- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

SAN ANTONIO — Jason Kidd wiped his right hand against his hip, brought it to his mouth and blew a kiss to his family — just as he does every time he shoots a free throw.

Six times he went to the line in the final 20 seconds, and five of those times he calmly sank the shot.

Thought this was going to be a noncompetitive NBA Finals? Kiss that notion goodbye.

Kidd’s free throw shooting, along with the defense of Dikembe Mutombo and Jason Collins against Tim Duncan, led the New Jersey Nets to an 87-85 victory over the San Antonio Spurs last night, evening the series at one game apiece.

The Spurs had a chance to win it at the end, but Stephen Jackson missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left, and no one gained control of the loose ball before the final buzzer sounded.

The series now heads to New Jersey for a week, and it looks a whole lot different than it did a day earlier, when the Nets were questioning and almost ridiculing the strategies used by coach Byron Scott.

Scott made plenty of adjustments, most notably giving 20 minutes of playing time to Mutombo — the four-time defensive player of the year who had barely played in the postseason.

Mutombo made his first two shots, blocked three others and gave the Nets an inside presence that prevented the Spurs from scoring with ease from the inside, as they had in Game 1.

Collins, a second-year center, also was effective in neutralizing Duncan as the Nets held the MVP to 19 points and 12 rebounds.

Duncan hurt his own team by missing seven of 10 free throws, and he also committed four of the Spurs’ 22 turnovers.

Kidd led the Nets with 30 points — including 13 in the fourth quarter — and seven rebounds. Kenyon Martin had 14 points and two blocks, and Lucious Harris came off the bench to score 10. Those were the only four players to score in double figures for the Nets.

Tony Parker scored 21 points for San Antonio, with Jackson adding 16. The Spurs shot just 14-for-25 (56 percent) from the foul line.

On offense, the Nets were much more aggressive taking the ball inside and challenging San Antonio’s shot blockers.

On defense, they let Collins and Mutombo handle the bulk of the assignment on Duncan, and each was able to contain him. San Antonio didn’t reach 50 points until 2:37 remained in the third quarter.

Duncan had only eight points at halftime and didn’t have a field goal in the fourth quarter until there was 4:46 left. That jump hook was followed by an airball from Martin and a short jumper by Parker to cut San Antonio’s deficit to 78-75 with 4:14 left.

Three nifty touch passes led to a layup by Martin, but Robinson dunked on a fast break and Parker sped upcourt for a running 9-footer that made it 80-79 with 2:06 left.

Kidd’s running jumper from the baseline gave New Jersey an 82-79 lead with 1:16 left, and San Antonio had a turnover and two missed shots on its next two possessions.

Duncan went to the line with the Spurs trailing 82-79 with 24.6 seconds left and tossed up a brick that rattled around the rim and ricocheted away as the crowd moaned. He made the second, and the Spurs then began intentionally fouling Kidd.

He made his first four, missed one with 8.1 seconds left and then made his last one, setting the stage for Jackson’s errant 3-pointer.

Mutombo played the entire second quarter and did an admirable job defending Duncan, but his signature defensive moment came in the final minute of the quarter when he rejected a layup attempt by 40-year-old Kevin Willis, then held his right finger high in the air and wagged his finger from side-to-side.

New Jersey led 41-35 at halftime as San Antonio, which made its first five shots of the game, made just two the rest of the first quarter and just eight over the rest of the half.

Martin was obviously conscious of his foul trouble at the outset of the second half: He didn’t even raise his arms to defend a layup by Robinson early in the period, and he stood still like a statue as Duncan grabbed an errant shot and banked it in to cut the Nets’ lead to 47-44.

Turnovers kept the Spurs from hanging onto that momentum, and the Nets quickly struck back. A difficult hanging hook shot from the lane by Kidd was followed by a 3-pointer from Kittles off an offensive rebound to make it 55-45 with 4:45 left in the third — the first double-digit lead of the game.

A layup by Collins off a pass from Kidd made it 60-45 — New Jersey’s largest lead.

After the Spurs pulled within eight early in the fourth quarter, Kidd let fly from 25 feet away and swished a 3-pointer to hush the crowd. Consecutive baskets by Malik Rose got the deficit down to seven and re-energized the building, but two defensive plays by Mutombo — altering a 2-footer by Duncan, then blocking a shot by Robinson — quieted the fans back down.

Mutombo’s block of Robinson’s shot turned into a fast-break layup by Richard Jefferson for a 78-70 lead. A 9-2 run, led by Parker, made it a one-point game with 2:06 left.

Notes — Duncan missed his first four free throws, coming up short on all of them. … With Mutombo moved up in the rotation, Nets forward Aaron Williams did not play. … Jackson had seven turnovers.

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