- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — No team has ever come back to win the NBA Finals after falling behind 3-1, and the New Jersey Nets won’t be put into that position either as they held on to defeat the San Antonio Spurs 77-76 in Game 4 last night and tie the series 2-2 with Game 5 here tomorrow.

Kenyon Martin led the Nets with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 23 points and 17 rebounds. However, the Spurs could not overcome a horrible shooting night that saw them make just 28.9 percent of their shots.

The Spurs played listlessly in the first half, never showing any semblance of the Western Conference powerhouse that forged a 60-win regular season.

Early in the third quarter, the Nets took a 52-39 when Jason Kidd drilled a free throw that was the result of a technical foul on San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Popovich exploded on the court and had to be restrained by his assistants while yelling at Eddie F. Rush for not calling a foul as Duncan was knocked to the floor while attempting a shot.

But Popovich’s outburst with 7:27 left in the quarter seemed to light a spark where formerly there had been none. San Antonio proceeded to outscore the Nets 18-4 to the end of the quarter, taking a lead, 57-56, on Speedy Claxton’s driving lay-up with 6.7 seconds remaining in the quarter.

In the process, the Nets, who led by as many s 15 points in the third, experienced a scoring drought that spanned both the third and fourth quarters and saw them miss 12 consecutive shots on the way to falling behind by 61-56 in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Nets used a 9-0 spurt later in the quarter to take back the lead 67-66 on Jason Kidd’s three-point play with 6:27 to play.

After three more lead changes, Kenyon Martin connected on a pair of free throws with 1:12 left to play to give the Nets a 73-72 lead.

Emanuel Ginobili failed to convert a 3-pointer. And at the other end, Kidd extended the lead to 75-72 by connecting on a pair of free throws with 9.1 to play. Duncan’s layup pulled the Spurs within 75-74 with 5.6 seconds to play.

However, Kidd, fouled on the inbounds pass, connected on a pair of free throws with 4.8 seconds to play, and the Spurs called time out with 4.8 seconds remaining.

On the Spurs’ final possession Ginobili got a good look at the basket as Richard Jefferson jumped beyond him. Ginobili’s shot rimmed out and Duncan put the ball back as time ran out.

Just one day earlier New Jersey coach Byron Scott, looking for an edge, brought attention to what he has seen thus far as a free-throw discrepancy that has favored the Spurs.

And New Jersey backup center Dikembe Mutombo, on the wrong end of an embarrassing Malik Rose dunk, promised during the two days off that Rose would not dunk on him again.

This, however, did nothing to spice up the first quarter, which saw Tim Duncan go for 10 points and the Spurs lead 18-16.

However, Duncan, who had his way early on, picked up his second foul of the game at the start of the second and was forced to sit out until the 7:04 mark. But with Duncan on the bench, the Spurs actually nudged up their lead, going ahead 27-20 when Bruce Bowen pulled the trigger on a three-pointer along the left baseline.

But Duncan, who was having his way against the Nets’ frontline, was whistled for his third foul when he hacked a driving Jefferson, on his way to converting a 3-point play with 3:32 left in the quarter.

This sent Duncan to the bench and, sensing an opportunity, the Nets took complete advantage of the hole in the Spurs’ defense. New Jersey geared up its running game and closed the second quarter on a 19-4 run that produced a 45-34 halftime lead.

Most encouraging to the Nets had to be the fact that Jefferson, who has been struggling in the finals, had his rhythm on the way to 10 points. And the Nets also got a nice boost of the bench from former Washington Wizard Aaron Williams, who added eight points. Williams also had four of the Nets’ 10 first half rejections.

Meanwhile San Antonio was struggling. Duncan and David Robinson combined to score all but 14 of the Spurs’ 34 points in the first half. As a team the Spurs were horrible from the floor, connecting on just 13 of 49 shots (26.5 percent).

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