The San Antonio Spurs plod along, poised and purposeful in everything they do.
They prefer fundamentals over flash, substance over style. The approach has made them champions before.
And most likely will again.
The Spurs, currently the closest thing to a dynasty in professional sports, moved within one win of their fourth NBA title in nine years on Tuesday night, wrecking a party Cleveland waited 37 years to throw with a 75-72 win over the Cavaliers in Game 3.
No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win the finals, and the overmatched Cavaliers, making their first appearance, are giving no indication they'll even threaten to make this series competitive.
"This," said LeBron James, "is all about them."
Tony Parker scored 17 points, Tim Duncan 14 and Bruce Bowen, the Spurs' defensive sheriff, added 13 for San Antonio, seeking its fourth title since 1999 and third in the past five seasons.
The Spurs won despite being outrebounded, making more turnovers and getting only three points from Manu Ginobili, who missed all seven field-goal attempts and didn't score until there was 10.4 seconds left.
That's when he dropped the first of three straight free throws to help hold off the Cavaliers and crush the hopes of their rowdy, towel-waving crowd, which had never before seen their team play a finals game in person.
Cleveland's chances, and maybe their last hopes of extending the season, ended when James, who led the Cavaliers with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
He appeared to be fouled before the attempt by Bowen, but there was no whistle.
"Incidental contact," James said. "It didn't affect my shot. I had a good look at it and I missed."
Bowen, who had just nine points in the first two games, scored 13 and Brent Barry made three 3-pointers for the Spurs, who can all but plan their victory parade on the scenic Riverwalk back home.
"We need to get one more, and that's it, however it comes," Duncan said. "We know they're going to come out this next game, they don't want to get swept."
The Spurs can secure another title with a win in Game 4 on Thursday night. If they do complete the eighth sweep in finals history, they'll join the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls as the only franchises to win four or more titles.
The Cavs, though, aren't ready to fold just yet.
"We can't live on history, but we have dug ourselves a big hole, and we know that," James said. "We have to come out and try to win four straight."
The grind-it-out Game — tied for the second-fewest points in NBA finals history, matching San Antonio's 80-67 win over the New York Knicks in 1999.
The 22-year-old James scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, threatening to take over as he did in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, with drives through the teeth of San Antonio's smothering defense.
But James had several layups dance off the rim, and he got little help from his teammates as the Cavs went just 3-of-19 on 3-pointers and failed to take advantage on a night when the Spurs were not themselves.
All James can do now is try to prevent a sweep by the Spurs, who are 48 minutes from adding a 2007 title to the ones they captured in 1999, 2003 and 2005. Every other year, it seems to be San Antonio's turn, and this one is no different.
James scored seven straight points as the Cavs cut a 10-point lead to 69-67 with 1:22 remaining on another layup by Cleveland's star. But Parker countered with a 3-pointer before Sasha Pavlovic hit a deep one for the Cavs to make it 72-70 with 48.1 seconds remaining.
Parker, so dominant in Games — and 2, turned the ball over but the Cavs failed to capitalize as James, criticized early in the playoffs for being too unselfish, got bottled up and passed to Anderson Varejao.
The mop-topped Brazilian, nicknamed "Wild Thing," tried to make a spin move on Duncan before flinging up a wild shot. James expected a return pass from Varejao, but it never came.
"Miscommunication," James said.
What made it more frustrating for Cleveland was that coach Mike Brown was screaming for a timeout that no one heard.
"I was yelling, 'Timeout, timeout,'" Brown said. "It was so loud in there none of my guys heard me, and I asked (referee) Bernie Fryer if he heard me, and he looked at me and said, 'No.' There was nothing I could do."
Ginobili was then fouled, missed his first throw but finally got something to fall through the net to give the Spurs a three-point lead. James again got to the rim for a basket before Ginobili hit two more.
On Cleveland's last trip, James began to rise for a potential tying 3-pointer when he was grabbed by Bowen. But nothing was called, the ball bounced off the rim and the Spurs inched closer to a title.
The Cavaliers changed their starting lineup as rookie Daniel Gibson replaced Larry Hughes at point guard. Hughes was bothered by a sore left foot, but Gibson, who has emerged as a star in these playoffs, didn't help.
He went just 1-for-10 from the field and missed all five 3-pointers, unable to duplicate his 5-for-5 performance when Cleveland captured the Eastern Conference title in Game 6 against Detroit.
"I'd rather not give excuses for not making shots," Gibson said.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 12 points and 18 rebounds &
10 offensive &
for the Cavaliers, who were hoping three straight games in their own building could help them get back into the best-of-seven series.
Instead, the Spurs have nearly wrapped it up.
The teams combined for 27 points in the third quarter, the lowest-scoring third quarter in finals history. ... Among the courtside celebrities were a pair of famous Jims &
Browns legend Jim Brown and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who sat next to each other. Also on hand were former Buckeyes center and likely No. — draft pick Greg Oden and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. ... The Spurs are the 12th team to take a 3-0 lead in the finals and first since the Lakers in 2002.
Business as usual