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Spurs' shot at 3-1 series lead way off target

6/12/2003 - San Antonio Spurs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The San Antonio Spurs lost a game they should've won on Wednesday night. If the Spurs were told they would shoot 83 percent from the free-throw line and only have 12 turnovers in Game 4, they'd feel comfortable believing they'd be up 3-1 afterwards. Instead, the series is tied 2-2 because the Spurs turned into the team that couldn't shoot straight.

The Spurs only shot 29 percent from the field because of a combination of the Nets' tremendous defense, the Spurs' role players' inability to hit an open shot and the referees' swallowing of their whistles. Time and time again, the Nets would force the ball out of Tim Duncan's hands only to have a Spurs perimeter player miss an open jumper.

The Spurs are in a good position in this series because the Nets have decided not to let Duncan dominate and to make his role players beat them. And as we've seen in Games 1 and 3, the Spurs' depth is a great asset to have when faced with this dilemma. At any time, any player on the Spurs can heat up and torch the Nets and has done so in the series. Meanwhile, Duncan is still getting his numbers as evidenced by his 23 points and 17 rebounds in Game 4.

Duncan was the regular-season MVP for a reason and no amount of defense will stop him from getting his shots and points. The best the Nets -- or any team for that matter -- can hope for is that he has a cold-shooting night. He hasn't had one yet this series and I don't expect him to have one on a stage this big. But no matter how great a night Duncan has, when Tony Parker, Emanuel Ginobili, Malik Rose and Stephen Jackson combine for 5-of-40 shooting and just 18 points, then the Spurs are -- no pun intended -- shooting themselves in the foot.

The perimeter players for the Spurs may have put undue pressure on themselves because of their low-post players' foul trouble. After two days of hearing the Nets' coaches complain about the officiating, the refs decided to start calling more fouls on the Spurs. The result was David Robinson fouling out and Duncan, Rose and Kevin Willis finishing the game with at least three fouls. As a result, the Spurs were forced to take more outside shots than they would've liked on a night when they couldn't put a ball in the Gulf of Mexico.

Also, Duncan only shot three foul shots the entire game despite maintaining his aggression going towards the basket. Overall, the Spurs only had 24 foul shots, which is low for a team with such strong low-post presences and guards who can attack the basket seemingly at will.

After watching how effective the Nets' complaints about the refs were, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich may have to resort to some whining of his own to maintain an even playing field.

Dr. Jack Ramsay, who is an NBA analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.