PORTLAND, OREGON – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took pains to make sure guard Tony Parker was well rested for the playoffs.
“I barely played in April,” Parker said. “I was joking with Pop if I was still with the Spurs.”
The break has paid off.
Parker scored 29 points and San Antonio took a 3-0 lead in its Western Conference semifinal series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 118-103 victory on Saturday night.
Parker has scored 29 or more points in three of his last four playoff games. He had 20 points in the first half alone in Game 3 against Portland.
“He’s been the engine for us,” Popovich said. “He started out really well tonight. He made shots, he involved everybody else. He was playing great D at the other end. He’s really playing a whole complete game.”
The Spurs led by as many as 23 points in the first half, building a big early lead just as they had in the first two games of the series in San Antonio.
“I think it just happened,” Parker said of the third straight game with a big jump on Portland. “We just wanted to come in and have a good start, take care of the ball and play good defense like we did at home.”
The teams meet again on Monday night at the Moda Center.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Portland, which pulled within eight points in the third quarter but couldn’t get any closer. The Blazers were hurt by 15 turnovers and only six points from their bench.
“They’re just persistent,” Aldridge said. “They play championship basketball and that’s what we have to get to.”
No NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series. In 2003, the Blazers rebounded with three wins after dropping the first three against Dallas, but ultimately lost the first-round series’ deciding game.
San Antonio, the top seed in the West, is vying for a second straight trip to the Finals. Last season, the Spurs fell to the Miami Heat in seven games.
The winner of the series goes on to meet the winner of the conference semifinal between Oklahoma City and the Clippers. The Thunder lead that series 2-1.
San Antonio has dominated this one.
On Thursday night, the Spurs built a 20-point lead and won 114-97. The Spurs routed Portland 116-92 in the series opener after a hard-fought seven-game series against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Blazers were without reserve guard Mo Williams, who has a groin injury. Williams played just 9 minutes in Game 2, and the Spurs’ backups outscored Portland’s 50-19.
Williams has consistently brought a spark and leadership off the bench the whole season, and has capably filled in while Lillard rests. Earl Watson and Will Barton helped spell starter Damian Lillard in Game 3. Nets 104, Heat 90
In New York, two losses in Miami didn’t faze Paul Pierce, nor did 16 quick points by LeBron James.
The postseason, Pierce said repeatedly, is no time to panic. And the Heat, apparently, are nothing to fear.
“We’re not scared of them,” Pierce said.
Joe Johnson scored 19 points, Andray Blatche had career playoff highs of 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Brooklyn handed the Heat their first loss this postseason in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Pierce scored 14 points, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett bounced back from awful offensive efforts, and the Nets withstood James’ 16-point first quarter and held him to two baskets over the final three quarters.
“Tonight was the type of urgency we’re going to need for the rest of the series,” Pierce said.
Brooklyn, which swept Miami in the regular season, can tie the series with a victory at home Monday night in Game 4.
“I think this is a must-win coming up Monday,” Garnett said. “If we want to give ourselves any type of room . . . any type of chance, I think that we’ve definitely got to take care of home.”
James scored 28 points for the Heat, who hadn’t even faced a fourth-quarter deficit in these playoffs before having their eight-game winning streak in the postseason snapped. It was their first loss since Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Mirza Teletovic and Shaun Livingston each scored 12 points for the Nets in their first home postseason victory ever against the Heat. Teletovic made four of Brooklyn’s 15 3-pointers.
Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and James grabbed eight rebounds, but his night fell well short of what it could have been after his ferocious first quarter.