Tim Duncan's rebound off a Tony Parker missed free throw was the biggest of his 16 boards in Game 3.
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., June 9 -- For once, a missed free throw worked to the Spurs' advantage.

Nursing a 78-75 lead with just over a minute to play, San Antonio's Emanuel Ginobili stripped Lucious Harris for his fourth steal of the game, took the ball out on a break and found Tony Parker going to the basket. Fouled by Kerry Kittles, Parker went to the line with 1:04 on the clock.

The Spurs have become reknowned during the playoffs for being far from automatic at the free-throw line, shooting .703 for the postseason and just .636 in the Finals. In Game 2 against New Jersey, they shot an embarrassing 14-of-25 (.560), ultimately losing by two points.

"Every time we lose a game it's because of free throws," said Parker on Friday night.

Not this time.

Parker, who had otherwise played brilliantly and finished the night with 26 points, clanked both of his attempts, but off the second miss, Tim Duncan snuck in to corral the offensive rebound, giving San Antonio a fresh shot clock and a chance to set up in the half-court. After the team ran off a full 20 seconds, Ginobili converted a leaning jumper in the lane to put the Spurs up by five.

"I don't know how it was able to happen, to be honest with you," said Nets coach Byron Scott afterward. "Tim Duncan is one of those guys, he assumes every free throw is going to be missed and he goes after every one. We just didn't do a good job of keeping him out of there, for whatever reason. He gets that back and they scored and that right there was probably the difference."

Of his rebound that sealed the game, Duncan observed, "I just went hard to the middle. Kenyon [Martin] tried to block me out and I just kind of ducked behind him. Just a lucky bounce and I was there to get it."

"I thought I had a body on him," said Martin. "He just slipped right off from me. Bottom line. I thought I had it. Our bodies rubbed but he slipped off and got a rebound. That kind of hurt a little bit."

Since the 2-3-2 NBA Finals format was adopted in 1984-85, eight series have been tied at 1-1. In all eight, the Game 3 winner went on to take the championship. Only two of those stretched to a Game 7.
YEAR
GAME 3
RESULT
2001
LAL 96, PHI 91
LAL 4-1
1998
CHI 96, UTA 54
CHI 4-2
1994
HOU 93, NYK 89
HOU 4-3
1992
CHI 94, POR 84
CHI 4-2
1991
CHI 104, LAL 96
CHI 4-1
1990
DET 121, POR 106
DET 4-1
1988
LAL 99, DET 86
LAL 4-3
1985
LAL 136, BOS 111
LAL 4-2
If history is any indication, it hurt more than a little bit. Though Scott called the loss a "minor setback" and Jason Kidd claimed there is "no pressure," the hard truth for New Jersey is that in series tied at a game apiece since the NBA Finals adopted the current 2-3-2 format, the winner of Game 3 has gone on to take the series eight times out of eight. And the last team to do it -- the 2001 L.A. Lakers -- won three straight games in Philadelphia for a 4-1 Finals victory.

"We would have loved to come here 2-0 and really put the pressure on them," said Duncan. "But we are right where we want to be. We have the opportunity to go into Game 4, get another one and really put them on their backs."

Overall, the Nets are drawing encouragement not only from their Game 2 win, but also from the fact that Game 3 was tight the entire way; aside from a couple of tough bounces, they were right there with San Antonio.

"Obviously we made some mistakes at the end," said Scott, "not blocking out at the free throw line and getting second chances like that. In a series like this, those type of things kill you."

Or, as Martin more succinctly put it, "'Right there' ain't going to get it done."