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 CLEVELAND (AP) -The comebacks come too late for many of their young fans to see, and certainly too late to do much good against the San Antonio Spurs.
Once the fourth quarter rolls around, the Cleveland Cavaliers begin playing NBA finals-worthy basketball.
If their goal is to make the game close on the scoreboard, that might be good enough. If they want to be competitive on the court, they'd better get started much sooner.
``We have to find a way to pick up our intensity and carry on what happened in the fourth quarter into the rest of the game,'' Cavaliers star LeBron James said.
The Cavaliers traveled home Monday and were set to host an NBA finals game for the first time Tuesday night. They left San Antonio with a 2-0 deficit, but maybe with a bit of momentum after thoroughly outplaying the Spurs in the final quarter of Game 2.
Cleveland outscored San Antonio 30-14, briefly cutting what had been a 29-point deficit into single digits. But by then, the Cavs would have needed the greatest comeback in finals history to pull out the victory.
So what did those 12 minutes mean?
``Really nothing,'' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. ``I think they took their foot off the gas pedal a little bit. Too little, too late.
``Obviously we'll look at it, see what good things we did and stuff, but I don't know. We're down 30 points so I just ... something went our way eventually but it was just, like I said, too late.''
By the time the fourth quarter arrived, the trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili had outscored Cleveland 68-62. In Game 1, the Cavs trailed 64-49 through three quarters, with the Spurs' Big Three matching the Cavs' total at that point.
James has said throughout these playoffs that if his teammates keep it close, he'll try to win it for them in the end. But with the deficits the Cavs have been facing, that's too much for James or anybody else to accomplish.
By then, Cleveland is playing just to avoid further embarrassment.
``I think the fourth quarter we just realize that it's a pride thing then and we don't want to get blown out,'' James said. ``We're here for a reason and it becomes a pride thing in the fourth quarter when you're down so many points.''
The Cavs are averaging 28.5 points and shooting 57.5 percent in the fourth quarters of the finals. Those are impressive numbers against any team, especially one that defends as well as the Spurs.
But as well as they've played in the fourth, the closest the Cavs have been in that period was eight points - still a long way from making a victory seem possible.
Still, they kept competing, which was perhaps the best thing that could be said for their time in San Antonio.
``They didn't quit in Game 1, they didn't quite tonight,'' Cavs coach Mike Brown said. ``We're not in it for any moral victories. Bottom line is we lost the ballgame. But the thing I'm excited about is we finally brought some sort of effort and aggression defensively and offensively, and we did it and showed some poise. And that's what we have to continue trying to do throughout this series.
``But our guys, you know, they didn't look down going into the fourth quarter.''
Brown went nearly the entire quarter with a lineup of James and four reserves: Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall. The latter three give the Cavs the outside shooting they need to spread the floor so James has room to operate, and Varejao provides the hustle plays and rebounding that Cleveland lacked for three quarters.
Plus, he helped limit Duncan to 1-of-5 shooting in the period.
So perhaps Brown found a combination that can work. But it won't matter unless the Cavs find a way to keep it close enough so that unit can make a difference.
The Spurs are already good. Spotting them a huge lead makes them nearly unbeatable.
``When you get down in the finals against a team like this, 30 points, you're not coming back,'' Ilgauskas said.

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