Spurs rally big for 3-0 lead on Clippers
By SPORTS NETWORK
|San Antonio's Manu Ginobili during Game 3 between the Spurs and the Clippers at the Staples Center. (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images/AFP)
LOS ANGELES - Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was seemingly at a loss for words.
Asked to describe his team's 17-game winning streak, to explain how the Spurs are so much better now than they were in the middle of the season, he didn't give an answer.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro fared better, saying how difficult it's been to beat a team that moves the ball so well and can score so many different ways.
"There's a lot of things that make it hard," Del Negro said.
Most of them showed up during a 24-0 run Saturday afternoon that has the Spurs on the brink of the Western Conference Finals.
Tim Duncan scored nine of his 19 points during the third-quarter run and San Antonio held on for a 96-86 win in Game 3, taking a 3-0 series lead over the Clippers with Game 4 set for Sunday night in Los Angeles.
The Spurs climbed all the way out of a 24-point hole in the second quarter to remain unbeaten for more than five weeks. The 24-0 run in the third punctuated an overall burst of 53-17 in about 19 minutes.
"The third quarter jumped on us," Del Negro said. "They moved the ball well like they usually do and picked us apart."
Tony Parker scored 23 points to lead the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard had 13 and Manu Ginobili added 13 off the bench. Parker had 10 assists and Duncan collected 13 rebounds.
Blake Griffin had 28 points to lead the Clippers, but an eight-minute drought in the third quarter was their downfall. Mo Williams scored 19 off the bench and Chris Paul finished with 12 points and 11 assists.
The Spurs didn't take their first lead until Duncan's jumper midway through the third quarter -- the 13th and 14th points in San Antonio's 24-0 run.
Duncan's nine points during the burst included a driving layup on the right side to end it and gave San Antonio a 69-57 lead. Earlier, he worked a perfect pick-and-roll with Ginobili for another easy basket while Leonard and Danny Green both made 3s.
The overall run of 53-17 came after LA had a 40-16 lead three minutes into the second quarter.
"We have to find a way to play better down the stretch," said Griffin. "Our backs are against the wall. If we don't play with a sense of urgency, it's not going to be pretty.
"We knew they were going to make a run. We did a poor job of responding. We know we can beat them but we have to execute."
The Clippers went 0-for-12 during an eight-minute drought in the third between Griffin's layup at 9:39 and Williams' floater at 1:26. The final tally was a 26-8 San Antonio third quarter for a 69-61 lead going into the fourth.
LA never got closer than seven in the fourth quarter. It was an eight-point game before Parker knocked down a 3 from the left corner with 4:27 remaining and Duncan found Boris Diaw underneath for a 13-point lead moments later.
Earlier, Griffin was 7-of-8 in the first quarter for 14 points and LA shot better than 63 percent for a 33-11 lead at the buzzer that had the Spurs suddenly reeling.
"That first quarter I think we all felt bad out there," said Duncan. "But we stuck with it."
LA finished the quarter on a 26-4 run and went up by 24 early in the second, but the Spurs cut it to single digits late before Williams' three-pointer made it 53-43 LA at halftime.
"We have a lot of experience," said Parker. "After the first quarter, we didn't panic. We stayed calm. It's a long game."
Game 4 will end a marathon weekend for the Staples Center and its staff. The arena, also home to the Lakers and the NHL's Kings, will have hosted six playoff games in four days...The Spurs haven't lost since April 11 to the Lakers. Their 7-0 record in the playoffs includes a sweep of Utah in the first round.