, when an 11-point lead had dwindled to 78-75 in the final 90 seconds, there was Tim Duncan to save it ... with one of his 16 rebounds.

Thus the Nets, so encouraged by winning Game 2 in San Antonio, have promptly lost homecourt advantage, though they have two games left here, Wednesday and Friday.

"We're right where we want to be," Duncan said. "The pressure is on them."

Countered New Jersey's Jason Kidd, after another bad 6-for-19 shooting night, "There's no pressure on us. We're not supposed to win ... we're not even supposed to compete. We're supposed to lay down."

Parker was the bright light on a dark night for offense - the Spurs' 33-30 halftime lead was the lowest scoring first half in the history of the NBA Finals. His nine field goals were as many as the rest of San Antonio's starting lineup combined.

This from the fourth youngest player ever to play in the NBA Finals, going nose to nose with Kidd.

"I try not to put too much pressure on myself," Parker said. "The main thing is, this is the Spurs against the Nets."

Indeed, he needed help at the end. Emanuel Ginobili's strip of Lucious Harris and Duncan's rebound of Parker's missed free throw both came in the last 90 seconds with the lead only three, depriving the Nets of a chance to get closer, or even tie. The young Spurs are learning the ways of brinkmanship.

"Fun for them," coach Gregg Popovich said, "but it's a life-shortening experience for me."

Said the Nets' Kerry Kittles, "We messed this up ourselves."

Duncan added 21 points and a team-high seven assists to his other numbers, passing out of the double and triple teams that came his way, getting the New Jersey big men in foul trouble. More MVP work from the MVP.

"I'm going to take what the defense gives me," he said.

It was a bumpy and brutal game. The Nets shot but 37 percent, the Spurs missed 12 free throws and had only two players in double figures.

"It's going to be like this the rest of the series," said New Jersey coach Byron Scott. "Both teams are physical. Both teams are aggressive. Both take pride in their defense."

But there is no such thing as an ugly victory at this point. Not to the winner, anyway.

Of the previous 30 NBA Finals to be tied 1-1, the team that won Game 3 went on to claim the championship 26 times. Including the last eight.

So Sunday's result was pretty enough for the Spurs.

Scott called it "a minor setback."


The Nets, ahead 57-54 going into the fourth quarter, fell apart by missing seven of their first eight shots, to go with five turnovers. They were still breathing, though when Parker missed two free throws with 1:04 left and the margin 78-75 - it was somehow fitting that even the night's hero bricked three free throws and shot an airball in the final two minutes.

But Duncan got inside Kenyon Martin for the rebound. Ginobili hit a killing baseline jumper a few seconds later.

"I thought I had a body on (Duncan)," Martin said. "He just slipped right off of me."

The Nets were left to look at all the areas that went wrong. The 20 turnovers. The awful time the Nets are having when San Antonio goes to a zone. Kidd, Harris and Richard Jefferson - the main outside threats - were 10 for 36.

Wasted were Martin's 23 points and Kittles' 21.

The first half was offensively gruesome. It was not just a new low for the NBA Finals, but matched the lowest ever in the playoffs.

At halftime the two teams had 26 field goals ... and 22 turnovers. Neither had scored as many points as Michael Jordan scored by himself (35) in the first half of Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals against Portland.

The Nets' 30 points tied another Finals' record, and so did their nine points in the second quarter. Still, they were right there at the end.

"Right there," Martin said, "ain't going to get it done."

SAN ANTONIO vs. NEW JERSEY (Best-of-7 series tied 1-1)

Game 1: San Antonio 101, N.J. 89

Game 2: N.J. 87, San Antonio 85

Sunday: San Antonio 84, N.J. 79

Wednesday: at N.J., 8:30 p.m.

Friday: at N.J., 8:30 p.m.

x-Sunday: at San Antonio, 8:30 p.m.

x-June 18: at San Antonio, 8:30 p.m.

x-if necessary

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