Defensive stopper proving he’s not one-dimensional
CLEVELAND — Somewhere, Ray Allen is smiling. Vince Carter undoubtedly shook his head. Allen Iverson probably muttered under his breath at the TV and Steve Nash cringed.
They all watched Bruce Bowen lunge for dear life at LeBron James and clasp at his jersey as referee Bob Delaney watched idly, no sound emerging from his whistle.
The lasting image of Tuesday’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena won’t be of Tony Parker knocking down a decisive 3-pointer to save the San Antonio Spurs. It won’t be Anderson Varejao panicking in the paint and serving up an off-balance, side-armed hook that careened off the rim.
No, the sight that still burns freshest in the memory for the Cleveland Cavaliers is the slow-motion replay of James shouting at Delaney, “He fouled me. Right here.”
Maybe James was right. Maybe he should have received the star’s treatment. But to the Spurs, it marked something of a lifetime achievement award for Bowen. For more than a decade, San Antonio’s defensive specialist has battled the league’s most prolific scorers. Bowen is famed for using any and all means to stop his opponent.
For most of his career, it’s been the scorers that have gotten the calls. Maybe this was his turn.
But, of course, on Tuesday everything was his turn. He changed the game with his 44 minutes of energy, with his nine rebounds and with his deft 3-point shooting.
He also changed it with his defense.
“I’m just thrilled by Bruce Bowen,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You know, he’s guarding somebody that’s going to be a Hall-of-Fame player when it’s all said and done. And he’s playing for 44 minutes, and he scored 13 points and got nine rebounds. What a yeoman effort on his part. I just thought he was fantastic from beginning to end, and I think he really set the tone for our team.”
Bowen will be looking to earn his third NBA championship tonight on his 36th birthday. There was some question earlier in the season as to the length of Bowen’s shelf life. The Spurs have the option on his contract next season, and some wondered how much longer he could move his feet like a 26-year-old.
Apparently, long enough.
Bowen came into the league undrafted out of Cal State Fullerton. He spent time in the CBA, riding buses to Fort Wayne and Rockford. He played in France for two years and bounced from bench to bench for the first five seasons in the NBA.
After a fairly successful year with the Miami Heat in 2000-01, Bowen signed on as a reserve with the Spurs. There, he blossomed and has since earned spots on the NBA’s All-Defensive Team each of the last six seasons. For the last four, he won first-team honors.
He is one of six swingmen who have earned All-Defensive honors in six or more straight seasons, joining Walt Frazier (1969-75), John Havlicek (1969-76), Michael Jordan (1988-93), Scottie Pippen (1990-00) and Alvin Robertson (1986-91).
“It just says that it doesn’t matter for all the guys that are over 30 how it starts out in the NBA, but whether you can get in there and find a niche,” Bowen said Wednesday.
Bowen emerged from seldom-used reserve to linchpin starter after finally learning to knock down a perimeter shot. When he came into the league, Bowen couldn’t shoot. It was only with the Miami Heat in 2000, when he was battling for minutes with Dan Majerle, that Bowen began to hit shots with any consistency.
On Tuesday, Bowen accounted for four of his team’s 10 3-pointers. More importantly, his play captures the essence of the Spurs’ cool efficiency.
“He gets it done and it doesn’t matter if he gets one shot or eight shots,” Duncan said. “He’s going to be in the same place at the same time. He’s going to do the same thing. That’s what defines our team, what he does.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.