Why is Parker suddenly the man? How do the Nets get Kidd back on track? Who do the Nets need to keep out of foul trouble? And do the Spurs really need to hit their free throws? Former Clippers coach Alvin Gentry (left) talks about the key issues facing both teams in NBA Finals 2003. (Note: All stats are from Games 1-3 of NBA Finals 2003.)
Can Kidd be the man again?
In order for Jason Kidd (17.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 8.3 apg, 3.67 TO, .350 FG%) to be productive, the Nets have to find a way to get the running game going, and this means they need to rebound and play better defense. You get the transition game going by rebounding off of stops, not by taking the ball out of the basket after made shots.
That being said, Tony Parker (21.0 ppg, 5.3 apg, .462 FG%) has probably outplayed Kidd in Games 1 and 3. Contrary to what Tony says publicly about not caring about the speculation that the Spurs want to sign Kidd, I do think it's a personal thing for him. As an athlete, that competitiveness comes out at a time like this and fortunately for the Spurs, it's been great for his play.
I'd equate it to being a coach when you face your former team. If you've been fired from that team and you face that team, you say it's just another game, but it's never just another game.
How do you help K-Mart against TD?
The K-Mart-TD matchup down low has been a battle.
If there's one guy who's had a coming-out party in the Finals, it's Kenyon Martin
(19.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg). I think he's more than held his own against arguably the best player in the league, Tim Duncan
(24.0 ppg, 16.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, 4.3 bpg). Fouls are the only problem for Martin. But it's a big problem.
The problem is that if you guard Duncan over a long period of time in a game, you're going to end up in foul trouble. Either that or Duncan will have a big game. TD is so composed that you can stop him three straight times, but on the fourth or fifth time, he'll show you better footwork and another way to score.
The Nets should double Duncan and help K-Mart stay out of foul trouble. You have to keep K-Mart in the game, and you have to keep his fouls down so he can play aggressively.
Do missed free throws mean as much to the Spurs as people say?
The Spurs are shooting just 63.6 percent (56-for-88) from the charity stripe, but the bigger thing than simply missing your free throws is that your opponent has to be close enough to you to make those misses count. If you have a five-, six- or seven-point lead late in the game, then those misses don't count as much. In a one- or two-point game, they do.
I don't think a team can do anything to improve its free-throw shooting. I don't think coach Gregg Popovich spends much time thinking about it. For the Spurs, the bigger issue is cutting down on turnovers. Having 5-6 turnovers in the first quarter and 20 for the game is not what championship basketball is all about.
Should Deke play more and Jefferson less?
I think Nets coach Byron Scott is facing a kind of catch-22 with Dikembe Mutombo (2.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.33 bpg). Defensively, Mutombo has done some pretty good things, but even with him in the game you still have to double-team Duncan. Offensively, Deke slows the Nets' offense down. So if the Nets have to double-team Duncan anyway, they may as well use guys who keep up their offensive flow. Byron's done a good job of using Deke, but I don't think you can use him for 25-30 minutes in a game.
As for Richard Jefferson (9.7 ppg, .355 FG%), coming into the series, I said that he was the X-factor for New Jersey. Yes, he's been struggling, but you just have to give credit to the Spurs' defense. Guys like Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson have done a great job of guarding him and not letting him have a big game. Whenever Jefferson has a big game, the Nets rarely lose, and the Spurs know this.
Predictions: Who's going to win it all, and who's the MVP?
I think it's going to be a long series. I don't think that the Spurs have the Nets' backs against the wall. The one thing about this series is I wouldn't be surprised to see three or four of the games won on the opposing team's court. I think these teams are great defensively. Both can struggle offensively and still find a way to win, as New Jersey did in Game 2 and the Spurs did in Game 3.
Bottom line, I think the Spurs will win this series in six or seven games. But I don't think this is the last we've heard of the Nets, though. They'll make it tough for San Antonio.
As for MVP, after three games it'd have to be Tim Duncan. Tony Parker would be a close second, but let's not kid ourselves. If you take Duncan off the Spurs, they're a completely different team.