Spurs on the defensive: Bowen declares 'war' in battle vs. Mavs
Web Posted: 05/09/2006 12:00 AM CDT
Johnny Ludden Express-News Staff Writer
Johnson and Bruce Bowen are, in NBA parlance, self-made men. Neither was drafted. One began his professional career in France, the other in the USBL. For years, both bounced from tryout to tryout until finally finding a permanent home in the league.
Which is why Johnson respects "the journey" Bowen has made, as well as the tenacious defender he's become. It's why when Johnson was named Coach of the Year two weeks ago, Bowen was among the first to call with congratulations.
This is also why when Johnson complained of Bowen's "bear-hug" defense on Dirk Nowitzki after the Spurs beat Dallas in the opener of their Western Conference semifinals series Sunday, Bowen didn't seem to care. No matter the intent — to influence the officials, take pressure off Nowitzki, or, as Johnson maintains, criticize his own team's inability to counter the defense — Bowen understood.
"It's war now," Bowen said. "It's not about friendships. I won't hold a grudge against him for that.
"Some things are about just wanting to get a victory."
The Spurs didn't secure Sunday's 87-85 victory until the final shot, and they don't expect tonight's rematch to be any less competitive when the series resumes at the AT&T Center. Bowen and Nowitzki will again share the stage, though the Spurs also have other concerns after learning El Contusión has a new backcourt partner: Le Contusión.
Already slowed by a bruised right thigh and a strained right hip, Tony Parker suffered a left quadriceps contusion in Sunday's game. He didn't work out Monday, and team officials listed his chances of playing tonight as "questionable."
Parker's availability likely will be determined by how stiff his leg — or legs — feels this morning. At the least, Spurs trainer Will Sevening may have to begin buying thigh pads in bulk to outfit both Parker and Manu Ginobili.
"It's like he and Manu have targets in their thighs for people to kick them," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They've had a lot of those this season, and we've caught another one."
Bowen had his own déjŕ vu experience Monday after learning he was the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up to Detroit center Ben Wallace for the second consecutive year. The award has been a longtime goal of Bowen's, but he didn't sound discouraged by the results.
"It doesn't take away from what I do," Bowen said. "It's like that in life sometimes: There are things you don't get, and you have to continue on."
Bowen didn't weaken his credentials Sunday when he helped force Nowitzki into missing 12 of his 20 shots. His effectiveness against the Mavericks' All-Star forward has factored heavily in the outcome of the teams' five meetings this season. In the two games Dallas won, Nowitzki averaged 32 points while shooting 52.3 percent. In the Spurs' three victories, he averaged 19 points on 35.4 percent shooting.
Though Bowen is nearly a half-foot shorter than Nowitzki, he did a good job of crowding the Mavs' star and challenging most of his shots. When necessary, he tried to funnel Nowitzki into Tim Duncan and the Spurs' other shot-blockers.
"Every time I try to spin, Duncan or some big guy is always coming from the baseline trying to trap me," Nowitzki said. "In those games I shot the ball well, I was kind of able to rise and shoot over them and make my shots.
"You've got to give them credit. They're kind of forcing me into that fadeaway, and they're kind of living with it. Yesterday, they succeeded. So we'll see what comes out tomorrow."
Bowen is wise enough not to gloat over one performance. As successful as he was Sunday, he also knows tonight offers no guarantees.
"Dirk is an All-Star," Bowen said. "He's going to be all right. Trust me, he gets enough shots to be all right. He can redeem himself."
The Spurs aren't the only team to throw a smaller defender on Nowitzki. Sacramento used Ron Artest to guard him, albeit with less success.
"We've seen this defense before," Johnson said, "and we've executed against this defense before."
Dallas' best counter to the Spurs may not even be Nowitzki, but rather small forward Josh Howard. With Bowen guarding Nowitzki, the Spurs usually open the game with Duncan on Adrian Griffin. But once Jerry Stackhouse replaces Griffin, the Spurs have to decide whether to have one of their big men guard Howard or go small.
Including the playoffs, the Mavericks are 20-0 when Howard scores at least 20 points. Howard seemed headed for a similar performance Sunday after ending the first quarter with 12 points, but he took only four shots in the second half.
"We've had trouble in the past with that because either Griffin or Josh are quick enough to drive the bigs," Ginobili said. "But it's a risk we're willing to take.
"Not having Tim guarding Dirk and getting in foul trouble and having Bruce, who is one of the best, guard him is something we need to do."
Johnson also said Monday he admires Bowen's defense. His "bear-hug" complaint from a day earlier, he said, was aimed primarily at the Mavericks' offense for not doing more to combat the Spurs.
"One of these days, I hope to have a chance to play one-on-one with him and come out of retirement," Johnson said, laughing. "I'm going to go left by him. Nobody, not even Bruce can stop me from going left."
It is what it is -- Bruce Bowen
When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks.-- Bill Walton
"When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock perhaps 100 times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the 101st blow, it will split in two and I know it was not that blow that did it. But all that had gone before." - Jacob Riis
AJ needs to check himself. that crappy running lefty hook was only effective b/c the Admiral would come from the weakside and dunk it when it clanged off the rim.
"...and with the hiring rate that Hallmark Institute has of this graduates, that's only more incentive for you want to do something here."
Bruce doesnt have to win every battle as long as he wins the war the Spurs will be okay. Dirk is too good to keep him on lock-down every game. No worries......Bruce will bring it.......each and every game.
Hibbert, who worked out with Duncan in San Antonio during the lockout, said he has grown close to the perennial All-Star. On Friday, he texted Duncan and asked how he should guard him.
"He said, 'Go for every pump fake,' " Hibbert said.
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