by Lang Whitaker

CLEVELAND — About an hour before heading over to the arena for tonight’s Game Three, I was walking around downtown Cleveland with Russ, who’s in town on some SLAM business unrelated to the Finals. Anyway, we were crossing a busy downtown street when we looked down and noticed a huge cleaver on the ground. Serious. That thing was about 7-8 inches long. Russ took a picture of it, which we’ll post eventually. Very gangsta.

• Pregame, I finally managed to ask Drew Gooden about his shoes (AF25s), which I thought said “SOFT” on the Velcro strap. According to Drew, it doesn’t say “SOFT,” it says “90FT,” a reference to his playing hard for 90 feet. We argued about this for a while, because it really looks like SOFT. I’m still not convinced. He asked me if Mike Brown had put me up to asking about that.

• Former Cavs owner Gordon Gund was in the house. I wondered if he had to change his last name to “Q” when the arena changed names. Didn’t get to ask him.

• The Cavs have white towels waiting on every seat and have adopted “Rise Up!” as their postseason slogan. The white-out idea they stole from the Heat last year and “Rise Up” was the Atlanta Hawks regular-season slogan two years ago. Good of the Cavs to adopt the traditions of two Eastern Conference powerhouses.

• A while later, Sam and I were chatting with my main man (and fellow former ATLien) Andre Aldridge from NBA TV while waiting for an elevator to take us upstairs to the media dining area. As we were standing there waiting for a ride, a voice from behind said, “Holy Moses, is that NBA TV’s Andre Aldridge?”

We all turned around to find The Sternbot himself, David Stern, who was accompanied by a small, elite security team. As everyone stepped into the elevator, I ended up near the Commish and reached over to shake his hand. Dre wanted to make sure the Commish knew who I was.

“Commissioner Stern,” Dre began, “do you know La…”

“I know him,” Stern interjected, sternly.

“I’ve sat across from the Commissioner in his office,” I said. “We went toe to toe.”

“We have had…negotiations,” Stern said.

Meanwhile, Sam was still cracking up about Stern saying, “Holy Moses.”

• Worth noting: Boobie has milked his way into the starting lineup tonight.

• Spurs still win the tip. Cleveland can’t win anything these days.

• I’m pretty sure Darth Vader is the PA announcer at The Q. Guy has no flavor whatsoever. Deep voice.

• Spurs jump ahead 4-2. Crowd is rowdy, loud and proud. Refs tonight are Bernie Fryer, Bob Delaney and Danny “Kwesi” Crawford. Will be interesting to see if they let the crowd affect them.

• LeBron gets doubled on the wing and throws up a fadeaway three, which misses. He gets the ball back under the rim and makes a layup. 5-4, Cleveland. This is their first lead since…the Eastern Conference Finals?

• Oberto picks up his second foul with 7:30 to go, and Pop replaces him with Horry. Then Ginobili comes in off the bench, too. Not a bad one-two punch from the pine.

• Cleveland already has 10 boards, with 6:53 to play in the first. Pavlovic nails a long two to make it 9-6. The Cavs move ahead 11-9 before the first full timeout.

• This place is pretty loud tonight, and a lot of folks are in maroon, or wine as they say here. someone gave out blinking lights to the crowd, so everyone has little flashing lights stuck on their shirts.

• Tony Parker just took (and missed) a three.

• Sam and I spent the better part of the first 9 minutes of the game trying to get our friggin’ laptops online, and the crowd was going nuts throughout, so I figured the Cavs were putting on a little run. Then I just looked up and it’s 13-12, Cleveland. Right now Cleveland and San Antonio are tied with 3 assists per team. That’s been killing Cleveland through Games 1 and 2 — they haven’t been able to work the ball around and get easy shots.

• Bowen and Duncan have all the Spurs points.

• Bowen pump-fakes LeBron and gets him into the air, then leans into him and throws up a shot. Foul on Bron.

• Damon Jones just checked in, still in the first quarter. Mike Brown may as well have just announced over the PA system that he’s going to try and outrun Cleveland.

• 14-12, Cavs. LeBron catches on the baseline and doesn’t seem to know what to do, as the Spurs hedge defenders at him over and over. Finally he dumps it to Andy Varejao, who

• THE GREATEST POWER FORWARD OF ALL TIME just picked up his second foul, still in the first quarter. He is replaced by Sisqo Elson.

• 18-16, Cleveland, after one. Cavs have the lead, but Spurs own the tempo. Also, Manu and Ginobili have combined for 0 points thus far. Cleveland has controlled the paint — 8 offensive and 19 total boards, while San Antonio has just 1 offensive and 8 total boards.

• In between quarters, Ohio State coach Jim Tressell appears on the scoreboard and then the fans sing some kind of Ohio State song to the tune of “Hang On Sloopy.” We may be in 1964. SLAM cover man Greg Oden is in the house, too.

• The second quarter starts strange: The Cavs get a breakaway layup and LeBron carries the ball then kicks it out of bounds, and for some reason LeBron shoots four free throws and the Cavs get the ball back.

• Mark Jackson is shown on the TV hugging Peyton Manning. Sorry, Ben.

• Pop keeps shrinking the lineup, subbing in Michael Finley for Robert Horry.

• Whenever a Cavs player checks into the game, the HD scoreboard here shows an extreme close-up of the guy. It’s a little confusing.

• LeBron is going hard to the rack tonight. He’s got 7 and 4. Cavs are up 21-17. Next time down Bron misses a jumper but Zzz… wakes up for the first time all night and stuffs it home. 23-17.

• Tony Parker returns. Duncan is still on the bench.

• LeBron picks up his second foul with 10:14 to go in the second. A fan behind me starts screaming, “Don’t take him out, Mike! Don’t take him out!”

• As the 24-second clock expires, Bron fires up a shot that drops well after the buzzer. A good amount of the fans cheer wildly anyway. If you’re sitting next to someone who cheers after an obviously late shot or dunk, you know they’re not a real fan.

• Damon Jones! Li Ning! Ni How! That pushes the Cavs lead to 26-19.

• Pop’s got Elson at center, Bowen at PF, with Finley, Barry and Parker in. Mike Brown counters by playing Snow and Donkey Jones at the same time.

• Boobie has been covered up thus far.

• Tony Parker scores back-to-back baskets, and a moan goes up from the crowd.

• LeBron picks up his third foul on a questionable offensive call by Danny Crawford. LeBron loudly proclaims that the call is not only completely wrong, it is actually made of fecal matter.

• Duncan gets his third foul on the next play as he calmly watches Zzz… shoot a hook shot over him.

• Do you think the Cavs would be willing to play without LeBron if it meant the Spurs would play without Duncan? Not sure that’s a trade-off I’d be willing to make.

• Darth Vader introduces Bill Walton, Bill Russell, Patrick Ewing and Dr. J, who come out and stand in a line at halfcourt. Not sure if that’s actually Bill Russell or if it’s Greg Oden dipped in powdered sugar.

• 32-28, Cavs. 5 minutes to go in the first half.

• Tonight Rob Horry is running like his right shoulder is asleep.

• Brown keeps using his small lineup.

• When Oberto scores, for some reason Darth Vader adopts the thickest Spanish accent of all time to say his name. That was hilarious.

• Bones! Brent Barry nails a three to make it 38-33. Sasha Pavlovic then runs into a completely stationary Robert Horry, who falls slowly, like an oak tree, as the ball rolls away and back to San Antonio.

• I run out during a timeout to buy a drink and go for a medium Diet Coke, which costs me $5. At least I get a commemorative cup with that. The cup is sponsored by Cub Cadet.

• Lots of stuff here is sponsored. There’s a section of the scoreboard that simply shows how far ahead or behind the Cavs are at the time, for those fans who can’t do simple math. And that section is sponsored by a local Chevy dealer.

• 38-35, Cleveland. Oberto misses a jumper. Sam and I were praying that would go in just so we could hear Darth Vader say his name again.

• Robert Horry! Tie game with 26.2 seconds to go. The Cavs call a timeout so Mike Brown can figure out a way to not score before the half.

• They run a high pick and roll between Boobie and Drew Gooden. Boobie goes way too early and ends up shooting a layup off the bottom of the rim with about 12 seconds left on the clock. They could have left a little less time on the clock there.

• San Antonio gets it back and Damon Jones gives a foul with over 7 seconds left on the clock. Um, guys, maybe you want to wait a little longer before doing that? Give the Spurs a little less time to work with?

• Tony Parker crosses over Boobie Gibson and scores as the buzzer goes off. San Antonio leads 40-38 at the half. That was just unbelievably bad execution over that last 26 seconds from everyone associated with the Cavs, from the coach to the players. They should have gone into the half at the worst tied with San Antonio. Instead they’re down two and the crowd is mad quiet.

• Strange game. Almost a star-less first half. Duncan started hot but both he and LeBron finished on the bench. Parker had 8 in the second quarter. San Antonio started catching up on the rebounds, thought Cleveland still leads in total boards, 26-20. Two stats where San Antonio has significant advantages: 5-1 in three pointers made and 5-1 in steals.

• At halftime, Scot Pollard appears on the scoreboard and tells the kids in the crowd to do drugs.

• (Not really.)

• As the second half starts, the in-arena hype man grabs the mic and says, ‘Alright Cavs fans, the first half is over with. It’s a whole new ball game!” Not a very positive mental approach.

• Zzz… scores off the bat, then we get Fabricio Oberto and Tony Parker buckets on back to back trips. The crowd groans and Mike Brown calls a full timeout, just 1:22 into the third. I like the pre-emptive timeout, I guess, although you’d like to think you wouldn’t need to call one so soon after the halftime break.

• By the way, LeBron has 4 turnovers right now. The Spurs have 6.

• Out of the timeout the Spurs run another play for Zzz…. He misses a turnaround. Next time down they go to him again. Sam wonders if the Cavs are freezing out LeBron. I guess they’re trying to get that fourth foul on Duncan.

• Drew Gooden finally goes to the hole and scores. Zzz… dives on the floor and picks up a loose ball. He’s been totally energized. By the way, before the game Donyell Marshall said that Zzz… was “an assh*le…that’s what we call each other.”

• As I wrote that, Zzz… picked up an offensive foul.

• Fabricio Oberto needs some sort of hair control device, preferably a very wide headband.

• LeBron takes his first shot of the second half with 6:30 to go in the quarter. He makes it. the Spurs respond by getting a layup for the mellifluously named Fabricio Oberto. The Cavs then miss a shot and Tony Parker draws a foul on Drew Gooden. Two shots: makes, makes. 48-44, San Antonio, 5:40 to go in the third.

• The fans here are very fickle. One bad play and there’s groans from all over. I guess we should cut them some slack, because they have been through a lot through the years.

• Spurs are really spreading the floor well. Ginobili is lining up on offense out around halfcourt. Bowen bricks a three. Drew Gooden sinks a wild running hook to make it 48 all with 4:12 to go. Timeout, and the fans are back to cheering again.

• Where is Cavs part-owner Usher? Anyone seen him?

• Varejao takes a charge from Ginobili. Flopper vs. Flopper. That nearly caused a wrinkle in time. Varejao heads for the bench.

• Drew Gooden gets called for consecutive over-the-back calls while battling the awesomely-named Fabricio Oberto.

• Bones! Barry’s three makes it 51-48. Bron backs in and plows over about three defenders for a layup. A second later Bowen nails a three over Bron and while running back slides like the floor is made of ice. About 200 ballboys run out and towel off the court.

• That’s it for the third, with the Spurs ahead 55-50.

• Boobie is sucking: 1-for-9 and 0-for-4 from three. Zzz… is single-handedly keeping the Cavs in this. He has 12 points and 16 rebounds. The Cavs are 1-for-12 on threes.

• Between quarters they bring out the dunkers and trampolines, and it ends with something I’ve never seen before: A 17-foot ladder is set up and a guy climbs to the top — so he was way up there, his head near the shot clock — and he did a backflip off and dunked it on the way down to the cushioned mat.

• Bones! Brent Barry is the new Robert Horry. 58-50, Spurs, with 10:40 to go in the game. The 10:40 mark is sponsored by Quicken’s new tax software.

• Out of the timeout, Jacque Vaughn nearly saves steals a ball and goes flying headfirst out of bounds in a vain effort to save the ball. Duncan and Bones sprint over to help him up off the floor.

• Boobie nips the rim and misses another open three.

• Duncan off the glass. Ten point lead.

• Finally! The Cavs get Bron the ball and he attacks the rim, cutting it to an 8-point game. Seven after a free throw.

• Another loose ball, and Duncan and Zzz… end up on the floor. Duncan is really bad at picking up loose balls off the floor. Not so bad if that’s your only weakness.

• Gooden for two. Five point lead for San Antonio. I think we’ve hit San Antonio’s regular fourth quarter swoon. It’s 62-57, with 7:41 to go.

• Parker nails a long two over a Zzz… and Snow double-team. Gangsta.

• LeBron drives and gets body-checked to the ground. No call.

• Finley nails a three. Mike Finley is the new Brent Barry. 67-57, 6:36 to go. Timeout, Cavs. They re-play the LeBron getting hip-checked play on the scoreboard to get the fans riled up, and it works. These fans are very dependent on the scoreboard to know when to cheer.

• Sasha! He finally nails a three, Cleveland’s second of the night. 67-60, Spurs. Next play there’s a loose ball and Robert Horry tries to save it but instead throws it about ten rows deep at halfcourt.

• Out of the timeout, Bron drives the paint and gets a layup, and one. First foul on Bowen all night. 67-63, Cavs.

• Tony Parker misses a long two. Cleveland comes down and Drew Gooden gets doubled, and Tim Duncan just grabs the ball. Somehow Drew gets called for a foul.

• On the scoreboard they show a fan holding a sign that reads: Eva Is Fat. Really classy, Dan Gilbert.

• Bron gets a steal, throws it under to Varejao, who kind of knocks it out of bounds.

• Duncan misses a two, Bron misses a two, Parker misses a two, Bron misses a fadeaway three. 3:02 left, still 67-63.

• Nice play by Varejao, who knocks it away from Duncan in the post.

• LeBron drives and gets to the rim but can’t get the roll.

• Timeout, Spurs. Still leading 67-63, 2:26 to go. Nice — about two minutes of scoreless ball.

• Cavs get a steal out of the timeout after a lazy alley-oop from Manu. The Cavs run the only play that’s been running all night: a clear-out for Bron, who drives and gets tangled with Manu. Two shots: good, good. 67-65, Spurs, 1:55 to go.

• The Spurs come back and get it to Duncan in the post, who gets it outside and the Spurs rotate the ball back and forth around the perimeter. The Cavs actually rotate very well, and the Spurs get it back to Duncan inside. He’s fouled by Gooden, who picked up his sixth. Duncan to the line, always an adventure…good, good. 69-65, Spurs, 1:31 to go.

• By the way, Drew’s next-door neighbor in Orlando is Chris Kirkpatrick from N*Sync. He told me that pre-game.

• Bron gets an easy layup, quick. 69-67. Thanks to the feature on the scoreboard, I know the Cavs are down by two.

• Tony Parker! Mon dieu! He nails an offbalance three.

• Sasha! Something in another language! He nails a three. 72-70, 33 seconds to go.

• Steal by the Cavs! Down two. Clock running down. LeBron throws it to…Anderson Varejao? Varejao spins and shoots from his waist. Not sure he even caught the rim. Good grief.

• Manu grabs the board and gets fouled with 10.4 left. He makes one of two to make it 73-70. Timeout, 10.4 to go.

• OK, here we go. Damon Jones checks in. Cavs need a three to tie. Or maybe a two and a foul? They only have one 20-second timeout left. That’s what they do, as Bron gets an open layup.

• Inbounds to Manu, who’s fouled with 5.5 left. To the line. Good, good. 75-72. 5.5 left. Cavs use their last timeout.

• Everyone comes out for the final possession and Pop takes a 20 to set his defense. They get it in to Bron. I think Bowen tried to give a foul on him, but it wasn’t called. Bron misses the three, barely, and the Cavs lose, 75-72. Bron finished with 25, 8 and 7, but it wasn’t enough. The Spurs got a pretty even effort from everyone. And they just need one more win to take this thing back to Texas.