- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — All season long, one of the few questions concerning San Antonio was whether young Tony Parker could take the next step and become the type of point guard capable of leading the Spurs to their second championship.

Last night the 21-year-old Frenchman took a major step in that direction, outplaying Jason Kidd for the second time in three games to lead the Spurs to an 84-79 victory and a 2-1 lead in what has proved to be the swing game in the best-of-7 NBA Finals since the championship series went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985.

The importance of last night’s game wasn’t lost on any of the participants. Finals played in the 2-3-2 format had been tied 1-1 eight times, and in each of those instances the team that won Game 3 won the crown.

Parker stepped up when the Spurs absolutely had to have it. He finished with a game-high 26 points and six assists. But more importantly, when the Spurs were sputtering late in the game, Parker gave them a boost.

Parker scored 11 points in the fourth quarter.

“He’s a special young man,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs outscored the Nets 30-22 in the fourth quarter. “To be thrown in this situation as young as he is, and to try to run the club, know all the players, some of whom or most of whom he’s never played with, I think is special. I’m really impressed with what he can do at this young age. He’s really been great and he was good for us tonight, obviously.”

And while Parker is new to the mix for San Antonio, league MVP Tim Duncan is a long-time constant. He was his usual solid self last night, finishing with 21 points, a game-high 16 rebounds and a team-leading six assists.

Kenyon Martin led New Jersey with 23 points and 11 rebounds and Kerry Kittles finished with 21. Kidd scored 12 points and handed out 11 assists but shot just 6-for-19 from the floor.

New Jersey coach Byron Scott appeared to play down the damage done to his squad while still giving Parker the credit he deserved.

“He played great,” Scott said. “He knocked down shots when they needed him to. But this is not a major setback. We have to make sure that this thing goes back to San Antonio.”

Said Parker of his performance: “I tried to put not too much pressure on myself and not think about the matchup with Jason Kidd. It’s the Spurs against the New Jersey Nets. I just run my team. Coach Pop wants me to be aggressive and that’s what I am trying to do.”

Down by three points at the end of three quarters, Parker played a huge role in a 19-5 San Antonio run that gave Spurs their largest lead of the game, 73-62, with 5:35 left. New Jersey came within 77-75 on an Aaron Williams dunk with 1:43 left but got no closer.

The Nets will continue to have trouble if the Spurs get to the free throw line 35 times, 18 times more than the Nets last night.

The first half was filled with lows the NBA would rather forget.

To begin with, the teams combined for just 63 points, the lowest combined point total by two teams in the history of the finals, surpassing the 66 the Chicago Bulls limited Utah to in Game 3 in 1998. And in the second quarter the Nets were as bad as any team has been over a 12-minute span of the championship series, scoring just nine points to tie that same Utah team for the lowest point total in any single quarter in finals history.

Down by three points at halftime, the Nets used a 7-0 run, capped by a powerful put-back dunk by Martin and a slicing Kidd layup, to take a 49-45 lead with just more than 2 minutes to play.

Kidd increased the lead to 51-45 following a timeout that brought the sellout crowd of 19,280 to its feet.

But it didn’t take long for the Spurs to get back in it. They got a 3-point play from Emanuel Ginobili, and they closed out the final two minutes with a pair of 3-pointers from Parker that helped them to pull back to within 55-54 with just under one minute left in the quarter.

Martin closed the scoring, hitting a jump hook in the lane that nudged the New Jersey lead back to 57-54 at the end of three quarters.

After dropping Game 2 at home to New Jersey in a game that saw them commit 22 turnovers and miss 11 of their 25 free-throw attempts, the Spurs seemed to take on the blase attitude that the loss was more so their doing and not the Nets.

This was not lost on the Nets in the early going, and they started as if they very much wanted to show the Spurs they are indeed for real.

The Nets’ defense forced the Spurs to funnel all of what little there was of there offense through Duncan and Parker, who scored all but two of San Antonio’s first 15 points.

Meanwhile the Nets — most notably Martin — got out running, building their lead to eight points midway through the quarter and eventually leading by 21-13 after Martin, who scored 10 points in the first quarter, nailed a 19-foot jumper with just more than one minute remaining in the quarter.

In the process of falling behind, the Spurs once again showed a propensity to be careless, turning the ball over seven times.

But San Antonio began to buckle down defensively in the second quarter with a defense that made things very difficult for the Nets.

Duncan led the Spurs to a 33-30 halftime lead with 11 points. Martin led the Nets with 12 points.

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