- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In a series that has done plenty to amplify the dying art of the jump shot, a masterful shooter who had been little more than an afterthought has put the San Antonio Spurs within one game of their second NBA championship.

Steve Kerr came off the bench in Friday night’s Game5 of the NBA Finals against New Jersey knowing he could have an impact if he could get good looks at the basket — although he had logged just two minutes in the previous four games.

He was right.

Kerr’s first basket came on a 3-pointer with 3:02 remaining that gave the Spurs an 83-76 lead. And the little-used 37-year-old put out the lights on the Nets — and most likely on the series — when he canned a 15-footer for an 87-78 San Antonio advantage with 1:41 left. The Spurs went on to win 93-83 and take a 3-2 series lead going into Game6 tonight in San Antonio.

And now, because of Kerr’s late-game heroics, the Nets are in the unenviable position of having to do what no team has done since the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 format for the finals: win Games6 and 7 on the road.

League MVP Tim Duncan says although Kerr’s 3-pointer was his first basket of the series, he is delighted when he sees the reliable veteran looking for his shot.

“I love to see him on the floor,” said Duncan, who overpowered the Nets with 29 points and 17 rebounds. “I love to get the ball in the post and see a guy trying to step off of him a little bit and to throw the ball out to him. Every time I throw it out to him, I hope that he shoots it, because I really do believe it’s going in every time.”

Although Kerr has played just 37 minutes in the Spurs’ 23 postseason games, he has had an impact whenever he has been on the court. This was most evident in San Antonio’s Game6 victory over Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

In that game it was Kerr, rather than Duncan or emerging point guard Tony Parker, who finished off the run-and-gun Mavericks. Kerr made the most of his 13 minutes, most of which came in the fourth quarter. He connected on all four of his jumpers — all 3-pointers — as the Spurs used a 23-0 fourth-quarter run to advance to the finals.

Kerr has never been known as a great athlete. However, during his 14 years in the league, he has always been able to nail a jumper when his team needed it. In 1997, Kerr, then a teammate of Michael Jordan’s, hit the series-clinching jumper with five seconds to play in Game6 to give the Chicago Bulls their fifth championship.

“I know that people are struggling in this series,” said Kerr, who attributed the bad shooting by both teams to tough defense. “But that’s my role. If I’m open, I can make a few shots now and then.”

Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: “As you might guess, down the stretch people who hit shots win games for you, and teams that make stops win games for you. Steve was fantastic. He’s the consummate pro. He comes on the court, knows what we are doing, he’s in shape and he did another fine job.”

Meanwhile, the Nets must find some way to regroup. While the Spurs had their best shooting performance of the series in Game5 (47.8 percent), the Nets continued to struggle from the floor, making just 35 percent of their field goals.

Kenyon Martin, their best player in the postseason, succumbed to the flu-like symptoms he has been battling since Wednesday. In Game5, Martin scored just four points and committed eight turnovers — one of which led to Kerr’s killer 3-pointer — in his worst playoff outing.

Nets coach Byron Scott remains confident that Martin can bounce back, but the team’s shooting worries him, and rightly so. He and everyone else knows that the Nets, who won Game2 on the road, won’t be able to force a Game7 if they don’t get some things corrected.

“It’s not impossible,” Scott said.

It’s not likely, either.

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