CLEVELAND -- There are two players in these NBA Finals who are well acquainted with the dynamic being involved in a 3-0 series.
Tales from the brink
"It was so funny, the five starters were sitting down watching the [other seven players] practice. We just enjoyed the moment. We didn't take it too serious, but we took it serious enough where we knew we needed to keep everything on a level key and handle our business."
Game 4 is Thursday night, with the Cavs facing the overwhelming task of trying to become the first team in NBA history to come all the way back from an 0-3 deficit.
Five years ago, the Nets surrendered meekly in Game 4 and were swept by the Lakers, but 11 years ago something entirely different happened to the Seattle SuperSonics after they dropped the first three games to the Chicago Bulls. With the worldwide media ready to crown that Bulls team (which had won an NBA-record 72 regular-season games) the greatest squad in league history, the Sonics spoiled that story line by hammering the Bulls by 21 points in Game 4 and by 12 points in Game 5.
"In Seattle it was pretty much like you're either going to lay it all on the line and play your guts out and throw all the agendas out the window, or stay in the locker room," said Snow, who was a rookie for the Sonics on that '95-96 team. "That was pretty much the approach that everybody had. Here, it has to be that mentality: that we're going to do everything it takes to win. You've got to be able to walk off this court and know you gave it everything you can."
In NBA Finals history, the 11 teams that trailed 3-0 have a cumulative 4-7 record in Game 4s.
The last two times it happened, with the Nets in '02 and the Sonics in '96, the teams had two consecutive off days between Games 3 and 4. This year, there's only one day off.
"[Coach] George [Karl] was like, we just got to go out there and be a force, just play like there's no tomorrow," Snow said. "If you got to hit, fight, whatever you've got to do, just get one victory. And George did a great job of inspiring the guys, just like he always does, and we went out and got Game 4 and Game 5 before, unfortunately, we lost Game 6 in Chicago."
Another player who was a member of that Lakers team that was up on the Nets 3-0 five years ago was Derek Fisher, who was at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday in his role as president of the players' association. He remembers spending two leisurely days in Manhattan, where the Lakers were staying during the 2002 Finals, in between Games 3 and 4.
"When you get to 3-0 in this situation, you've held your focus for so long that it almost becomes impenetrable," Fisher said. "You smell it. You know the championship is in your hands, all you have to do is close it. And I think the Spurs are the best in the business right now at closing it. They know how to do it.
"I still think the Cavaliers can win tomorrow, but in terms of the Spurs and their focus, I don't know if there's been a better team in the past 10 years. The Spurs are the best at once they smell it, they go get it."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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As usual, Spurs forward Robert Horry leads the pack. He could earn his seventh NBA championship ring on Thursday.
A sampling of views on the dynasty subject, with San Antonio on the verge of joining the 1990s Chicago Bulls, 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, 1950s and '60s Boston Celtics and 1940s and '50s Minneapolis Lakers as the only NBA franchises to win four titles in a decade or less:
Spurs forward Robert Horry, one win shy of surpassing boyhood idol Scottie Pippen with his seventh ring: "If you put this team in, say, LA [or] New York, everybody would be talking about Manu, Tim, Tony, Bruce. There'd be so many different marketing things you could do with the guys on this team. Guys on this team don't get enough credit for how good they are because we're in San Antonio, a small market. [But] I don't think it's a dynasty at all. It's just a team that's had some very good luck."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: "It doesn't even enter my head because I think that's all psychobabble. When I think of dynasties, two come to my mind real quick: UCLA and Bill Russell. Everything else is just talk after that."
Utah guard and NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher, in Cleveland to promote the NBPA's "Feed The Children" program: "I hate to say it, but they're probably surpassing us [Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant's three-peating Lakers of 2000-02], to be honest. We had that great four- or five-year period. But you have to step into the Bulls and the Celtics and those Lakers teams of the '80s [when it comes to teams] that dominated a 10-year period. I can honestly say they're surpassing us in terms of recent dynasties that have been able to sustain that level of excellence over a long period of time. They've become the class of this league, no question about it."
In Game 3, we finally had a close finish, which is very interesting to see expressed in these terms. San Antonio was in control the whole time, but that Parker 3, and that Varejao miss ... they were especially painful.
ProTrade also did a big analysis of the final moments, and determined: If no foul is called and James misses: Cleveland had a 0 percent chance of winning.
If a three-shot foul had been called: Cleveland had a 19 percent chance of winning (James is a 70 percent free throw shooter, so there's a 34 percent chance he makes all three). If he makes all three, the game is tied and the Cavaliers have a 55 percent chance to win (being at home gives them an edge if it goes to OT). The total of all those probability is 34 percent times 55 percent = 19 percent (This becomes 23 percent if you use the league-average FT percentage of 75 percent).
If a two-shot foul is called: Cleveland has a 3 percent chance of winning. LeBron needs to make the first free throw (70 percent) and miss the second while Cleveland gets the offensive rebound (15 percent). When home teams have the ball down two, with two seconds left, they have a 20 percent chance of winning. Putting all that together makes 70 percent times 15 percent times 20 percent = 3 percent.
Nathaniel S. Butler/ NBAE/Getty Images
No Barry Bonds Barcalounger here. In fact, not too much stuff in this locker. LeBron James won't have too much junk to put in the trunk once the Spurs seal the deal.
Right after the 2005 Finals, Spurs guard Tony Parker made the decision that he wanted to improve. He didn't care that he was a world champion point guard making near-max money and dating a hugely popular TV star; he was frustrated that his shaky jump shot was having such a negative impact on his game.
Enter Chip Engelland. Hired that offseason as a shooting coach by the Spurs, he'd previously plied his trade in Denver. Engelland helped rebuild Parker's jump shot piece by piece. The slingshot-like set shot that Parker entered the league with -- now gone forever -- was replaced by a smoother jumper that has repeatedly made the Cavaliers pay for going under screens to take away his driving lanes.
For Parker, it was the right coach at the right time.
"Timing is important," Engelland said, "because when you play in the NBA, you always think you're just going to keep getting better. [But] the NBA is hard, and then you plateau, and that timing is good [for fixing a shot]."
And there was definitely some fixing to do.
"In the first few years [of Parker's career], whenever he'd shoot it, I just figured it was going to be a turnover, same as a turnover -- there's no way that's going in," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "But in the last year and a half when he shoots it, I actually think it's going to go in, so he's changed me quite a bit. But that's due to his work and Chip Engelland, who's really worked hard on him."
Q (ABQ): Why is there no buzz for Bruce Bowen for MVP? Shouldn't he at least be mentioned as a candidate after making life miserable for the global icon?
John Hollinger: I was thinking about this last night when Bowen had matched him point for point through three quarters. If you're ever going to give the award to a Bowen-type player, this would be the series. But San Antonio also shredded Cleveland at the other end in the first two games, and Parker was a huge reason why.
Mike (Fresno): If Cleveland is in the Western Conference, where do they finish in the standings and (if they make it) how far do they advance in the playoffs?
John Hollinger: Sixth or seventh seed, one and done.
TrueHoop's Henry Abbott examines the future of the Cavaliers with Brian Windhorst of the Akron Beacon Journal. While a championship looks out of reach for LeBron and the Cavs this year, the future looks bright. Listen
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