Spurs memory 18: Kerr’s unexpected barrage shoots Spurs into 2003 Finals

Date: Thursday May 29, 2003
Place: American Airlines Center, Dallas
Score: San Antonio Spurs 90, Dallas Mavericks 78

Steve Kerr had been an afterthought for the Spurs during most of the 2003 season.

The veteran guard had been a member of four previous championship teams, but had trouble playing much with a loaded, deep roster in front of him.

Before Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against Dallas,  he told veteran Express-News beat writer Glenn Rogers he felt like Ted Williams – frozen on the bench.  

Despite his previous inactivity, Kerr came up big when his team most needed him later that night. He nailed four 3-pointers to key the Spurs’ series-clinching 90-78 victory over the Mavericks. It was one of the most memorable clutch-shooting performances in team history.

After playing only 13 minutes in the playoffs up to that game and only three minutes in the Dallas series, the 37-year-old Kerr put on a show during his fourth-quarter surge. He made all four shots from behind the arc, three during the Spurs’ stunning 23-0 fourth-quarter run that put the game away. He finished with 12 points in 13 minutes.

“This is one of the best nights of my career,” Kerr told reporters after the game. “I wondered if I’d ever have [another] moment like this. One of the things I told myself at the beginning of this year was I might not have a great year, I might not score a lot of points but there’s always a chance to have one moment, just one moment and tonight was one of those.”

 With Tim Duncan being double- and triple-teamed for most of the game, the Spurs’ perimeter shooting struggled early against Dallas’ feisty zone defense. At one point the Spurs went more than 27 minutes without a basket in the paint as they fell behind the Mavericks by 15 points.

Kerr hit three of his 3-pointers during the run that saw the Spurs turn a 71-58 deficit into an 81-71 lead.  Dallas missed seven shots and had six turnovers during the game-changing turnaround.

Playing only because Tony Parker was battling a stomach virus and Speedy Claxton was struggling offensively, Kerr provided the spark down the stretch. The Spurs outscored Dallas 31-8 with Kerr on the floor and 34-9 in the final period.

“I mentioned to Steve that he needed to be ready tonight, and he was real ready,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s a fitting finish to what I thought would be the end of his career, but he told me we’re going to have to think about an extension or he won’t be available for the finals. And he said that with a straight face.”

Earlier, Dallas reeled off six unanswered points to go up by 12 to start the third quarter and extended the lead to 69-56 going into the fourth quarter.

Stephen Jackson led San Antonio with 24 points as the Spurs erupted for 10 3-pointers. Duncan finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, although he went more than 21 minutes without scoring.

Parker missed all five shots as he battled a stomach virus caused by a bad dish of creme brulee he had ordered from room service on the night before the game. Bruce Bowen clanked all three shots as both San Antonio starters were shut out. But the Spurs’ reserves outscored their Dallas counterparts, 41-11.

Nick Van Exel scored 19 points for Dallas, which played its third game of the series without Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks’ leading scorer and rebounder was idled with a sprained knee.  

They said it, part I: “I figured just let it fly and see what happens. I haven’t been a difference maker in a long time,” Kerr on his unexpected scoring binge.

They said it, part II: “The Coach of the Year made a great substitution. He brought in the Zone Buster,” Van Exel, to the Express-News about Kerr’s insertion into the lineup.  

They said it, part III: “It’s a great confidence builder. We’ve given up so many leads ourselves. It’s pretty sweet to be able to be down and come back,”Popovich on the Spurs’ fourth-quarter turnaround.

They said it, part IV: “I’m 37. I’m slow. I’m not a very good defender. I’m in there to take the open jumpers,” Kerr said.

They said it, part V: “For Steve Kerr (to come in cold), it’s not difficult at all. I don’t say that flippantly, I say it because it’s true. He’s the consummate pro. He’s there before every practice, after every practice, running and shooting until he’s dripping wet. So I’m not surprised he was ready,” Popovich on Kerr’s late binge.

They said it, part VI: “The guy’s incredible He’s the epitome of a professional. He’s always ready. To be put in that situation and deliver, it’s just incredible,” Duncan to the Newark Star-Ledger about Kerr’s late surge.

They said it, part VII: “We were playing at a very high level, the highest level we could play at. Unfortunately, we can’t get into a different gear and they can. I think that was the difference,” Dallas coach Don Nelson on the Spurs’ late charge.

They said it, part VIII: “When you win a championship, you have to have heroes. Steve Kerr was our hero tonight. He was great, awesome, and I am so happy for him,” Parker, to the Express-News on Kerr’s contribution.

They said it, part IX: “When we were down by six at halftime instead of up by 15, we had them right where we wanted,” Popovich on the Spurs’ second-half comeback.

They said it, part X: “This is my 15th year. And that’s 15 more than I should have had,” Kerr to the Express-News on his NBA career.  

THE UPSHOT: The victory sent the Spurs into their second trip to the NBA Finals in five seasons. They were matched against the New Jersey Nets in the first time where two former ABA teams had played in the Finals … Dallas became the first team in NBA playoff history which failed to qualify for the finals after playing at least 20 games in one playoff year. The Spurs went on to claim their second title with a six-game triumph over the Nets. Kerr played 20 minutes in four games during the series, scoring eight points. He retired after the season, with a championship ring for each finger on his shooting hand.

Previous Spurs most memorable moments:

No. 19: Rodman’s final Spurs incident .

No. 20:after injury-riddled 3-15 1996 start.

No. 21: Spurs for David Greenwood.

No. 22: Spurswith bubbly.

No. 23: Horry-Nash , may have sparked title run.

No. 24: Ice’s clandestine arrival .

No. 25: Barkleywith series-clinching shot.

No. 26: Silas becomes first Spur.

No. 27: Robinson makes history with .

No. 28: after crucial 1999 victory at Houston.

No. 29: on Halloween night.

No. 30: Torrid San Diego shooting

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