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NBA PLAYOFFS: Written-off Spurs back in NBA Finals

Tim Duncan, left, celebrates with teammates after sweeping Mike Conley, center, and the Grizzlies late Monday night in the Western Conference finals.

Tim Duncan, left, celebrates with teammates after sweeping Mike Conley, center, and the Grizzlies late Monday night in the Western Conference finals.

Looking Ahead

WHO: Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat vs. the San Antonio Spurs.

WHAT: NBA Finals.

WHEN: June 6.

WHERE: TBD.

TV: ABC.

MEMPHIS -- San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich certainly understood the talk.

As each year passed since the Spurs win their last NBA title in 2007, it didn’t seem as if a team with its star veterans creeping toward their 30s would ever make it back to the NBA Finals.

Two of those 30-somethings -- Tony Parker and Tim Duncan -- muzzled such mumbling Monday night in FedExForum. Parker scored 37 points and Duncan added 15 points and eight rebounds as the Spurs beat the Memphis Grizzlies 93-86 to complete a sweep in the Western Conference finals.

The Spurs now await the winner of the Eastern Conference finals, and San Antonio will be well-rested before Game 1 of the Finals on June 6. The Miami Heat lead the Indiana Pacers two games to one in the Eastern Conference series.

“I’m pretty sure that we’ve been a team that probably has been written off like they’ve had their day,” said Popovich, who has coached the Spurs to all four of their league championships with the 37-year-old Duncan as his power forward. “It seems logical. I would have said the same thing if I was a fan from the outside looking in.

“You don’t expect this to happen this late in the game with the same group. It’s tough to do, to maintain something that long, but it shows the character of those three guys (Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili), and their ability to play with whoever else is brought in around them.”

Parker, 31, was clearly the MVP of the series. From his 18 assists in Game 2 to his stunning Game 4 performance in which he scored 25 points in the second half, turning back every last Memphis rally, he was magnificent.

It seemed as if every time the Grizzlies crept within three to six points, Parker was scraping off a screen, slithering inside the defense and either hitting layups over the Grizzlies’ inside trees or finding an open 3-point shooter.

He’s the reason why the Spurs dominated points-in-the-paint scoring 52-32, and why San Antonio shot 51.3 percent from the field.

“The first two games, we moved the ball and knocked down a lot of 3s (a combined 23 in Games 1 and 2),” Parker said. “That definitely opened things the next two games, because their defenders didn’t come to help as much. I was penetrating because they were scared I would hit the shooters. I was just being aggressive and taking what the defense gave me.”

Parker destroyed Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, who has been named first-team All-NBA defense the last two seasons.

And there was the Spurs’ defense, which shut down the Grizzlies’ vaunted inside game as well as point guard Mike Conley from start to finish in the series.

Center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph worked hard just to score 14 and 13 points, respectively, in the series finale, and they combined for 13 rebounds. Conley had nine points and seven assists.

As Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins noted, it was pretty much that way the entire series.

“Give the Spurs credit,” Hollins said. “They had a game plan, they stuck with it the whole series and they never let us up for air. They not only did a nice job defensively on Marc and Zach.”

Quincy Pondexter came off the bench to lead the Grizzlies with 22 points.

The Spurs gained revenge for losing a first-round series to the Grizzlies two years ago when San Antonio was the West’s top seed.

The Grizzlies trailed by six points at the half and never got closer than three the rest of the way. Every time it seemed they were about to break through, Parker ducked behind a high screen and took a Grizzlies defender or two to school.

With the Spurs leading 89-86, Parker scraped off a screen, found a sliver of light in the lane, drew a shooting foul and converted two free throws with 29.7 seconds left. He followed that with two more free throws about eight seconds later, and the Grizzlies were done.

The Spurs hopped on the lifeless Grizzlies from the opening tip in establishing a 24-14 lead after one quarter. Three Memphis starters -- Conley, Allen and Randolph -- didn’t score in the opening period.

San Antonio’s superb team defense limited Memphis to 28.6 percent shooting in the opening quarter while the Spurs shot 52.4 percent with 11 baskets off seven assists.

Despite the Grizzlies going almost seven minutes between field goals in the second quarter, they managed to stay in striking distance. A Jerryd Bayless 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 2.1 seconds left in the half reduced the Spurs’ halftime advantage to 44-38.

While the Spurs’ defense was still doing a number inside against All-Star forward Randolph -- his two first-half points came off free throws -- the Grizzlies fired back by holding San Antonio to 0-for-8 from the 3-point arc before halftime.

Also, the Grizzlies’ bench finally had played the Spurs’ bench better than even, holding a 14-10 scoring advantage in the opening two quarters.

However, what got the Spurs their halftime lead was outscoring the Grizzlies 34-12 in the paint. It wasn’t just Duncan getting to the basket, because Parker scored eight of his 12 first-half points on drives.

Every time the Spurs tried to throw a knockout punch in the game’s first four minutes of the second half, the Grizzlies jabbed back. San Antonio maintained its halftime lead before Parker put on an offensive clinic.

Whether it was a crossover fade or ducking behind the screen, Parker’s 14 third-quarter points boosted the Spurs to a 63-51 lead before he sat down for a breather.

That’s when the Grizzlies, with a small lineup on the floor, went on a run that cut the Spurs’ advantage to 72-66 by the end of third quarter.

Credit Pondexter and his 12 points in the period for willing the Grizzlies back into the game.

NOTES: San Antonio is 4-for-4 in the NBA Finals. Duncan is the only Spurs player to be part of all four of the team’s championships. … Teams that led 3-0 in an NBA postseason series are now 108-0 all-time in winning the series. … Parker was the only player on either team to average a double-double over the first three games (20.3 points, 10.7 assists). … The Spurs have won their last 17 of 19 playoff games in which Ginobili came off the bench to score 18 or more points. Ginobili finished with six points Monday.


Pacers even series thanks to late surge

INDIANAPOLIS -- Don't print those Spurs-Heat programs for the NBA Finals just yet.

The Indiana Pacers aren't ready to concede the Eastern Conference title to Miami.

Staging an impressive rally in the final five minutes and the beneficiary of several key calls down the stretch, the Pacers beat the Heat 99-92 Tuesday to tie the Eastern Conference finals at two games apiece.

Game 5 is Thursday in Miami.

The Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs await the East champ in the NBA Finals, which begin June 6.

"Just resiliency," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "We've shown a great deal of resolve all year. This is the first chance we've faced adversity this playoff season, and our guys rose to the challenge to start the game, and then when Miami came and took the lead, they rose to the challenge again."

The Pacers scored eight consecutive points, wiping out a three-point deficit, to take a 94-89 lead with 1:30 to play. The run concluded with back-to-back Roy Hibbert layups, the second leading to a three-point play.

LeBron James hit a 3-pointer to pull the Heat within two, but Lance Stephenson responded with a short jumper that pushed Indiana's advantage to 96-92.

With 56 seconds to go, James was whistled for an illegal screen, his sixth foul, ending his night. He finished with 24 points, six rebounds and five assists.

"You would like to be out there on the floor, especially me," James said. "Be there for my teammates especially in the closing minutes when we have a chance to win. Wasn't able to do that."

Dwyane Wade was called for traveling with 26 seconds to go, and the Pacers made three of four free throws in the closing moments to seal the win.

"Guys did a good job of fighting," Pacers power forward David West said. "We made a couple of adjustments that worked, and guys just did a tremendous job of staying the course even when (the Heat) made some tough shots."

Hibbert led the Pacers with 23 points and added 12 rebounds. Stephenson added 20 points, and George Hill had 19.

Mario Chalmers scored 20 points for Miami, and Wade had 16.

The Pacers held the Heat to 39 percent shooting. Indiana shot 50 percent from the floor.

"We contained the ball a lot more with our ... pick-and-rolls," Hibbert said. "We took care of some stuff so I don't have to rotate as much. I have to give kudos to our guards because they did a real good job of keeping their men in front of them."

It was only a matter of time before the Heat would take more than a one-point lead in the game. That time came early in the third quarter.

The Heat opened the second half by scoring 13 of the first 19 points to take a 60-54 lead.

What made the run even more depressing for the Pacers is that it wasn't James, Wade or Chris Bosh doing most of the damage. Chalmers had six of the 13 points.

Silence fell upon the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd.

The Pacers' season -- winning Game 5 in Miami would be a tough task -- was slipping away.

Vogel called a timeout to try to keep his squad from completely falling apart.

The Pacers responded and went on a 7-0 run to take a 61-60 lead on a West jump shot with 5:36 left in the third quarter.

The Pacers didn't stop there.

Stephenson made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Pacers a 77-70 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"He had that big bucket down the stretch," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You can say that the momentum-changing 3 at the end of the third (was a key). Really, that was irrelevant by the time we got down to the last stretch of the fourth."

The Pacers were up nine in the fourth quarter when they got called for a questionable shot-clock violation that shifted momentum again.

The Heat went on a run that was capped off by a Wade three-point play to take an 86-83 lead midway through the quarter.

"It was, like this whole series has been, just great play after great play after great play," Vogel said. "We were able to make a few more winning plays."

NOTES: The Pacers had sizable advantages in rebounds, 49-30, and points in the paint, 50-32. ... Indiana committed 12 turnovers to Miami's six. ... Vogel has made it no secret that he's against flopping, something the Heat have a reputation from doing. James doesn't have anything against it. "You're just trying to get the advantage," James said. "Any way you can get the advantage over an opponent to help your team win, then so be it." ... Heat big man Chris "Birdman" Andersen is 13-for-13 from the field in the series. "As soon as he misses one shot, this whole series is going to change," Vogel joked. Andersen didn't attempt a shot Tuesday, going scoreless over 19 minutes.