The San Antonio Spurs kept insisting the playoffs were a new season and that their woeful finish to the regular season was not as grave as it appeared.
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After 16 straight postseason appearances, San Antonio should know what it’s talking about.
Tony Parker had 28 points and seven assists and the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers 102-91 on Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard had 16 points each, Manu Ginobili added 13 points and Matt Bonner had 10 for San Antonio, which had lost three straight entering the series.
”I thought we played two pretty good games on the defensive end of the court back-to-back,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ”That was our goal at the beginning of the season and we did it for most of the year, as I said, until maybe the last three weeks of the season it dissipated. We got it back for these two games.”
Dwight Howard and Steve Blake had 16 points each to lead Los Angeles. Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol added 13 points each, but no other player had more than nine as the Lakers shot 45 percent from the field.
Game 3 is Friday night in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles said a key to winning was shooting better, and they did – but so did San Antonio.
”They are just much more efficient than we are,” Los Angeles coach Mike D’Antoni said. ”They are playing better than we are right now.”
The Spurs shot 51 percent from the field after shooting 38 percent in Game 1. San Antonio was 7 for 14 on 3-pointers, including 5 for 7 in the first half.
Parker had 15 points in the third quarter after going 1 for 6 in the first half. He scored 12 straight points on a series of layups and floating jumpers against Blake. Parker’s run gave the Spurs a 75-65 lead with 3 minutes left in the third.
”You see Tony tonight and that’s probably the best part of the whole game,” Duncan said. ”He’s getting his rhythm back. He felt good tonight. He shot the ball well tonight. He looked like Tony of midseason tonight and that’s great for us.”
The Lakers shot 37 percent (9 for 24) in the first quarter, a slight improvement over their 7-for-20 performance (35 percent) in the opening quarter of Game 1.
Gasol posted early, tipping in a miss by Howard for the game’s opening basket and missing a 5-footer before Duncan blocked his 5-foot hook.
Gasol was 5 for 14 overall, including 1 for 6 in the second half.
”I didn’t get into a good rhythm out there,” Gasol said. ”This first half was better, but in the second half I struggled with my shot. I can’t be short on my shots; fatigue kicked in a little bit and I’m fighting through some stuff myself physically. But at this point, we’re in fight mode; we’ll fight through whatever is on the table. Try to stay alive in this series and fight for our lives.”
The Lakers went to the perimeter following the block, resulting in consecutive 3s by Blake and World Peace for an 8-6 lead with 8:23 left in the first quarter.
Ginobili once again energized the Spurs, sparking runs of 13-4 and 10-3 to close the first and second quarters. He had 12 points in the first half and was 3 for 4 on 3-pointers.
”He’s playing very well right now,” D’Antoni said. ”There’s not a whole lot of adjustments; we try to push him to his weak hand and try to get up in him, but at some point you just have to man up and just do the best you can.”
Ginobili had six points with two assists and a block in 6 minutes to bridge the first and second quarters.
He hit two 3s in the final minute of the second quarter, including one off his initial pass that bounced off DeJuan Blair’s head but eventually found its way back to him. He also fed a streaking Leonard for a dunk off a turnover.
”You have to give credit to them,” D’Antoni said. ”When the ball hits somebody in the head, bounced around and went over to the 3, that didn’t help any. That’s why they are good. They are a better team.”
In the first quarter, Ginobili hit a step-back 3 and then drew the defense and fed Gary Neal for an open 3, which he made to give the Spurs a 28-23 lead at the close of the first quarter.
The Lakers went on a 9-2 run to close within 33-32 with 8 minutes left in the first half. Nash opened and closed the run with jumpers.
Nash continued to play after tweaking his hamstring, finishing with nine points in 31 minutes.
Bonner’s 3 on an open look with 7 minutes left in the first half drew a cry of frustration from Gasol, who shouted at the bench and pointed at Bonner over an apparent missed assignment.
”(Bonner) was a key player for us today,” Ginobili said. ”He was very active defensively. Of course he’s giving Dwight a big advantage in size, strength and quickness, and I could keep going. But he did a great job getting around him, fronting him from behind.”
Howard had heated battles with Bonner and Duncan in the first half. After getting tied up midway through the second quarter, Duncan and Howard walked down the court glaring at each other with Howard jawing at Duncan.
”It is frustrating,” Howard said of the defensive pressure. ”I just have to trust my teammates to make shots. On whatever they do defensively, I have to be aware of my arms and try not to get tangled up.”
Howard was later grabbed from behind by Bonner and his arm was pulled by Ginobili, but the Lakers All-Star still managed to bank in a layup, flexing his muscles after the shot. Howard even made the ensuing free throw, giving the Lakers a 44-43 lead with 3 minutes left in the first half.
Howard was 2 for 4 on free throws.
Bonner followed with a 3, however, to put the Spurs back on top at 46-44.
Notes: The Spurs have the second-most playoff wins since selecting Duncan with the top overall pick in 1997. San Antonio is 119-77 since 1998, trailing only the Lakers’ 133-81. … Duncan has 139 double-doubles in the playoffs, fourth all-time behind Magic Johnson (157), Wilt Chamberlin (143) and Shaquille O’Neal (142). … Lakers C Jordan Hill played for the first time since undergoing left hip surgery Jan. 23. He was listed as ”out” for Game 2, but came off the bench with 3 minutes left in the game. . The Lakers had six players listed as probable, but all played. Gasol (foot), Howard (shoulder), Jamison (wrist), Jamal Meeks (ankle), Nash (hamstring) and World Peace (knee) all played at least 20 minutes. … Ginobili and Duncan had their customary snack of red Lifesavers before the game, sending a trainer over to collect a handful from an official scorer before pre-game introductions.