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Thursday, May 8
 
Hard work pays off big for Bowen

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- He did the live postgame with Craig Sager, then the big press conference reserved for coaches and big stars, then skipped down the corridor to celebrate the night that you talked about his defense second.

Down the hall went Bruce Bowen, right into the weight room.

"He's in there lifting right now," said Spurs sage Steve Kerr, not really believing what he was saying or what he had just seen. "Bruce has unlimited energy."

Bruce Bowen
Spurs forward Bruce Bowen watches one of his seven 3-pointers drop.
It's an energy surplus that gets Bowen to every practice early to shoot extra free throws. It's a reservoir of fuel that had Bowen taking an 8 a.m. university course in public relations all season to close in on his college degree. It's the well supplying the juice that takes Bowen all over the floor, wherever Kobe Bryant goes, to the point that Bryant -- in his own grudging way -- admitted late Wednesday that Bowen's constant hounding means "every shot is contested."

Which was only half the Game 2 story.

Bowen was not invited to the main press-conference podium because of his adhesive defense on Bryant, who shot 9-for-24 from the field after a 16-for-38 showing in Game 1. It's because Bowen unexpectedly sank seven 3-pointers in eight attempts, tying Bryant with 27 points and scoring a franchise record from behind the line, in the Spurs' 114-95 victory in Game 2 ... accounting for the first 2-0 series deficit the Lakers have ever faced in the Phil Jackson era.

It was a shooting exhibition that had old deadeyes like Kerr and Steve Smith saluting in admiration, and it also suggested that Bowen didn't record the league's highest regular-season percentage on threes (.441) by any fluke. Kerr, asked if he has been working with Bowen, said: "Maybe he should be working with me."

So make that two wins and two role-playing heroes for the Spurs, who have seized their 2-0 lead over the Lakers without anything resembling Tim Duncan's best. Manu Ginobili was San Antonio's standout player in Game 1 and Bowen, improbably, was the difference-maker at both ends in Game 2, putting the wheezing and thinning champs in a legitimate hole by pushing the pace whenever possible.

These clearly aren't the same Spurs who won one of nine playoff games against L.A. the last two springs. They're obviously not the same Lakers, either, but the constant penetration of Tony Parker and Ginobili would give any team trouble. All season, Bowen has been stationed in the corners, waiting to capitalize on the draw-and-kick game.

It happened several times Wednesday at SBC Center, but only after Bowen opened his barrage with a long three at the top of the arc -- a dead-center look at the hoop. In yet another measure of this team's progress, be advised that it wasn't long ago that Bowen wasn't allowed by his coaches to shoot anything other than threes from the corners.

"I think that rule has changed," Kerr quipped.

It's a non-rule now. Bowen had the clearance to take a straight-on three, made it, and soon was splashing them in from all over the floor, living off the attention drawn inside by Duncan and the drives by Parker and Ginobili. At halftime, by which point he held a 17-14 scoring edge over Bryant, you already had the sense that this would be an unforgettable evening for the Spurs, helped along by Ginobili's inexplicable baseline jumper ... which somehow skimmed the backboard twice and rattled in.

Yes, from the baseline.

Bowen, meanwhile, also blocked two of Kobe's jumpers, while providing the dogged single coverage that enables the Spurs -- along with the shared efforts of David Robinson and Duncan against Shaquille O'Neal -- to limit the production of L.A.'s supporting cast. To make sure nothing besmirched his once-in-a-lifetime evening, Bowen also stayed off the foul line, where he still struggles mightily. It's a flaw no one here can seem to explain; Bowen shot 44 percent on threes in the regular season and .404 on his free throws. Has to be some sort of record.

"It's one of the most interesting things I've ever seen," Kerr said, "because he shot 40 percent from the line.

He works so hard. Every practice, he starts out shooting. He just plugs away. He's just gotten into such a groove, because, along with the practice, the threes that he gets are almost all in the corner, all out of the rhythm of our offense.
Steve Kerr on Bruce Bowen

"He works so hard. Every practice, he starts out shooting. He just plugs away. He's just gotten into such a groove, because, along with the practice, the threes that he gets are almost all in the corner, all out of the rhythm of our offense."

Of course, not even Bowen expects another night like this one. He doesn't expect anything. Undrafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 1993, and not a legitimate NBA prospect at that time, Bowen was forced to play in France and the CBA -- and with Boston, Chicago and Miami -- before developing a reputation as a potential Kobe Stopper and securing his first long-term contract last summer. So grateful to finally have a steady job, as the Spurs' No. 1 defensive option against Bryant, Bowen's answer is to train and practice maniacally to guard against slippage.

Which is why Bowen was lifting weights while teammates, in a victorious locker room, were meeting the press and issuing statements like this one from David Robinson: "If you have Bruce on you (defensively), you're going to get a little bit rattled."

Bowen, explaining the need for postgame lifting himself, said with a wide smile: "I appreciate where I am."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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