Parker (17 points,
three assists) and Duncan (14 points on 6-for-17 shooting), nearly unstoppable
in the first two games, were merely mortal; Gin�bili (0 for 7) was horrible;
and centers Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson (seven points between them)
were invisible, yet the charged-up-but-ineffective Cavs could not take
advantage. The outcome matched San Antonio's 80-67 Game 2 win over the New York
Knicks in 1999 as the second-lowest-scoring Finals game in NBA history,
surpassed only by Game 5 of the 1954-55 Finals, in which the Fort Wayne Pistons
beat the Syracuse Nationals 74-71. LeBron and the rest of the younger
generation of NBA players would have to be convinced that Fort Wayne was once
in the league.
The Spurs finally
clinched it on two free throws by Gin�bili, who had been unable to find the
basket all night. But he stepped to the line with 5.5 seconds left and made
both, forcing James to take a three-pointer that went in and out at the buzzer.
Gin�bili's free throws were preceded by one of the worst shot-taking decisions
in NBA Finals history: a lefthanded, off-balance finger roll in the lane by
Anderson Varej�o, who had plenty of time left on the shot clock to find James.
But blame James, too—he was the one who gave it up to the wild-haired,
The real hero was
Bowen ("He did everything for us," said Duncan), who played almost 44
minutes, guarding James for most of them, scoring 13 points, hitting four of
his five three-point shots and grabbing nine rebounds (same as Duncan). And the
real non-hero for Cleveland was Gibson, who got a chance to start at point
guard only to shoot 1 of 10 from the field and miss all of his
And so the Spurs
went into Game 4 with a chance to complete the Finals' first sweep since 2002,
when the L.A. Lakers broomed the New Jersey Nets. Duncan, like all of his
teammates, seemed relieved to have prevailed in a subpar performance,
particularly since he considers Game 3 "the toughest challenge." Game
4, he said, is all about sustaining energy against a team that will be playing
with an air of desperation. "We're going to try to stay in the game and
give ourselves a chance to win when it's crunch time," said Duncan. It
worked in Game 3.
JUNE 14, QUICKEN
LOANS ARENA, CLEVELAND
SPURS 83, CAVALIERS 82
One sign of a
great team is the ability to play well when its superstar has a subpar night.
And one sign of a superstar is the ability to come through in the clutch on a
And so it is for
the four-time champion Spurs, and so it is for Tim Duncan, whose decision to
remain in San Antonio despite a free-agent courtship by the Orlando Magic in
the summer of 2000 paved the way for three more titles in Alamo town.
championship has a personality of its own," said Popovich after his Spurs
had finished off Cleveland, "but obviously watching Tim Duncan be a common
thread through it all is especially satisfying. Sometimes he's the best player,
sometimes he's not, but he's the common denominator for the whole
certainly not the best player in the climactic Game 4. That honor belonged to
either Parker (24 points on just 14 shots), the overwhelming choice as Finals
MVP, or Gin�bili, who scored a game-high 27 points that included six clutch
free throws in the final 24 seconds. But Duncan overcame a poor-shooting and
error-prone night (4 of 15 from the field, six turnovers) to make an impact
late in this unsightly but tautly played game. He fed Oberto for a key layup
that gave San Antonio a 72-66 lead and tapped a ball away from James on the
next possession, as the Spurs' poise down the stretch enabled them to outlast
the determined but offensively clueless Cavs.