Nets star gets game back on track, and a little help from Hollywood, in Game 4
By Randy Kim
He'd been quiet for most of the series. But he just wasn't going to take it any more. Not with so much on the line.
A few different views of Jefferson's big third quarter dunk.
See the dunk
Game 4 highlights:
So with 5:44 left in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and the Nets on the verge of letting a 15-point lead -- and the series -- slip away, he decided it was time to take control.
"New Jersey! We are not going to lose this game!" he screamed into the JumboTron. "We are going to win this one tonight! Come on! Let's go Nets! Let's go Nets!"
Yes, there was Hollywood star, and New Jersey native, Bruce Willis imploring the hometown fans to give their team a serious boost when it needed it most. By the time Willis signed off with his signature "Yippee-kai-ayyyy!" the home crowd had been worked into a frenzy.
Whether his cheerleading was the reason the Nets were able to pull out Wednesday night's game and even the series at 2-2 is uncertain. In fact, let's be honest; it's downright unlikely. But for someone not in uniform, it was about as much as one person could contribute to the cause.
As far as the guys actually in uniform, however, if you had to pick someone who matched Willis' impact on the game, it would have to be Nets small forward Richard Jefferson.
Like Willis, Jefferson had been quiet for the first three games of the series. Like Willis, Jefferson is outspoken and charismatic. Like the characters Willis plays in his films, Jefferson is capable of nail-biting physical feats that defy explanation. And like Willis, Jefferson wound up being one of the heroes of Game 4.
Unlike Willis, however, Jefferson found success by calming down, not by getting fired up.
"I was saying to him right before the game, just relax, just relax," said Kenyon Martin. "I just kept telling him the whole game, just relax and he did."
"He was just patient," added coach Byron Scott when asked why Jefferson played well in Game 4. "The thing that I talked to him about the other day was just being patient and letting the game come to you."
The game came to Jefferson in a big way. Jefferson finished the night with 18 points (on 8-of-15 shooting), 10 rebounds and two blocks. Through the first three games he was averaging 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and shot just 11-for-31 from the field. And while Jefferson isn't a star on the order of Tim Duncan or Jason Kidd, he knows that he's one of the keys to New Jersey's success.
Bruce Willis hangs out with a couple of Kidds in New Jersey.
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
"I don't think we are so much living and dying by me but I understand that in order for this team to be successful and win a championship, I have to play well," Jefferson said after Game 4.
When Jefferson is "playing well," he adds more than just points, rebounds and defense. He's one of the rare players whose athleticism allows him to make big plays that get the crowd -- and his teammates -- more involved in the game.
Jefferson had one of his signature big plays in the third quarter, with New Jersey leading 54-45. The Nets were in their halfcourt offense when Jefferson saw an opening to the basket. He drove the lane and took off from what seemed to be an impossible distance. But his momentum carried him up and over Spurs big man Kevin Willis, and he threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk that ignited both the fans and his teammates.
"That (dunk) was huge for him," said Kenyon Martin after the game. "I guess it's the same type that (Malik Rose) had on (Dikembe Mutombo in Game 3), but I think RJ was a little higher. It got him going."
Mutombo, who had been "posterized" by Rose in Game 3 held his hands to his face in awe after witnessing Jefferson's dunk from the Nets' bench. The replay of RJ's high-flying feat elicited almost as big a response from the crowd as the actual dunk itself did.
Just another star getting the crowd fired up on the video screen at the arena.
Just another night in New Jersey.