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But Bowen responded with a 3-pointer, Manu Ginobili hit another from long range and Duncan dished to Parker for a layup to make it 56-47. On the Spurs’ next trip, Parker weaved his way inside and dropped in a layup, the ball sitting on the rim for several seconds before finally falling.

The Spurs eventually pushed their lead to 64-49 after three, and then opened the final period with 3-pointers by Robert Horry and Ginobili to open their biggest lead, 70-52 with 8:50 left.

Two 3-pointers by James and a few jumpers by rookie Daniel Gibson, who led the Cavaliers with 16 points, cleaned up the score but it wasn’t nearly that close as Cleveland shot under 40 percent until a late barrage.

“They started to do a good job towards the end of the game,” Duncan said. “They got a couple of layups and a couple of easy shots. We’ll have to clean that up a little bit.”

James left with 45 seconds to go, dejectedly slumping into his seat after a night he’d probably like to forget.

Before taking the floor for their first finals game in Cleveland’s 37-year history, the Cavaliers huddled near the tunnel for a prayer. Then, James and his teammates repeated something they’ve done since the first day of training camp.

“One, two, three, championship,” they shouted in unison.

But it became clear very early on that any climb to a title would be steep.

The Spurs, who hadn’t played in a week since beating Utah in the Western Conference finals, showed no early rust. They started 7-for-9 from the field as Parker and Duncan combined for 14 of San Antonio’s first 16 points as San Antonio opened a 20-15 lead after one.

Every time James took off for the basket, a Spurs defender — or two or three — was waiting for him. On one drive, he had his headband yanked off by Duncan, who got posterized on a dunk by James in the first meeting between the teams in November.

Seven months later, Duncan got even.

On the occasion of his fourth finals, the three-time finals MVP arrived at the arena with a freshly shaved head — typically a sign that he’s ready to step up his game. He has been reluctant to talk about his place in history or the Spurs’ ascension to a dynasty level.

But if this game was any indication, San Antonio might soon have to be recognized as one of the league’s great powers.

James, who first graced Sports Illustrated’s cover when he was 17, entered the finals perhaps needing an NBA title to validate his greatness. There have been other elite players — Charles Barkley, John Stockton and George Gervin top the list — who never got a championship ring.

Does he feel he must win to be immortalized?

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