Disbelief washes over the faces of the Los Angeles’ Clippers bench during Saturday’s loss to the Spurs, who trailed by as many as 24 points in Game 3.
LOS ANGELES — Nothing was going to rattle the calm, cool and collected Spurs. Not even a 24-point deficit.
Tim Duncan scored 19 points, helping engineer a defining 24-0 run in the third quarter, and San Antonio defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 96-86 on Saturday to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their second-round playoff series.
“We didn’t plan on being down that much,” said Duncan, who at 36 is hungry to win the team’s fifth NBA championship and first since 2006-07. “We stuck with it.”
Led by Tony Parker’s 23 points and his defense on an ailing Chris Paul, the Spurs kept running their plays even as Blake Griffin’s early offensive assault buried them in a huge hole. Griffin missed three shots in the first half, when he scored 20 points and carried his team to a 24-point lead despite a left hip injury and a sprained right knee.
“They came out like we expected, very strong. Blake was making crazy shots,” Parker said. “We just took our time. It’s a long game, a very long game. At halftime, we were very calm.”
Griffin had 28 points and 16 rebounds, and reserve Mo Williams added 19 points for the Clippers, who face some daunting NBA history heading into Game 4 on Sunday at Staples Center. No team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
“If we don’t play with that sense of urgency, it’s not going to be pretty,” Griffin said.
The Clippers played a must-win Game 7 in the opening round on the road at Memphis and succeeded.
“We have to keep fighting,” Paul said.
Rookie Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and Manu Ginobili 13 to help the top-seeded Spurs win their 17th in a row and improve to 7-0 in the playoffs.
“We all struggled in the first quarter. We didn’t feel right out there,” said Duncan, who like his teammates, looked to Parker to pick the team up.
“We follow his lead. He stuck with it, made some big shots down the stretch and continued to attack,” Duncan said. “He was playing defense really hard and got up into Chris.”
Besides Parker, the Spurs threw two other defenders at Paul. He finished with 12 points and 11 assists after two previous sub-par efforts in the series.
“Tony really ran the show well,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I’d say, ‘Let’s do this’ and he said, ‘No, let’s do this,’ and we’d do it.”
After a quiet first half in which he scored eight points, Duncan helped the Spurs control the third quarter when they outscored Los Angeles 26-8.
The Spurs took their first lead during the 24-0 run on a fadeaway jumper by Duncan, who scored nine points in the outburst that put them ahead for good. Danny Green added seven and Leonard five.
“We kept telling Kawhi and Danny to stay calm,” Parker said.
The Clippers’ defense completely faltered and they piled up miss after miss on the offensive end.
“When they spread the floor and Tim Duncan runs a high pick-and-roll, it’s trouble for a lot of teams,” Griffin said. “That’s basically what killed us in the third. This is what they do best.”
The Clippers scored the final four points of the third, which ended with a turnover by Williams, to trail 69-61 heading into the fourth.
“You knew they were going to make a run. It was just a matter of trying to withstand it,” Griffin said. “In the second half, especially the third quarter, we did a poor job of responding.
“I missed some shots I hit in the first half, easy shots.”
San Antonio led by 11 points early in the fourth before the Clippers got within seven on consecutive baskets by Williams. Gary Neal hit a 3-pointer to launch a 13-9 spurt, capped by Parker’s 3-pointer, that extended the Spurs’ lead to 89-78. Paul, so dominant in the final period during the regular season, was limited to four points.
“I felt like we were playing good, but if you know anything about the Spurs, you know they are not going to let up,” Paul said. “Everybody knows how explosive the Spurs are, but we just could not get a stop.”
Reggie Evans, a defensive spark for the Clippers off the bench, missed 6 of 8 free throws in the final 3:42.
“They play the same whether they’re up 20 or down 20,” Griffin said of the veteran Spurs. “Their communication and rotations are so good. Offensively, they know exactly what they’re going to do in every situation.”
The Spurs were 9 of 22 from 3-point range, with Leonard hitting three.
Los Angeles came in 2-1 at home in the playoffs and 24-9 during the regular season. With their red-clad sellout crowd on its feet, the Clippers were still shooting 63 percent midway through the second quarter, when Griffin’s one-handed dunk kept them ahead by 20 points.
The Spurs closed the half on a 15-5 spurt, with Parker and Ginobili scoring five each, to trail 53-43 at the break. Griffin missed just three of his 13 shots in the first half, when the Clippers controlled the boards and the paint.
The Clippers opened the game with a rush, outscoring the Spurs 33-11 while shooting 64 percent. Los Angeles ended the first quarter on a 20-2 run, including 14 in a row. Griffin scored 12 points in the spurt, hitting eight straight while the Spurs committed six turnovers and made just five of 20 field goals.
Notes: The Clippers have lost 29 of 33 games against the Spurs dating to Dec. 1, 2003. … The Clippers have dropped all three games in the series by double digits. … The Clippers have lost all six of their playoff series in franchise history after losing Game 1. … The teams were even in the paint with 44 points each after the Spurs had dominated there in Game 2. … The Clippers controlled the boards, 44-41, after being outrebounded in seven of their previous nine playoff games.
DURANT'S LATE 3 LIFTS THUNDER PAST LAKERS FOR 3-1 SERIES LEAD:
LOS ANGELES --- Kevin Durant stood above the 3-point line and watched the shot clock dwindle in the final seconds of Game 4. When Metta World Peace backed up slightly on defense, Durant hesitated only an instant before launching a 26-footer.
"It left my hand, (and) I was thinking, 'If this doesn't go in, it's going to be a terrible shot,'" Durant said.
The three-time scoring champ trusts his instincts and his silky-smooth jumper. Neither let him down while he and Russell Westbrook engineered yet another late comeback that pushed a frustrated Kobe Bryant to the brink.
Westbrook scored 10 of his 37 points during a stirring fourth-quarter rally, Durant added 31 points and hit that tiebreaking 3-pointer with 13.7 seconds left, and the Thunder seized control of their second-round series with a 103-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.
Serge Ibaka scored 14 points and the second-seeded Thunder took a 3-1 series lead with a rally from a 13-point deficit in the final 8 minutes, moving one win away from their second straight trip to the Western Conference finals.
"Everybody kept fighting," Westbrook said. "We all believed in each other. It's the playoffs. You can't afford to sit back and wonder about it."
Game 5 is Monday night in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City improved to 7-1 in the postseason with a tenacious rally on the second night of back-to-back games against the Lakers and Bryant, who scored 38 points but struggled in the fourth quarter of Los Angeles' fifth loss in seven games. After Durant put the Thunder ahead with his shot-clock-draining 3-pointer, Kobe couldn't match it with 10 seconds left.
With a surge that seemed inevitable to the Lakers' worried crowd, Durant and Westbrook led the Thunder back with teamwork throughout a 32-point fourth quarter. Bryant was left lamenting the help he didn't get — particularly from four-time All-Star Pau Gasol, who made the unforced turnover that led to Durant's decisive 3.
"Pau has got to be more aggressive," Bryant said of Gasol, who managed just 10 points and five rebounds while committing three turnovers. "He's got to be aggressive, got to shoot the ball, drive to the basket, and he will next game. ... (The turnover was) just a bad read on Pau's part. It happens."
The Thunder finished Game 4 on a 22-8 run, punctuated by Durant's dramatic 3-pointer and two late free throws from James Harden, who had 12 points. After sweeping Dallas in the first round, the Thunder are one win away from sending home the NBA's last two champions — and in perhaps the greatest measure of the Thunder's growth over the two years since the Lakers ushered them out of the first round on the way to their second straight title, nobody seems surprised.
"We know no game is over," Durant said. "We've witnessed that before. We play hard every possession and live with the results, and we came out on top."
Andrew Bynum had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who led 92-81 with 7:45 to play before Westbrook went to work with a furious series of drives to the hoop. The UCLA product scored nine points in just over 2 minutes, and Kendrick Perkins capped the 17-4 run on a putback layup with 1:16 left, putting Oklahoma City up 98-96 with its first lead since the first quarter.
After Bryant evened it with two free throws, Westbrook and Pau Gasol then traded turnovers, with Durant swiping Gasol's careless pass before burying a straightaway 3-pointer that silenced Staples Center. The Thunder made 10 of their 15 shots in the final period.
"I wish I could sit up here and say how that happened," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "It just happened."
World Peace had 14 points in the second game of the Lakers' first back-to-back playoff games in 13 years. A night after the Lakers got back in the series with a late comeback for a 99-96 victory in Game 3, Los Angeles led for most of the night, but couldn't execute on offense late, struggling for even difficult shots.
"We can talk about us offensively, because we had some struggles," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "But it comes down to those guys scoring 32 points in the fourth quarter, and I thought they did that very easily. That's the most disappointing thing."
The game was the third NBA playoff contest in 27 hours at Staples Center, which will host six playoff games in hockey and basketball over a four-day stretch this weekend. With the Los Angeles Kings' ice just below the Lakers' court, several players appeared to slip and slide on the floor during the game, and Westbrook nearly did the splits at the halftime buzzer when his right foot slipped.
"I was a little stiff, but we needed this win," Westbrook said.
Oklahoma City appeared to be unhappy with the floor's condition, but Staples Center did nothing different in its changeover, and the referees deemed the floor safe for play. The San Antonio Spurs, on course to meet the Thunder in the conference finals, didn't appear worried about the floor during their win over the Clippers.
Bryant shot poorly in the first three games of the series, but went 10 for 18 in the first three quarters of Game 4 before managing only a 2-of-10 effort in the fourth, including a meaningless bucket at the buzzer.
"We're all upset and extremely frustrated, (but) I don't think anybody is worried about going into Oklahoma City and getting a win," Bryant said. "We don't think about winning three in a row."
Jordan Hill's offensive rebound and layup put the Lakers up 91-78 with 8 minutes left, but longtime Lakers guard Derek Fisher kick-started Oklahoma City's comeback with a 3-pointer.
After Oklahoma City defended its home court with a blowout win in the opener and a comeback from a seven-point deficit in the final 2 minutes of Game 2, the Lakers finally answered Friday night with their own late rally. Los Angeles took control of Game 4 early on while the Thunder struggled with their shots and their footing.
Westbrook slipped near midcourt at the halftime buzzer, his right foot sliding forward when he attempted to stop. He stayed down on the court for an uncomfortably long moment before walking gingerly to the locker room with his hand on his left hip, but got treatment at halftime and returned for the third quarter.
The game was Chapter 4 in the four-day extravaganza at Staples Center. The Kings play Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Phoenix on Sunday afternoon, followed by the Clippers' fourth game against San Antonio — all while tens of thousands of fans gather outside to watch the Tour of California, the nation's largest cycling race, which finishes on the street outside shortly before the Kings' opening faceoff.
NOTES: The Lakers hadn't played back-to-back postseason games since the second round in 1999, another season shortened by labor strife. ... Westbrook and Perkins were called for technical fouls for angry reactions to contact with the Lakers' point guards. ... Denzel Washington, Allyson Felix and Michelle Kwan attended the game.