Spurs hang on at Cleveland, within one win of sweep

CLEVELAND -- Rude and ruthless, the San Antonio Spurs ruined Cleveland's 37-year wait to host the NBA Finals.

Unwelcome guests, they defied the young King and may soon take home another crown of their own.

Bruce Bowen, the defensive stopper, emerged as an unlikely offensive star as the Spurs moved within one win of their fourth championship in nine years with a 75-72 win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

And they did it with only two-thirds of their Big 3 doing what they usually do in one of the lowest-scoring games in Finals history.

Tony Parker scored 17 points and Tim Duncan had 14, but Manu Ginobili, who scored 25 in Game 2, had just three -- all free throws in the final 10.4 seconds -- to hold off the Cavaliers and crush the hopes of their towel-waving crowd, who had never before seen their team play a Finals game in person.

Cleveland's chances, and maybe their last hopes of extending the season, ended when LeBron James, who led the Cavaliers with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, was short with a 3-pointer in the final seconds.

Bowen, who had just nine points in the first two games, scored 13 and Brent Barry made three 3-pointers for the Spurs, who can all but plan their victory parade as no team has ever overcome an 3-0 deficit.

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"It doesn't change at all," Duncan said of the Spurs' attitude. "We need to get one more, and that's it, however it comes. We know they're going to come out this next game, they don't want to get swept."

The Spurs can wrap up their third title in five years with a win in Game 4 on Thursday night. If they do complete the eighth sweep in Finals history, they'll join the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls as the only franchises to win four or more titles.

The grind-it-out game tied for the second fewest points in NBA Finals history, matching San Antonio's 80-67 win over the New York Knicks in 1999.

James, the 22-year-old who saved Cleveland's franchise, couldn't rescue this series.

He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, threatening to take over as he did in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, with drives through the teeth of San Antonio's smothering defense.

But James had several layups dance off the rim, and he received little help from his teammates as the Cavs went just 3-for-19 on 3-pointers and failed to take advantage on a night when the Spurs were not themselves.

All James can do now is try to prevent a sweep by the Spurs, who are 48 minutes from adding a 2007 title to the ones they captured in 1999, 2003 and 2005. Every other year, it seems to be San Antonio's turn, and this one is no different.

James scored seven consecutive points as the Cavs cut a 10-point lead to 69-67 with 1:22 remaining on another layup by Cleveland's star. But Parker countered with a 3-pointer before Sasha Pavlovic hit a deep one for the Cavs to make it 72-70 with 48.1 seconds remaining.

Parker, so dominant in Games 1 and 2, made a turnover but the Cavs failed to capitalize. James, criticized early in the playoffs for being too unselfish, passed to Anderson Varejao and the mop-topped Brazilian, nicknamed "Wild Thing," flung up a wild shot that wasn't close.

Ginobili was fouled, missed his first throw but finally got something to fall through the net to give the Spurs a three-point lead. James again got to the rim for a basket before Ginobili's two free throws gave San Antonio its final margin.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service


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