Spurs: Van Exel re-lives the trauma of Steve Kerr’s 2003 Game 6 heroics

Nick Van Exel (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Nick Van Exel (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs got an unlikely hero when they needed him most

In their bid for a second NBA title in four years, the San Antonio Spurs found themselves with their backs against the wall in enemy territory. Paced by the trio of Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel, and Walt Williams, the Dallas Mavericks had built a 69-56 lead over the Spurs in a pivotal Game 6.

Tony Parker had been rendered ineffective after a stomach bug had ailed him before the game, leaving Speedy Claxton with the task of squaring up against Steve Nash for most of the contest. With nothing left to lose and a loss to Dallas looking inevitable to set up a deciding Game 7, Gregg Popovich turned to a 37-year-old sharpshooter that hadn’t played a single minute in the playoffs thus far.

What happened next is best told by one of Kerr’s victims on the court that night, Dallas Mavericks guard Nick Van Exel. As a guest on Knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles, the former San Antonio Spur revisited how the veteran prevented him from potentially reaching the NBA Finals in 2003.

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“Freakin’ Steve Kerr,” started Van Exel. “Ain’t played all year, man. It’s 3-2, so we got a chance to take it back to San Antonio. Pop threw this dude in — ain’t played one minute through the whole series, and we’re in Game 6.”

Don Nelson’s zone defense had been working throughout the game, as San Antonio was struggling to score the ball heading into the final quarter.

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“We’re playing our zone, ’cause they’ve got the twin towers,” explained Van Exel. “At that time, we were playing small ball. Man, this dude came in and made about six or seven threes in the fourth quarter.”

Of course, it probably felt like Steve Kerr dropped that many trifectas on Dallas in the final quarter, but in reality, he actually made 4-of-4 to help bring the Spurs roaring back to close out the Mavericks.

If it weren’t for Steve Kerr, all the pressure would have been on the San Antonio Spurs to regroup and close out a tough Mavericks squad in a deciding Game 7.

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Both as a player and now as a coach, Kerr’s will to win is hard to match, and the Mavericks learned that the hard way in 2003.