Setting the tone
Bowen's defense helps Spurs stifle James, Cavs
Posted: Wednesday June 13, 2007 1:43AM; Updated: Wednesday June 13, 2007 6:20PM
CLEVELAND -- When they meet next week -- or possibly this weekend -- to divvy out the championship shares, the Spurs might want to consider slipping Bruce Bowen an extra playoff bonus. Something around $2 million would be a good start.
Allen Iverson, Steve Nash and now LeBron James are among his defensive victims over the last two postseason months, but Bowen took it another step Tuesday in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Not only did he hold James to 25 points on 23 shots, he was the Spurs' leading scorer entering the fourth quarter and ultimately their leading rebounder in the 75-72 victory that ruined what had been a very promising night in downtown Cleveland.
"I'm just thrilled by Bruce Bowen,'' said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He's guarding somebody who's going to be a Hall of Fame player when it's all said and done. He's playing 44 minutes, and he scored 13 points and got nine rebounds. I just thought he was fantastic from beginning to end, and he really set the tone for our team.''
Bowen remains as unpopular among non-Spurs as Dick Cheney is among Democrats, Independents, Americans with no political affiliation, a growing number of Republicans, the great majority of the world population as well as that poor guy he filled with buckshot. A step before James was rising up for a potentially overtime-forcing jumper from almost 30 feet in the final seconds, Bowen tried obviously to foul him, swiping at his midsection but drawing no call. Afterwards James could be seen complaining to an official that he should have been sent to the line.
Yet James refused to blame the non-foul, because that would have equated to giving credit to Bowen's tactics. Nobody but his fellow Spurs ever want to do that. "Incidental contact,'' James said. "It didn't affect my shot. I had a good look at it and I missed.''
The truth about this Finals is that Bowen and the Spurs know exactly what they're doing because they've done it so many times before, while the Cavaliers are still trying to get used to everything from the length of the extended timeouts to the amplified noise of their home crowd to the extended defensive pressure gathered around Bowen to prevent LeBron from stealing this series, which was the only hope the Cavaliers ever really had.
During their final timeout with 5.5 seconds left, coach Mike Brown had warned James that Bowen might try to foul before his 3-pointer. "LeBron said on the way out, 'If he fouls me, I'm shooting it,''' said Brown. So he did in hope of a decisive four-point play, but he wound up earning not so much as a blown whistle.
Some 20 seconds earlier, after Anderson Varejao had blocked and rebounded a Tony Parker drive to keep the Cavs within 72-70, Brown had tried to call timeout to set up a game-winning play. "As soon as we got the rebound I started yelling my behind off, 'Time out!''' said Brown. "It was so loud in there none of my guys heard me, and I asked [referee] Bernie Fryer if he heard me and he said no. There was nothing I could do.''
Nothing but watch Varejao take a lateral from LeBron and -- instead of politely giving it back -- launch himself into a hysterical spin move resulting in an off-balanced underhand kind of thingamajig, which was not the shot the Cavaliers wanted and James watched Duncan control the rebound with 12.9 seconds left. In that situation the far more experienced Spurs would have known to look over to Popovich for instructions, and they surely would have come up with a better shot.
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