Columnist Todd Porter says take a picture at Game 4 -- it'll be hard to remember the Cavs were in the Finals.

Fan appreciation night is Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena. The NBA Finals are over. The Cavaliers made sure of that Tuesday.

After a 37-year wait for an NBA Finals game — you might say Cleveland is still waiting for one — the Cleveland Cavaliers had their spirits broken.

Then their backs.

Now their hope.

San Antonio, on the ropes most of the night dodging Cleveland’s knockout punch, delivered the Game 3 blow with a minute left. Tony Parker — anyone else love this guy? — knocked down a tough three-pointer. Parker’s trey gave San Antonio a five-point lead and sucked the last wind out of Cleveland’s lungs.
That’s how you close a game.

After a wayward LeBron James three-pointer clanked off the rim, the Cavs swallowed a 75-72 loss like it was lime juice. The final score tied for the second lowest point total in an NBA championship series game.

These losses are necessary evils in the building process. The Cavs will be better for it. San Antonio has been on this stage before.

“I know our core players understand, especially in the playoffs, the games last for 48 minutes,” San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve seen everything, every kind of crazy thing happen — positively and negatively — and you just don’t stop. Perhaps that experience does help.”

Like in the second quarter.

This was Game 3 of the NBA Finals, and Cleveland was down 2-0. Late in the second, Cavs forward Drew Gooden turned the ball over on a bad pass.
Gooden lollygagged his way downcourt. He gave up on the play. Spurs guard Brent Barry missed the layup, but pint-sized Parker was there for the easy putback.

That’s what Popovich is talking about. The two points weren’t a big swing on the scoreboard. But the Cavs trailed by two at halftime after working hard to lead, and Gooden squashed his team’s momentum.

Even when the Cavs needed a break, and appeared to deserve one, they didn’t get it. James took a wild three-pointer in the final seconds that hit the rim.
James was clearly fouled on the play by Bruce Bowen. There was no call, typical to the night.

“Incidental contact,” James said. “It didn’t affect my shot.”

The Cavs had a plan in Game 3. They had open shots.

They just didn’t knock them down.

On their homecourt, with their home rims and their home sightlines, Cleveland’s shooters made 36 percent. They were 3-of-19 on three-pointers.

San Antonio also took 19 three-pointers. The Spurs knocked down 10 of them.
Nothing Cleveland did worked.

James would take an open three-pointer. In an out. James dumped the ball off to Anderson Varejao late in the game, and “the Wild Thing” went wild. James expected to get the ball back with a crease in the lane.

Varejao took an awful shot and missed. That came after a rut of five empty possessions earlier in the fourth.

“Tonight, there was a couple I didn’t think went my way,” James said. “Their defense is definitely good. They’re making me work for everything I do.”

James hasn’t played well this series. He took 23 shots to get 25 points. He turned the ball over five times, which gives him 17 turnovers for the series.

“These three games are the best defense we played all season ... and it’s been back-to-back-to-back,” Popovich said.

But let’s face it, outside of James, no Cavalier would start for the Spurs.

When it’s time for James to take a game over, he can’t. One-on-three might work at the OHSAA state tournament, but not here.

“I think he’s tried to impose his will,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “We’re a pretty good defensive basketball team. We’re not bad. ... But whether he tries to impose his will or not, we’re going to be standing in front of him.”

Game 4 is Thursday night. Take mental pictures. Write in a journal.

One day you’ll have to struggle to remember the Cavs were here.

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: todd.porter@cantonrep.com.