- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 9, 2007

SAN ANTONIO.

Bruce Bowen has saved us from the national love-in with LeBron James, if only momentarily. This is refreshing. This is amusing. This is the Serf trumping the King.

Bowen is the consummate role player with the modest basketball pedigree.

From Cal State Fullerton to France, from two stints in the Continental Basketball Association to the Heat, Celtics, 76ers and back to the Heat, Bowen lived out of a suitcase the first eight seasons of his professional life.

Bowen was one of the bottom feeders of the NBA, the antithesis of the 22-year-old James, the anointed one who graces the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, his seventh appearance there.

Bowen, who turns 36 years old next week, never imagined that his odyssey could turn out so sweetly, with two championship rings in tow, a potential third one on the way, and a multitude of All-Defensive team honors.

Bowen signed with the Spurs as a free agent six years ago, and the one-time vagabond offers a modicum of hope to every player kicking around in pedestrian venues, to every player looking for that next situation, that next opportunity, that next stop that could become home.

Bowen has chased Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Steve Nash and Deron Williams in these playoffs, and now he has been entrusted with the assignment of shadowing the one who has been showered with praise since his 48-point gem against the Pistons in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Bowen listened to all the overwrought talk on James coming into the NBA Finals.

He was asked what, if anything, he possibly could do against James, as if he were a neophyte unaccustomed to meeting the challenge of the game’s best offensive players.

Bowen did not have the temerity to point this out. Or gloat after the Spurs defeated the Cavaliers 85-76 in Game 1 and a Bowen-led defense limited James to 14 points.

He merely stuck to the company line, the proclivity of all the Spurs.

Bowen expects to see a different James in Game 2 tomorrow night.

“They’ll adjust to some of the things that we did, and we’ll have to adjust to the things that they’re doing,” Bowen said yesterday. “One thing I can try to do night in and night out is try to make things as tough as I can. That doesn’t mean taking things away from a player, but it means doing the little things. Maybe it’s denying him the basketball at certain times. Maybe it’s getting a hand up each and every shot. Those are the things that you can control.”

James was held to 10 points in Game 1 of the conference finals and eventually devastated the Pistons.

James the quick learner is one of the sentiments being expressed here. Another is that the Spurs are not the Pistons, as Cavaliers coach Mike Brown noted.

“It’s just a matter of time when a player of his magnitude can figure out the defense and get himself going,” the former assistant coach of the Spurs said. “But I couldn’t tell you if it’s going to be one game, two games or three games. The Spurs are a great team, so it could be a tough series for us the whole way.”

James watched a replay of Game 1 late Thursday night.

He said he planned to re-watch it last night.

“Sometimes it’s about being more aggressive and then sometimes it’s about reading things and preparing yourself the best way to counter some of the things they do defensively,” James said. “They may have caught some of our guys off guard, including myself, in Game 1. But I think we’ve played enough playoff games to know how to make the adjustments the next game.”

No one envisions James having another 14-point game. A media-amplified challenge has been issued to him.

Bowen has been smart enough to temper the talk.

“Anyway I can gain 40 pounds overnight?” he said after Game 1, making light of his physical disadvantage against James.

There he was poor-mouthing himself to keep the mood light.

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