SAN ANTONIO -- Once again, collapse became the story line at the SBC Center, only this time it was the third quarter. And this time, the home team didn't fall apart.
This time, the opponents hit the floor with a thud and the San Antonio Spurs were able to keep them down, protecting a 15-point cushion at the start of the fourth period to take a 1-0 series lead in the NBA Finals with a 101-89 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night.
The Spurs built that double-digit lead thanks to a 32-17 third-quarter blitz fueled by the dominating duo of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Duncan scored 13 of his game-high 32 points in the decisive quarter and Parker poured in nine of his 16 points to take Round 1 of his championship bout with Jason Kidd.
Game 2 is Friday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) at the SBC Center.
The Spurs had been criticized throughout the playoffs for letting five healthy fourth-quarter leads get whittled away to nothing. But Duncan and Malik Rose turned away a modest New Jersey comeback by combining for San Antonio's first 10 points of the fourth. David Robinson made sure the lead never dipped into single digits with two of his four blocks.
"Once we settled in, we just played our basketball," said Robinson, who also had 14 points and six rebounds. "The second half was real good because that's the way the basketball is going to be played pretty much. They're going to make more shots than they made tonight. They're going to try and get out and run a little bit more. But I liked the way we played. I liked the way we worked together. I liked the way we moved the ball.
"As this series goes on, we're going to get better and better. We're going to play more solid -- more like that second half."
Duncan, who was mostly guarded one-on-one by Kenyon Martin, overcame a quiet, eight-point first half to put up his usual big offensive numbers on easy-it-as-it-looks 11-of-17 shooting. The two-time MVP also had 20 rebounds, six assists, three steals and seven blocks.
Martin turned in an inspired performance for the Nets, who saw their 10-game playoff win streak come to an end. He finished with a team-high 21 points and 12 rebounds, but he got little help from the Nets' All-Star point guard and leader, Kidd.
Kidd will have few positive memories about his series opener, missing 13 of his 17 shots to manage only 10 points. He had 10 assists but never got into his usual uptempo flow against the Spurs' defense, which focused on stopping New Jersey's trademark fastbreak.
Forced to match halfcourt offenses with San Antonio, New Jersey shot just 37.1 percent -- 30.8 percent on 3-pointers (4 of 13). The Spurs made a concerted effort to drive the ball to the basket to score almost half of their points in the paint (48-34) and shoot 49.4 percent (39 of 79).
"They had four guys back, so they always kept the floor balanced," Kidd said. "We had opportunities, but we turned the ball over in the first half and in the third quarter we didn't get out and run. We were passive once they made that run in the third quarter."
Richard Jefferson and Lucious Harris both had 15 points for New Jersey, which lost its fifth straight game in the Finals dating back to last season's four-game sweep by the Lakers. Rodney Rogers added 11 points.
Rose collected 12 points and six rebounds off the Spurs' bench. Manu Ginobili had seven points and seven rebounds.
The first half could be seen as one of those glass-full, half-empty perspectives. Either you viewed the 42-42 halftime tie as great defense or bad shot selection. It was a little bit of both. Said Duncan: "I don't think anybody played well in the first half."
Byron Scott wasn't about to let the Nets' 10-day layoff be used as an excuse. "I think anytime you have that length of time off you're going to be a little rusty -- I think we all expected that -- but that still has nothing to do with being outworked," Scott said. "They beat us to loose balls and rebounds. They were just much more aggressive."
Kidd and Parker set out to make the first statement in their much-publicized head-to-head battle due to the Spurs' interest in signing Kidd as a free agent this summer. The two ended up not saying much at all in the first quarter. Kidd shot 2-of-6 for four points and totaling as many turnovers as assists (three) and Parker missed four of his five shots, most of them ill-advised.
Kidd's night simply got worse. Force to shoot over the Spurs' zone, Kidd suffered through a scoreless, 0-for-5 second quarter and looked helpless at times in the third quarter while Parker ran amok.
"It was just a bad night for him," Parker said. "He missed a lot of wide-open shots. I know he's going to come back stronger in the next game."
With the Spurs cutting off Kidd at the pass at midcourt, the Nets were forced into a halfcourt game, which meant foul trouble for their front line. All five of New Jersey's top five big men had two fouls with 4:26 left in the second quarter after Robinson drew contact from Dikembe Mutombo for a three-point play and a 36-35 lead.
That's right, Dikembe Mutombo.
Mutombo, who predicted he'd see action for only the second time since the first round, proved to be a prophet when Scott had no choice but wipe the cobwebs off Mutombo after backup forward/center Aaron Williams picked up his second foul. Mutombo surprisingly gave the Nets a spark, even rejecting a dunk attempt by Duncan, diving for the loose ball and calling a timeout while sprawled out on the floor. The Nets' bench erupted.
"I thought the time he was in there he did a wonderful job," Kidd said of Mutombo, who had no points and two rebounds in his six minutes.
Steve Kerr's heroics in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals didn't earn him a promotion. Speedy Claxton remained as the Spurs' backup point guard. "I'll explain it like Steve Kerr heard it," Popovich said. "Someone asked Steve that and he said we won 60 games with those guys. They are better."