Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Spurs don't like zone, but it works



The Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Bruce Bowen has made his mark in the NBA by playing tenacious man-to-man defense. He's been a second-team selection on the All-Defensive squad the past three seasons and he's enhanced his reputation this postseason by shutting down some big-time scorers.

Now Bowen and the San Antonio Spurs lead New Jersey 2-1 in the Finals and, their defense is leading the way.

Their zone defense, that is.

Huh?

"I was one of the first ones to say, 'Zone? Man, I don't like the zone,' " Bowen said Monday. "But it's been helping us. So instead of keeping on saying no to it, you buy into it."

Coach Gregg Popovich has the same attitude. Although he decided to pull the scheme out of mothballs for this series, it's not his preferred way of stopping teams.

"I hate it," Popovich said. "I think it's awful."

San Antonio tinkered with the zone this season, but not for too long, partly because of Popovich's stance and mostly because the Spurs weren't very good at it.

They used it sporadically in the playoffs. It worked better against the Lakers than the Suns and Mavericks, both of which have strong outside shooters.

The Nets don't. Their scoring comes mainly from a great transition game and, in the halfcourt, from forwards and guards soaring through the lane - a lane that can be more congested when defenders cover areas instead of players.

So with the encouragement of assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo, Popovich made it part of the game plan for the Finals.

"Most of our guys were not particularly pleased," center David Robinson said. "Once we've gotten in and seen how it works ... the guys feel pretty good about it now."

With the Spurs using more zone each game, the Nets' scoring has gone down each game.

New Jersey went from 89 points in the opener to 87 to 79. The Nets had nine in the second quarter Sunday, tying the Finals record for fewest points in a quarter.

It's a big dropoff from the 95.4 points New Jersey averaged in the regular season.

In 14 games against Milwaukee, Boston and Detroit in the playoffs, the Nets scored at least 90 points 10 times.

Their three-game drought against San Antonio matches their longest streak of the season. The Spurs will try to make it four straight in Game 4 on Wednesday.

"The zone has been a shock to us," New Jersey guard Kerry Kittles said. "We haven't seen zone since college. It's been seven years since I've played offensively against the zone. It's different. It's definitely different."

NOTEWORTHY: Tim Duncan is averaging 24 points, 16 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 4.3 blocks per game in the finals. He also has committed 10 turnovers in the three games ... Jason Kidd is 21-for-60 from the field.

At a glance

BEST OF SEVEN

Wednesday's game

San Antonio at N.J., 8:30 p.m.

Spurs lead series 2-1

Friday's game

San Antonio at N.J., 8:30 p.m.

Sunday's game

N.J. at San Antonio, 8:30 p.m., if necessary




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