EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Steve Kerr sat along the baseline Thursday, confessed to his occasional bouts with boredom during the NBA Finals and reminisced about the last time a championship series was tied 2-2.
It was 1997, the first time the Bulls played the Utah Jazz in the finals, and Chicago had lost two in a row after winning Games 1 and 2 at home.
''That was Michael's game when he was sick and we were down 16 or 17 in the second quarter. Things looked pretty bleak, and he picked us up and put us on his back.''
Ah, the Jordan years. Back when scoring 90 points seemed possible.
The current NBA Finals bear almost no resemblance.
''We have definitely set back offensive basketball about 15 years, both teams,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Thursday. ''Both good defensive clubs going after each other, and shots aren't falling for either team.''
Offensive basketball is sort of a double entendre in a series featuring steadily declining final scores and minuscule shooting percentages.
The Nets and Spurs have shown that they match up a little too well with each other, each team capable of neutralizing the other's strengths.
It certainly hasn't been as entertaining as what the Bulls did in the 1990s or what the Lakers did the past three years, but at least it's a whole new series now a best-of-three affair that'll either end Sunday or Wednesday night.
Game 5 is Friday at the Meadowlands, and history will be on the side of the winner.
Of the 22 previous times the finals have been tied 2-all, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to take the title 16 times a 73 percent success rate.
Since adopting a 2-3-2 format in 1985, there have been five championship series that were tied 2-2. The team with homecourt advantage won four of those times, and the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win the series three of five times.
''Last one that I remember was against Detroit, so I don't want to talk about that one,'' Nets coach Byron Scott said in reference to his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers, who dropped Game 5 against the Pistons in 1988 before winning the final two games.
It should be noted that either the Pistons or Lakers reached 100 points in each of those seven games, while in this series that magic number has been reached only once in Game 1 when San Antonio defeated New Jersey 101-89.
No one has reached 90 points since.
The point totals have dropped in each game, from 190 to 172 to 163 to 153, with Games 3 and 4 ranking among the seven lowest-scoring finals games in league history.
But while Game 3 was an eyesore in so many ways, Game 4 at least had emotion and drama.
''I don't buy into this ugly game stuff. I think both styles are very dramatic,'' Scott said. ''Everyone I talked to fan-wise seemed to think these games are keeping them on the edge of their seats.''
ABC earned an 8.7/14 overnight Nielsen rating for Game 4, down 28 percent from last year's 12.0/20 for the final game of the Lakers-Nets series.
The finals have an average rating of 6.3 through four games. No finals since 1982 has finished with an average rating in single digits, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Part of what's turning people off is the lack of offense.
The Nets were often a pleasure to watch during the regular season when they played teams unable or unwilling to contest their fast breaks and backdoor dunks. But the Spurs have taken away those options, leaving the Nets to run a halfcourt offense with a roster devoid of any solid outside shooters.
Duncan, with his deft footwork, smart decision making and use of the backboard, is a joy to behold for the fundamental basketball purist. To everyone else, he can come off as boring.
With the Nets finding ways to defend Duncan while daring the other Spurs to beat them from outside, the basketball viewing public has been fed a steady diet of missed jump shots and turnovers.
''I've been a little bored over on the sidelines there myself at times in games. It's a shame. But it's the way the matchups happen,'' Kerr said.
The teams combined to make just 14 mid- to long-range jump shots in Game 4 just four in the second half, two of which were 3-pointers.
New Jersey shot only 11 percent from 3-point range, while San Antonio was 4-for-18 (22 percent).
''I've seen a dramatic lowering of the number of guys that can really shoot that mid-range shot,'' David Robinson said. ''When I first came in, there were a lot of guys who could make shots, open shots, from about 17 feet and make them on the run.
''Now, it seems there's a lot more extreme guys either guys who can shoot 3s or guys who can get to the rim, but not very many guys that are really good in-between shooters,'' Robinson said.
One of the main poor-shooting culprits in Game 4 for the Spurs was Tony Parker, who shot 1-for-12 while being defended by Kerry Kittles instead of Jason Kidd.
The Nets credited that defensive adjustment as being one of the keys to their 77-76 victory, but defensive switches isn't exactly putting fannies on couches.
''Everybody would love for it to be 120, 125, but again you've got two teams that take pride in not letting somebody score. So unfortunately, you don't have Sacramento or Dallas playing in the finals,'' Kidd said.
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