SAN ANTONIO -- You've clicked to the wrong place if you're looking for "Sopranos" explanations, frustrations or commiserations.
Tony's crew works Cavs over
All we can do here, sadly, is confirm that Sunday night at the NBA Finals was not the place for suspense.
Not until the fourth quarter, anyway.
How else to account for that late burst of competitiveness from the overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers? LeBron James collected two fouls inside the opening three minutes and couldn't prevent even uglier scenes for the Cavs over the next two quarters, including LeBron's airballed free throw. The Spurs were slicing through them so comfortably, so ruthlessly in this Game 2, that the letdown theory is the only plausible theory.
"It was really disappointing," Spurs hero Manu Ginobili said, not long after his crucial four-point play with 2:24 to go helped the hosts secure a 103-92 triumph in which their 27-point lead entering the final period got chopped to eight.
"We played such a great game for three quarters that, seeing the team kind of stop in the fourth quarter, it was irresponsible from us."
Natural is another word for it, given how easy San Antonio was making this look. When you amass the third-biggest halftime lead in Finals history (58-33) and you're riding an 89-60 lead with less than a minute left in the third -- in a game going head-to-head for America's affections with the finale of a pretty big series on HBO -- perhaps switching off was inevitable. Even for Tim Duncan's team, masters of execution and efficiency themselves.
"It's tough, it's tough," Parker said. "That's why sometimes I don't like to have a 20-point lead. I'm not going to complain. I'll take it. But, sometimes, it's tough."
It's the only difficulty in Parker's charmed life at the moment, after he proved uncontainable again with a mixture of drives and jumpers that added up to a game-high 30 points, putting even more distance between Parker and his old habit of fading badly in the late rounds of the playoffs.
Yet Cleveland might be able to live with the Parker punishment if it was playing the sort of team D and controlling the boards like the Cavs do in the East. But they're not. It used to be said in South Texas that you'd almost never see every member of San Antonio's Big Three get it rolling on the same evening, but that's exactly what happened ... and not for the first time in these playoffs. The Spurs can get away with a fourth-quarter nap when Ginobili sneakily draws as a foul as he drains a killer 3-pointer to finish with 25 points off the bench and the unflappable Duncan is tacking on the bonus of eight assists to his 23 points and nine boards.
That's 78 points alone from the Spurs' big three, if you're interested, to go with a second consecutive Spurs victory in the rebound game (46-42).
Worse yet for the poor, undermanned LeBrons: Robert Horry -- chasing his seventh ring, remember -- matched Duncan's nine boards and blocked five shots.
"Robert was our star tonight," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich insisted.
Horry even tried to liven up proceedings in crunch time with a dive for a loose ball that actually knocked Popovich flat on his back.
Problem is, this game -- like that ball -- was probably unsavable, given the TV competition and the gulf in class between a team that knows this Finals terrain so well and a team here ahead of its time.
Horry said coming in that he was sure LeBron would bounce back big from his Game 1 nightmare, insisting that the 22-year-old was merely borrowing from Muhammad Ali's famed rope-a-dope strategy. (Except that Horry calls it the "okeydoke.")
The Spurs' fears, though, were never realized. They outscored Cleveland only 19-13 in the seemingly interminable 9:05 of the first quarter that James had to watch from the bench, waiting until LeBron returned for the entire second quarter to turn this into a blowout.
The Cavs couldn't have been asking more from its self-proclaimed "Sopranos" addict. James was not only asked to skip his favorite show under the weight of those big bounce-back expectations offensively but also assigned to start defensively on Parker, with Cavs coach Mike Brown figuring James had a better shot than any of his teammates at keeping Parker out of the lane.
But James collected his two quick fouls as a late-arriving help defender on Duncan both times and fueled the Spurs' big run when he returned with two missed jumpers and a turnover. James wound up needing 21 shots to get his 25 points, with six turnovers overall to offset six assists and seven rebounds. You can second-guess Brown for sitting his franchise player for the rest of the opening quarter, if you wish, but be advised that the Cavs were outscored by 19 points in the first half when LeBron was out there.
"It's a butt-whupping," said Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas. "That's all it was."
Which is another way of saying: You didn't miss much, "Sopranos" fans.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
AFP Photo/Jeff Haynes
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Tony Parker seemed to exude confidence while chatting en route to a Game 2 victory.
The series resumes Tuesday night in Cleveland, the same place where just two weeks ago we saw the Cavs enter a Game 3 down 2-0.
They didn't look quite anywhere near as dead at that point against the Pistons as they do right now, but the important thing to remember is this:
They weren't dead then, and they're not dead now. They may be on life support with a pulse rate of 30 and a respirator hooked up to their lungs, but they ain't dead.
And the coroner really can't be put on full alert until Tuesday night has come and gone and we know whether this thing stands 3-0 or 2-1.
"It's hard to eliminate anybody in any round of the playoffs, and I think as each round continues it's progressively tougher," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said afterward. "We don't think about sweeps or anything like that. We always plan for a long, drawn-out seven-game series. If a series ends up not being that, that's great. But we plan for seven all the time."
Not to rain on the Spurs' parade (has it been tentatively scheduled for Friday yet?) too much, but a little history lesson is in order here.
It was only two years ago that the NBA Finals were this much of a mismatch after only two games, San Antonio having beaten the Detroit Pistons by 15 points in Game 1 and 21 points in Game 2. But when the series shifted to Detroit and the Pistons were surrounded by the comforts of home, they rallied in a huge way, winning Game 3 by 17 and Game 4 by 31, and it finally became a compelling series in Games 5, 6 and 7.
So although it seems like this series is done -- and boy did it look done after LeBron James went to the bench less than 3 minutes in Sunday and Tony Parker kept getting into the lane and converting (30 points on 13-for-20 shooting) _ no series is ever done after just two games.
You probably missed it if you turned this one off before the fourth quarter began, but Cleveland outscored San Antonio 30-14 over the final 12 minutes, cutting a deficit that was as large as 29 all the way down to eight behind nine points from Daniel Gibson and eight from James.
So there was a pulse beating there, no matter how faint it seemed in the first three quarters. And there was a surge by the Cavs, never mind it was the textbook definition of too little, too late.
So there may just be some life left in the team from Cleveland, and again, one game is only one game, which is why the NBA does not have a mercy rule. They're going to keep playing this thing until it's done.
"The bottom line," Cavs coach Mike Brown said, "is one game and one day at a time."
Nothing absurd about that. But let's wait and see if the Cavs are mentally tough enough to realize that a title is still within their reach, no matter how unlikely that prospect seemed Sunday night. This version of the NBA Finals will not be a laughing matter if Cleveland can do in 2007 what Detroit did in 2005.
-- Chris Sheridan in San Antonio
Carlos Boozer did not click to Thursday's Game 1 on TV. Nor is he sure that he can stomach Game 2.
"It's very hard to watch The Finals," Boozer said when we tracked him down this weekend. "Only because we were three wins away from the Finals.
"It's hard for me to watch 'cause I want to be in 'em so bad."
It's not, Boozer stressed, because of his messy parting from the Cavs in the summer of 2004. He doesn't deny that a partnership with LeBron James "would've been something to watch," but Boozer insists that he doesn't "look back and wonder, 'What if?'"
"LeBron has become one of the best players in the league," Boozer said, "and I've become one of the best power forwards."
Lisa Blumenfeld/ NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James (25 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was saddled with early foul trouble. And so was the Cavs' game.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
ESPN Radio sideline reporters Lisa Salters (Cavs) and Ric Bucher (Spurs) provided the best nuggets overheard during Sunday's Spurs-Cavs Game 2 of the NBA Finals:
SAN ANTONIO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to the team at halftime with a 25-point lead: "Understand where we're at. This is not January in Atlanta. This is Game 2 of the NBA championship. You know what that kid [LeBron] is capable of. I don't want to bore you with the whole 'Play like it's zero-zero,' but respect it. Don't let this pass you by."
CAVS: With 2:46 to go in the first half -- and the Spurs up by 24 points -- LeBron James came to the bench during a timeout and yelled, "S---!"
Obviously frustrated, Cleveland players started calling each other out, saying, "We're playing like a bunch of wimps."
That's when Eric Snow took over the huddle and said, "Look at that clock! You've got to feel embarrassed. But the one thing about it ... It's all about, they are outworking us. If you don't think so, you're kidding yourself. That's number one. If we outwork and we play harder, we'll cut the lead just by that. Then we've got to play better. Everybody knew it. Stick to the game plan!"
Catch the next Cavs-Spurs game starting Tuesday at 8:20 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio. Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown are on the call.
Cavs coach Mike Brown's frontline simply hasn't been able to compete with the Spurs, while his small lineup off the bench has worked wonders, especially in the fourth quarters of Games 1 and 2.
Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been miserable at both ends, going just 4-of-16 shooting with just 10 rebounds in the first two games. He's been unable to affect Duncan at all and often has found himself out of position. When LeBron James had to go to the bench with fouls in the first quarter Sunday, it was twice because he was covering for Ilgauskas' defensive mistakes, one in transition and one off a mishandled pick-and-roll.
Larry Hughes, battling a foot injury, is just 1-of-10 shooting and has just two assists in the first two games. Drew Gooden and Sasha Pavlovic have produced better offensive numbers, but have been suspect. Pavlovic is getting handled on defense by whomever he covers, and Gooden is getting beat to rebounds.
When Brown goes to a small lineup of LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall the Cavs have outplayed the Spurs. Part of it may be the home team relaxing with large leads, indeed. The flip side is that group really challenges the Spurs' collapsing and expanding defense with its shooters. On defense, while it still has matchup issues, the Cavs' small and quick group's extra energy and quickness seems to make a difference.
That lineup pushes the ball better in transition, preventing the Spurs from setting up their defense. Gibson has hit 13-of-22 shots and is averaging 15.5 points in the two games. Varejao is averaging nine points and seven rebounds. Jones, Marshall and Gibson are a combined 8-of-18 on 3-pointers as well. In all, those five have primarily outscored the Spurs by 22 points in the fourth quarters of both games.
A selection of the Game 2 postgame ESPN.com Conversation, which included Kiki Vandeweghe:
There seems to be no answer for Tony Parker.
There are two reasons for this and they are shooting and speed. Parker is just way too fast for anybody on the Cavs. He has wrecked havoc in the league for years getting in the lane and it has continued these first two games of the finals. When you let somebody as talented as Tony Parker get into the heart of your defense it creates way too many problems.
He draws fouls on your big defenders and he opens up shots for your three-point shooters. In addition he has become quite adept at the pick and roll either finishing or creating easy opportunities for Duncan. What has also made him so hard to contain and his drive much more effective is that now you must guard him outside.
As far as Tony's improved shooting give credit to a few areas. First the San Antonio Spurs hired Chip Engelland away from the Denver Nuggets to become their shooting coach. Chip is a tireless worker and extremely good at his job. I should know because I gave him his first opportunity in Denver. In addition to chip nothing should be taken away from Tony Parker's work ethic.
He knew that the one flaw in his game was shooting and he made a real commitment over this past year to improve that. This is what all the great ones do and we are seeing Tony Parker go from being a very good basketball player to a legitimate star in his own right.