Sorry, San Antonio, the NBA Finals aren't coming back to town.
Not this year anyway. They might be back next year. And the year after that. Right now it's hard to imagine too many years in a row going by without the NBA Finals touching down in San Antone, although once upon a time that was true about Boston. And Los Angeles.
Remember all those Finals series between the Celtics and Lakers? Good times. What's your era? Magic vs. Bird? Wilt vs. Russell? Have you noticed I'm trying to avoid talking about Game 3 of the '07 Finals? Is that bad? What's your favorite color? You like burritos? Hey, there's a spider on my desk.
The Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 75-72 Tuesday night in Game 3, a game that featured one minute of excitement packed into 48 minutes of low-scoring, ugly torpor. The Spurs now lead the series 3-0, an advantage from which no NBA team has ever stumbled. And if ever a team is going to lose a 3-0 lead in a playoff series, it's probably not going to be these Spurs against these Cavaliers.
And yes I know I said that about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 2004. I stand before you -- actually, I'm sitting, but the spider's standing -- unafraid. Never mind coming back to take the series, I don't think the Cavs have it in them to put together the two-game winning streak it would take to force a trip back to Texas for Game 6.
The Cavaliers are just being outclassed by a team that can beat you any way you want to be beaten. Want to lose by playing fast or slow? Want to lose ugly? OK. Want to outplay them and still lose? Gotcha covered.
That's what happened Tuesday. The Cavaliers could have won Game 3. Not only did they have their chances at the end, they outplayed the Spurs in just about every way except the often-crucial practice of putting the ball through that metal hoop. The Spurs outshot the Cavs 41-37 percent, but the big difference came from beyond the arc. Both teams shot 19 3-pointers. The Spurs made 10, the Cavaliers three.
See ya. Thanks for playing. Would you like to see something in a double-overtime heartbreaker for Game 4? We have a lovely score-103-and-still-lose if you'd like to try that on. Perhaps a blown double-digit lead? Have it your way!
Cleveland did have a good chance at the end of this one when the game finally got exciting and a nation of dozens roused itself from puddles of drool. The Spurs' lead had accordioned between four and 10 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, and it was four when LeBron James hit a free throw with 5:28 to go to make it 67-63. Three minutes, 34 seconds later, the lead was still four.
The score: 67-63.
It was an astonishing display of bad basketball, a festival of missed shots and turnovers. James hit two more free throws with 1:54 to go to cut the lead to two. The scoreboard operator had to consult the manual to remind himself how to change the score.
Then it got good. Really. No, I know, sleeping's good too. I understand. I'll tell you about it.
After a pair of Tim Duncan free throws made it 69-65, James made a tricky shot to bring it back to a two-point Spurs lead. From the top of the key he passed to Eric Snow cutting across the lane. Snow dribbled across the key and pitched the ball back to James, cutting toward the basket. Duncan stepped up to challenge James' shot, and James sliced in the air to his left, scoring with his left hand with 1:22 left.
Remember that give-and-go.
The teams then traded threes, Parker nailing what looked like a huge one, only to have Sasha Pavlovic, a bricklayer of some renown who had gone 1-for-5 from beyond the arc on the night, bury one from the left corner with 48.1 seconds to go.
On the Spurs' next trip Parker got away with a travel, then lost the ball as he got caught in the air with nowhere to go. This was not Tony Parker's night, despite the supportive cheering of pulchritudinous fiancée Eva Longoria, whom I mention for page-view purposes. And I said fiancée, not Beyoncé.
Anderson Varejao picked up the loose ball and the Cavs crossed midcourt with one more second on the game clock than the 24-second clock, San Antonio leading 72-70. James dribbled to the right elbow, got cut off by Bruce Bowen, passed to Varejao at the top of the key and stepped out to take the return pass from Varejao so he could attack Bowen from a new angle.
But Varejao forgot who was who.
He drove left, spun into the lane and put up a crazy scoop finger-roll jai-alai thingy over Duncan, who must have thought it was his birthday. Varejao's 4-foot layup missed by about 6 feet and Duncan grabbed the rebound.
See, Anderson, you were supposed to give it back there. LeBron James is the guy who should be taking that shot. You, Anderson Varejao, are, not to put too fine a point on it, the guy who should be not taking that shot.
The Cavs fouled Manu Ginobili, who obliged by missing one of two free throws, leaving the Spurs up by three with 10.4 to go. After a quick, uncontested layup by James and two made free throws by Ginobili, the Cavs trailed by three again with 5.5 seconds left.
They got the shot they wanted: James came off a screen by Zydrunas Ilgauskas, took the inbound pass up top and dribbled left once to escape Bowen, who was trying to foul him to put him on the line for two shots before he could get the three-point shot off.
Two problems with that: First, James had picked up his dribble and was about to begin his leap when Bowen grabbed him. Under the NBA's overly generous "continuation" rules, that would have been a shooting foul, three shots if James had missed, one for a four-point play if he'd made it.
Except for that second problem: The refs didn't make the call. If LeBron James needed any proof that he hasn't arrived in Michael Jordan territory yet, there it was.
It wasn't a bad shot for James, but it rattled out. I thought he leaned to the left unnecessarily to try to exaggerate the contact that by that time was in the foggy mists of history, and that might have thrown off the shot. Then again, it didn't miss by much. Maybe it was just a good shot that missed the mark.
So the Cavaliers have now sampled the "bench the best player," the "get blown out but make it close with a meaningless late comeback" and the "outplay 'em and still lose." One more method of defeat to go.
What'll ya have, Cavs?
Previous column: Slingbox sports
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -