- Jerry Bembry
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sniffling and dabbing his nose with his blue towel, Kenyon Martin -- his head bowed as he sat in front of his locker -- would make no excuses.
Two baskets in 38 minutes? Martin said it wasn't the flu. A game-high eight turnovers? Martin said it was just a bad game.
Zero trips to the free-throw line for a player known for his aggression around the basket? Martin said it happens that way sometimes.
"They did what they had to do, man," Martin said. "I'm not making any excuses."
Whatever it was that derailed Martin, it came at the worst possible time for the Nets. His poor performance -- which included three crucial turnovers during an 81-second stretch of the fourth quarter -- played a major part in the Nets' 93-83 loss that left New Jersey on the verge of elimination, down 3-2.
"Obviously it affected him," said Nets coach Byron Scott of Martin's illness, which many speculated led to his lowest scoring game of the playoffs. "But with K-Mart you know he's going to try to go out and play as hard as he can."
For Martin, it was his worst game since scoring four points in 34 minutes in a January 20 loss in Salt Lake City (Martin had four points in a February 5 game against Philadelphia, leaving the game with a sprained knee after playing just 12 minutes).
Martin did grab nine rebounds and blocked three shots. But he had only one field goal in each half, and lacked his usual lift around the basket as he took just eight shots the entire game. In a pivotal game of the series, Martin asked out of the game only six minutes in and never was close to his dominant self.
"He asked to come out because I think he was just kind of feeling the effect of the illness that he was having," Scott said. "He was dead tired."
Martin's response to the lack of energy theory: "I had it. It was just a bad game at the wrong time."
Despite Martin's lack of production, the Nets fought back from a 10-point deficit and got to within a basket after a driving lay-up by Richard Jefferson with 4:31 left. But a short time later Martin was stripped in the post by Steve Kerr, who seconds later hit a 3-pointer that gave the Spurs an 83-76 lead with 2:47 remaining.
A pass by Martin on New Jersey's next possession was stolen by Emanuel Ginobili, who scored on a lay-up that pushed the lead to 85-76. Two possessions later Martin was leading the break when he attempted a pass to Jason Kidd that was stolen by David Robinson. With Kerr scoring on a short jumper, three turnovers by Martin had turned into six San Antonio points.
"I had a couple of bad turnovers and missed easy baskets," Martin said. "This was a bad one, the first bad one in a long time."
Martin, who missed practice on Thursday, said he felt better in Game 4 (when he had 23 points and 10 rebounds) than he did Friday night. Whether the Nets get back in this series will be largely determined on how the Nets' second-leading scorer bounces back.
Up until Game 5, Martin had been New Jersey's most consistent offensive performer in a series where the Nets in particular have had difficulty scoring. Martin was averaging 19.5 points in the Finals before his Game 5 meltdown.
"Kenyon's been our emotional leader, he's been our 'A' player this entire series," Kidd said. "Unfortunately, he didn't have the K-Mart game that we're all accustomed to. He didn't feel well. That doesn't mean we can't still go out there and pick up the slack."
Martin vowed that wouldn't be necessary.
"I thought it was going to be OK, I've had bad games before," Martin said. "But I'll bounce back from this."
The Nets' season will depend on it.
Jerry Bembry is general editor (NBA) for ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him via e-mail at Jerry.Bembry@ESPN3.com.
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