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New Jersey evens score

Free throws help Nets nip San Antonio

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New Jersey Nets shuffled off the court at the final buzzer, looking as though they had just pulled off a fast one.

Jason Kidd and his teammates couldn't even manage a field goal in the last 4:11 but were able to hold off the San Antonio Spurs 77-76 Wednesday night to tie the NBA Finals at two games apiece.

Tim Duncan hit a short jumper as the final horn sounded after Manu Ginobili's 3-point attempt came up short as Kidd's hand brushed against the net. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ran onto the court to ask the referees whether Kidd had goaltended, but they said he hadn't.

The victory belonged to the Nets, and Kenyon Martin simply looked over his shoulder as he walked to the sideline, threw up his hands and shrugged.

The series is definitely headed back to San Antonio, but not until after Game 5 is played at the Meadowlands on Friday night.

Martin scored 20 points for the Nets, while Kidd had 16 points, nine assists and eight rebounds and Richard Jefferson scored 18 points.

Duncan had 23 points and 17 rebounds and David Robinson added 14 points for the Spurs, who shot only 29 percent from the field and received dreadful performances from four key players. Tony Parker (1-for-12), Stephen Jackson (1-for-9), Bruce Bowen (2-for-9) and Malik Rose (0-for-9) combined to go 4-for-39 (10.2 percent).

The Nets scored their final eight points from the foul line, failing to make a field goal over the final 4:11.

Kidd went 4-for-4 from the line in the final 9.1 seconds to force the Spurs to go for a tying 3-pointer at the end.

Ginobili got free and received a crosscourt inbounds pass, pump-faking one defender off his feet before attempting a 3. As the ball reached the rim, Kidd jumped up and made contact with the net.

It was unclear from television replays whether he touched the ball.

Duncan got the offensive rebound and scored, but the Spurs needed three points — not two.

It was a strange ending to what was easily the most emotional and physical game of the series.

The Nets were trying to avoid a 3-1 deficit that no NBA team has overcome in the finals, and they did just enough to win despite shooting 36 percent, missing nine free throws and scoring only 32 points in the second half as San Antonio came back from a 15-point deficit.

The Spurs had a 12-0 run to end the third quarter and a 5-0 run to start the fourth. New Jersey countered with a 9-0 run to go ahead 67-63, and no more than three points separated the teams over the final 6 minutes.

Robinson fouled out with 1:51 left while defending Martin, who also had five fouls. Martin made one of two free throws, then had two of his shots rejected by Duncan before Duncan was whistled for a foul trying to do it again. Martin made both with 1:12 left to give New Jersey a 73-72 lead.

Ginobili missed a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left, and Dikembe Mutombo grabbed an offensive rebound after the Nets dribbled most of the 24-second clock away. That gave New Jersey a new shot clock with 33 seconds left, and they worked it down to 14 seconds before Kidd tried a contested jumper over Parker.

That shot bounced off the back of the rim and was deflected out to the 3-point line, where Kerry Kittles grabbed it and passed to Kidd, who was fouled. He calmly sank both free throws with 9.1 seconds left, leaving the Spurs trailing by 3.

They elected to go for a quick 2-pointer by Duncan, then fouled Kidd with 4.8 seconds left. He made both to set up the final sequence.

The game got off to a lifeless start until Mutombo entered the game early in the first quarter and quickly found himself staring down Rose. Much was made of Rose's powerful dunk over Mutombo in Game 3, and Mutombo vowed Tuesday that Rose would not do it again.

As Rose went up to try a dunk over Mutombo, the Nets' 7-foot-2 center altered Rose's shot enough for the ball to slam hard off the rim and out. Rose got the rebound and tried to dunk again, but Kittles blocked him from behind.

Kidd and Martin then hooked up for an alley-oop dunk — their first of the series — to tie the game at 16.

A 3-pointer by Bowen gave the Spurs a 27-20 lead, but the rest of the first half was all Nets.

Aaron Williams put New Jersey up 31-30 on a three-point play that included Duncan's third foul, and the Nets had a dunk, four layups and two free throws over the rest of the quarter as Duncan, Robinson and Rose all sat out with three fouls.

The Nets were ahead 45-34 at halftime and stretched their lead to 51-36 before San Antonio began charging back. Speedy Claxton closed the third quarter with a drive around Kidd for a layup that gave San Antonio a 57-56 lead entering the fourth.