SAN ANTONIO — Two weeks into the NBA playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs finally produced a performance befitting a team that often dismissed opponents with ease while accumulating the league’s best record during the regular season.
Guard Tony Parker scored 32 points and the Spurs defeated the Dallas Mavericks 119-96 Sunday in Game 7 of the first-round Western Conference playoff series.
The Spurs advance to face the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who upset the Houston Rockets in a six-game series.
San Antonio was 62-20 during the regular season, three games better than the team closest in pursuit, Oklahoma City. Along the way the Spurs won a franchise regular season record 19 straight games.
But the Spurs struggled with Dallas, the outcome in five of the first six games having been decided in the final minute. The only blowout was a 113-92 Dallas victory in Game 2.
Then came Sunday…
“Today we got hit by a tidal wave,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “They’re the best of the best.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “This was one of our best games of the year.
The series was more difficult for San Antonio than pundits seemed to anticipate against a No. 8 seed. Popovich said Carlisle used strategy that made life difficult for the Spurs.
“It kept many of us up night after night trying to figure those guys out,” Popovich said. “Rick did a great job with his game plan. The coaches confounded us. The players were great.”
Guard Manu Ginobili supplemented Parker with 20 points. Guard Danny Green added 16, one more than forwards Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard.
Forward Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 22 points. Guard Devin Harris scored 17.
Parker averaged 15.5 points in the first four games of the series and 25.7 in the last three. He said the Mavericks were able to eliminate the Spurs’ renowned ball movement and 3-point shooting, forcing him to shoot more.
“It was different for me, the first part of the series and the second part of the series,” Parker said. “The first part, we were playing Spurs basketball — move the ball like we did all season long. But Dallas just tried to make me a jump shooter. The last three games I was very aggressive.”
San Antonio led 68-46 at halftime after matching a franchise playoff record for field-goal accuracy during a half — 68.4 percent.
Dallas helped the Spurs’ cause, and their shooting percentage, by committing nine turnovers in the half. San Antonio turned them into 19 points.
Parker led the way with 24 points, converting 9 of 12 shots, a mixture of mid-range jumpers and forays to the basket against bigger, slower Mavericks who had the misfortune of guarding him in Dallas’ switching defense.
Ginobili had a big half as well, producing 11 points, four steals and four assists. Ginobili boosted the Spurs with four points on one possession in the first quarter, making a free throw after Carlisle was hit with a technical foul, and following up with a 3-point basket.
Duncan scored 12 in the half, hitting six of seven shots.
When the half was over, the Spurs’ so called Big Three — Parker, Ginobili and Duncan — had outscored the entire Dallas roster 47-36.
Carlisle, trailing by 22 at the half, opted for a small lineup to start the third quarter — Nowitzki and four guards, including reserves Harris and Vince Carter. That strategy worked initially. Dallas cut the deficit to 14 four minutes into the period thanks, primarily, to eight points by Harris.
Then Popovich countered with smaller lineup, replacing Duncan with Ginobili. The Spurs opened a 19-point lead over the next four minutes, and Popovich then reverted to a traditional lineup.
Harris said the Mavs did not respond quickly enough after the slow start.
“To come out the way we did and get knocked back on our heels like that, with a team as experienced as the Spurs, we have to come out swinging,” Harris said. “I felt like we just didn’t do that.”
NOTES: Spurs G Danny Green hit his first four shots Sunday, extending his streak to 13 in a row during the last three games. … This series was not the first time the Mavericks and Spurs played a Game 7 in San Antonio. Dallas defeated San Antonio here in overtime to win the 2006 Western Conference semifinals. The Mavs advanced to the NBA Finals, losing the championship to Miami. … The officials handed out two technical fouls in the first quarter, to Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and San Antonio G Tony Parker. Parker said something to Dallas C DeJuan Blair, a former Spurs’ teammate, after driving by him for a layup. Blair then received a flagrant-1 foul in the second quarter when he hit Spurs G Manu Ginobili in the face. Dallas F Jae Crowder received a flagrant-1 in the third quarter for a shot to Parker’s head.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.