Cleveland Struggles in the Clutch
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CLEVELAND, June 12, 2007 -- They say in life that timing is everything.

For the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history just about a week and a half ago, the problem with that saying is that timing seems to have left them.

The sense of the moment has momentarily escaped them.

There seem to be no more daggers left in their sheath.

You can analyze San Antonio's 75-72 Game 3 victory anyway you want, but when it comes down to it, the key to the outcome was simple -- the Spurs hit big shots in big situations, and the Cavaliers didn't.

No shot was bigger for San Antonio than when Tony Parker, ye of little trey, pulled up for his third three-point attempt of the game with 1:00 remaining in the fourth. Remember that Parker's season high in three-point attempts was just three and he only did that three times over the course of an 82-game slate. He is the rare guard who thrives amongst the trees.

But Tony let it fly nonetheless and the trifecta gave the Spurs a 72-66 lead.

"I always try to squeeze one or two," said Parker, who finished with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. "Coach Pop doesn't like me to shoot threes. But he told me next year I can go back and shoot threes like my first three years, so I decided to start a little bit in the playoffs. I know he was screaming when I took it. It's one of those kind of shots, like, "Nooooo," but it was all right."

"You know what, he's so confident right now, he's feeling so good about his jump shot," Tim Duncan added. "They've been allowing him to shoot the jump shot, trying to keep him out of the paint, and when you do that, you basically warm somebody up."

It wasn't the only timely shot of the night for San Antonio, or for Parker either for that matter.

At the end of the first half Parker broke a 38-38 tie by dropping in a floater at the buzzer to totally obliterate what was once an eight-point lead by the Cavs and give the Spurs the momentum to take into halftime.

San Antonio had several other players locked in. Bruce Bowen not only harassed LeBron James into a 9-for-23 shooting night and grabbed nine defensive rebounds, but he scored 13 points and was 4-for-5 from downtown.

Then there was Brent Barry hitting three triples off the bench and Robert Horry adding one of his own.

Even Michael Finley, who shot 3-for-7 overall, came up clutch as his three with 6:38 remaining in the fourth boosted the Spurs' lead to 10.

On the Cavs end, there were two shots that they needed to have to either win the game or force overtime, and they came up empty on both.

First, with Cleveland trailing by two, there was Anderson Varejao's spin move in the lane that led to a wild shot that missed with 13.9 seconds left. If the Cavs get a better shot there and tie it up, they can play straight up defense down the stretch.

Instead, the Cavaliers were forced to foul Manu Ginobili (usually the clutchest of the clutch, but 0-for-7 from the field on Tuesday) who made one of two free throws.

After James scooted in for a layup and Ginobili went 2-for-2 from the line, it became now or never time for the Cavs: 5.5 seconds left, down by three points in the game and two games in the series.

The ball went to James who had the chance to tie it up and have the 20,562 fans in attendance witness overtime for a chance to draw the Cavs to down 2-1 in The Finals, but he shot a blank.

His off-balance 25-footer rimmed out with 1.9 seconds to go and the condition of the Cavs championship hopes was downgraded from serious to critical condition.

The shots in the final minute of a close game are considered the biggest, but in actuality, they're worth exactly the same amount on the scoreboard when they are launched in the first 47 minutes of regulation.

But even then, in quarters 1-3, the Cavs looked like a baseball team that was stranding runners every inning by not getting the hit that mattered while the Spurs were the team that slaps base knocks to centerfield with two on and two out.

"Both teams shot 19, they made 10, we made three," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown after the game, referring to both squads' three-point attempts.

The Cavs seemed like they were stuck in an abusive relationship with the three-point line. It kept hurting them, but they kept going back to it. Daniel Gibson, getting the start in place of the injured Larry Hughes, was 0-for-5 from deep and 1-for-10 overall; LeBron was also 0-for-5 from beyond the arc; Sasha Pavlovic was 2-for-6; and Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, who combined to hit three 3-pointers in the Cavs' fourth-quarter comeback in Game 2, combined to go 1-for-3.

That's 3-for-19 for Cleveland with the sell-out crowd of 20,562 at The Q waiting to explode with every attempt, compared to 10-for-19 for San Antonio who were supposed to be the enemies playing in a foreign gym with all new lighting and spacing particularities.

Forget the revelry of being the first Cleveland team ever to reach the NBA Finals, if the Cavs want to accomplish their championship goal, they must become the first NBA team in the history of the playoffs to win a series when trailing 3-0.

"If we don't wake up and smell the coffee now, I don't know when we are," said Cavs forward Drew Gooden. "We have to do the impossible now."

Of course, what Gooden means is, "The time is now."

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