Cleveland rocked. And it still wasn't enough to stop the Spurs.Playing with the poise and defensive grit of champions, San Antonio overcame a raucous Cleveland crowd and downed the Cavs 75-72 Tuesday night in Game 3 to claim a 3-0 series lead and a stranglehold on a fourth NBA title in nine years.While much of the focus will be on the controversial finish -- Bruce Bowen clearly fouled LeBron James on the final play -- it didn't really matter.For one, Bowen's foul was on the floor. Even if James made both free throws -- no certainty -- the Cavs would have still been down one with only a few ticks left on the clock and no timeouts.Second, the Cavs had plenty of chances before that to win the game. LeBron will spend all summer thinking about giving up the ball to Anderson Varejao on that one crucial possession.Finally, the Spurs defense was just too good. Led by Bowen, San Antonio once again held James in check while keeping the other Cavs from getting off. For the game Cleveland finished 29-of-79 shooting (36.7 percent), including 3-of-19 from beyond the three-point line. It was just enough to help the Spurs survive on an ugly night when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili shot poorly."We ended up being the fortunate team at the end of the game," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "[But] I can honestly say that these three games is the best defense we've played all season."That's why San Antonio can start making plans for another victory parade on the Riverwalk.
They outscored their Cavs counterparts 18-7 and outrebounded them 12-7. Ginobili (three points) missed all seven of his field-goal attempts, but he did hit three-of-four free throws to ice the game while dishing out team-high five assists. Brent Barry (nine points on three-of-four from downtown) and Robert Horry (five boards) also picked up the slack.
Gregg Popovich, Coach
Had his team ready to play in hostile environment, and got his bench involved early again. But refusal to reveal strategy on last possession was lame, considering NBA Entertainment was probably filming his timeout huddle.
Weakened by the loss of Hughes, and it showed. Varejao (four points, for rebounds, two blocks) had his moments, but will be remembered for his last ugly wild miss against Duncan. Eric Snow (five assists) and Damon Jones (three) chipped in a little, but it was far from enough.
Mike Brown, Coach
Started Gibson, but to little avail. Used his timeouts wisely to stop Spurs runs. But once again failed to find way to get LeBron untracked.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
How fired-up were Cavs fans about their team's first NBA Finals appearance in the franchise's 37-year history? A T-shirt giveaway turned the Q into a sea of red, with many of the 20,562 fans also sporting blinking strobe lights and waving white towels. ... Ticket brokers were reporting prices of as high as $10,000 a pop for floor seats and $2,500 for courtside. "It's far and away the biggest demand we've ever had for the Cavs," said Mark Klang, president of Amazing Tickets. "It would have been even more if they had won one of the first two games in San Antonio." ... Among the celebrities in attendance were Colts QB Peyton Manning, Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, former NFL great Jim Brown and, of course, Eva Longoria. ... Greg Oden, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming Draft, attended his first NBA Finals game. He flew in that morning from Indianapolis on a commercial flight, folding his 7-foot frame into a seat in coach. "It wasn't too bad," Oden said. "At least I had an exit row."
Quote Of The Night
"Everybody has to still believe. It is the first [to] four games, but we have dug ourselves a big hole."
- LeBron James, on his team's mindset heading into Game 4.
For the Cavs, it's a chance to gain a little pride. For the Spurs, it's a chance to get an early start on the celebration. That's what's at stake in Thursday's Game 4 (9 p.m. EST/ABC), as the final outcome of the series has all but been decided. No team in NBA history has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series, let alone in the Finals, and it's unlikely Cleveland will be the first. The Spurs are just too good, too experienced and too focused. The only question is whether LeBron can break out for one victory.