EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The New Jersey Nets shuffled off the court at the final buzzer, looking as though they had just pulled off a fast one.
They shot 36 percent. They blew a 15-point lead. They didn't have a basket in the final four minutes. They allowed Manu Ginobili to get open for a tying 3-pointer on the final inbounds play.
But when the final buzzer sounded Wednesday night, Tim Duncan had just finished making a 2-pointer even though the Spurs needed a 3.
Final score: Nets 77, Spurs 76, tying the NBA Finals at two games apiece.
Once again, this matchup of opposite styles had not produced a thing of beauty. But it did produce a deadlock, and the series is now best-of-three.
''This series is going to be played like this pretty much the whole series. Might as well get used to it,'' Nets coach Byron Scott said. ''It's going to be a defensive battle, it's going to be low-scoring and you're not talking about teams that can't score.''
On this night, it was mostly the Spurs who couldn't score everyone, that is, except Duncan and David Robinson.
The Spurs shot only 29 percent from the field and received dreadful performances from four key players as Tony Parker (1-for-12), Stephen Jackson (1-for-9), Bruce Bowen (2-for-9) and Malik Rose (0-for-9) combined to go 4-for-39 (10.2 percent).
The Nets' biggest plays in the final minute were offensive rebounds and free throws.
''It took a lot of heart tonight,'' Scott said. ''We had a big lead and let it get away. They went up by as many as four or six points, whatever it was. We just continued to play, the heart of a champion.''
Duncan's final basket came after Ginobili's 3-point attempt was short as Kidd's hand brushed against the net. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ran onto the court to ask the referees whether Kidd had goaltended.
''It was short. It just grazed off the front. The guy that hit the net didn't have anything to do with it,'' Popovich said.
The series is now headed back to San Antonio, but not until after Game 5 is played at the Meadowlands on Friday night.
Kenyon Martin scored 20 points for the Nets, while Kidd had 16 points, nine assists and eight rebounds and Richard Jefferson scored 18 points with 10 rebounds.
Duncan had 23 points and 17 rebounds and Robinson added 14 points for the Spurs, who turned to little-used Speedy Claxton and Kevin Willis in the second half to replace players who were either ineffective, foul-plagued or both.
The Nets scored their final eight points from the foul line, failing to make a field goal over the final 4:11.
Kidd went 4-for-4 from the line in the final 9.1 seconds to force the Spurs to go for a tying 3-pointer at the end.
Ginobili got free and received a crosscourt inbounds pass, pump-faking one defender off his feet before attempting a 3. As the ball reached the rim, Kidd jumped up and made contact with the net.
It was unclear from television replays whether he touched the ball a strange ending to what was easily the most emotional and physical game of the series.
The Nets were trying to avoid a 3-1 deficit that no NBA team has overcome in the finals, and they did just enough.
The Spurs had a 12-0 run to end the third quarter and a 5-0 run to start the fourth. New Jersey countered with a 9-0 run to go ahead 67-63, and no more than three points separated the teams over the final 6 minutes.
Robinson fouled out with 1:51 left while defending Martin, who also had five fouls. Martin made one of two free throws, then had two of his shots rejected by Duncan before Duncan was whistled for a foul trying to do it again. Martin made both with 1:12 left to give New Jersey a 73-72 lead.
Ginobili missed a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left, and Dikembe Mutombo grabbed an offensive rebound after the Nets dribbled most of the 24-second clock away. That gave New Jersey a new shot clock with 33 seconds left, and they worked it down to 14 seconds before Kidd tried a contested jumper over Parker.
That shot bounced off the back of the rim and was deflected out of Duncan's hands by Ginobili to the 3-point line, where Kerry Kittles grabbed it and passed to Kidd, who was fouled. He calmly sank both free throws with 9.1 seconds left, leaving the Spurs trailing by 3.
''The first offensive rebound they just outhustled us,'' Robinson said. ''On the second, we had two guys fighting for the ball and we kind of gave it back to them. That's extremely disappointing.
''You just feel like kicking yourself, like 'What are we doing? Do we want to win this game? Is there some kind of urgency out there?'''
The Spurs then elected to go for a quick 2-pointer by Duncan and fouled Kidd with 4.8 seconds left. He made both to set up the final sequence.
''This was a must-win,'' Martin said. ''We knew we had to give maximum effort and we did on both ends.''
The game got off to a lifeless start until Mutombo entered the game early in the first quarter and quickly found himself staring down Rose. Much was made of Rose's powerful dunk over Mutombo in Game 3, and Mutombo vowed Tuesday that Rose would not do it again.
As Rose went up to try a dunk, the Nets' 7-foot-2 center altered Rose's shot enough for the ball to slam hard off the rim and out. Rose got the rebound and tried to dunk again, but Kittles blocked him from behind.
Kidd and Martin then hooked up for an alley-oop dunk their first of the series to tie the game at 16.
The Nets were ahead 45-34 at halftime and stretched their lead to 51-36 before San Antonio began charging back. Claxton closed the third quarter with a drive around Kidd for a layup that gave San Antonio a 57-56 lead entering the fourth.
Notes: Several members of the NHL champion New Jersey Devils proudly displayed the Stanley Cup at center court between the third and fourth quarters. ... When Kidd disagreed with a blocking foul called against him in the second quarter, he screamed an expletive at referee Bernie Fryer. After Fryer hit him with a technical foul, Kidd screamed the same expletive even louder. Fryer refrained from calling a second technical, which would have brought an automatic ejection. ... The rock band Phish performed the national anthem in the style of a barbershop quartet.
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