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Craig Speedy Claxton knows how to win. He did it while a guard with the Christ the King Royals in Middle Village and later as the centerpiece of the Hofstra University basketball program.
And wouldnt you know it, hes at it again in the NBA.
A key cog during a 19-0 fourth-quarter run, Claxton helped the San Antonio Spurs to a Game Six win over the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Championship to take the best of seven series, four games to two.
This is always the hardest game of the series, the close-out game, Claxton said following the win. They played their hearts out for three quarters, and we just stuck with what we do and came through in the fourth quarter and finally played some good ball.
Claxton averaged 12.5 minutes and 6.2 points in the finals, playing in all six games, including the entire fourth quarter of Game Six in favor of starter Tony Parker, who had been limited to four points playing head-up against Jason Kidd.
In the final game, the 5-foot-11 point guard out of Hofstra played 23 minutes, scoring 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the floor, and dishing out four assists.
The Nets were leading 63-57 heading into the final quarter, dominating the game, using their up-tempo offense to control the flow of the game and seemingly en route to forcing an all-or-nothing Game Seven.
But head coach Gregg Popovich decided to go with Claxton and backup forward Emanuell Ginobili in favor of Parker and Bruce Bowen, respectively, to turn the tide.
Manu was always going to make a steal, get a rebound, do something to help you win a basketball game, Popovich said. I thought Speedy was wonderful tonight. He did himself proud and came into the game and was solid for a very long time and really got us over the hump, kept us together.
Claxton hit two key jumpers during the Spurs 19-0 run in the fourth, including one that gave the team a 77-72 lead with just under 5:30 remaining in regulation.
All the hours in the gym shooting shots paid off, Claxton was quoted as saying on www.mysanantonio.com. People doubted that part of my game, and tonight I made the Nets pay for leaving me open.
Part of Claxtons contribution including playing the final 17 minutes, 23 seconds of the game, was shutting Kidd down defensively, holding the perennial all-star to just four fourth-quarter points.
Speedy must have made every shot he took, Kidd was quoted as saying after the game. He was big for them off the bench. He was a big X-factor for them throughout the series. If Tony wasnt going, they had Speedy pick up the slack.
The way Tony was playing, I couldnt imagine it but Im just happy that Pops stuck with me down the stretch, Claxton said. This is truly a great feeling right now for me.
We just got stops, he added. Pops said if we get stops and dont turn the ball over, well win this game and thats what we did.
Claxtons career has been rife with success, including a CHSAA state championship at Christ the King as part of a team that included future NBA players Lamar Odom and Erick Barkley, which lost to Stephon Marbury and the Lincoln Railsplitters in the State Federation championship.
With Hofstra, Claxton also won two America East championships and appeared in two NCAA Tournaments. the two-time America East Player of the Year was drafted in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Claxton missed the entire 2000-2001 season after tearing his ACL against Utah. He appeared in 67 games with the 76ers, averaging 7.2 points, 3 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game before joining San Antonio prior to the start of this season.
He appeared in 30 games this year and averaged 5.8 points, 2.5 assists and 1.9 rebounds per contest.
America East championship dont come nowhere near close to this, Claxton said. This is a great feeling right now. It feels great man, no words can even describe it.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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