|Reggie Evans may have been talking, but Tim Duncan and the Spurs had the answers. (US Presswire)|
So when the scoreboard read Clippers 40, Spurs 16 in the second quarter Saturday -- and it wasn't a glitch caused by overheating due to all the games being played in Staples Center this weekend -- they did what the Spurs do. They kept at it, chipped away at the lead basket-by-basket, stop-by-stop.
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The Spurs remained undefeated in the postseason with their 17th consecutive victory since April 11, coming back from a 24-point deficit and beating the Clippers 96-86 to take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
"Trying to stay cool and collected when things are going all different directions around you, you try to keep it even keel and you're not affected by the goods and the bads as much," the great Tim Duncan said. "It's a great quality to have."
It's been one of the signatures of the Spurs during their era of four championships, along with stability and smart basketball and a way of doing things the right way, taught by the same people to the same kind of players. And with every victory -- games won with offense, defense, late-game execution or double-digit comebacks -- the Spurs take another calm, confident step toward No. 5.
"I understand the situation that I'm in, and it doesn't happen for a lot of people," Duncan said. "The organization, the players, the coach – in every respect, I'm blessed. I understand it every day, and I appreciate it every day."
And it's time we started appreciating the Spurs, who can punch their ticket to the Western Conference finals against the winner of the Thunder-Lakers series with a victory in Game 4 Sunday at Staples Center.
These Spurs are so good, so poised, that not even a 24-point lead fueled by defense and transition points and Blake Griffin looking like Blake Griffin again was safe against them.
The Clippers led 33-11 after one quarter and took a 24-point lead, 40-16, on Nick Young's 3-pointer with 9:17 left in the second. From that point until the 1:26 mark of the third, the Spurs went on a 53-17 run, if you call a nuclear cataclysm a run. A layup by Duncan gave the Spurs a 69-57 lead with 2:06 left in the first half, a 36-point turnaround.
From the 9:39 mark to the 1:26 mark of the third, the Clippers were 0-for-12 from the field with three turnovers and a kicked-ball violation. Somewhere, Lance Stephenson wrapped his hands around his throat.
"It was really just us keeping the faith in each other," said Danny Green, one of several newbies who've been quickly and successfully indoctrinated into the San Antonio way. "Nobody was really worried or scared or panicked."
Griffin had 28 points and 16 rebounds for the Clippers, who eliminated the Grizzlies in seven games but found no answer for San Antonio. On the second anniversary of the Clippers winning the rights to select Griffin in the draft lottery, Griffin scored 14 in the first quarter and 20 in the first half, playing 21 of the first 24 minutes and running out of gas with only eight points after halftime.
Chris Paul had 12 points and 11 assists for the Clippers, who were outscored 80-46 after leading 40-16 in the second quarter. The Clippers threatened to cut the deficit to six with a late flurry, but Paul missed a 3-point attempt with 1:05 left. Mo Williams added 19 off the bench.
Paul, clearly still hobbled by a nagging groin injury, wasn't himself. His presence has changed the complexion and perception of the Clippers, and a healthy Paul never would have let a game like this slip away -- no matter how poised, fearless or championship-tested the opponent.
"I don't think he's 100 percent Chris Paul," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I'm looking at him, I know the kid, and I just don't think he's 100 percent."
Tony Parker had 23 points and 10 assists, and the ageless Duncan had 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Spurs. Rookie Kawhi Leonard had 14 points and nine rebounds. Leonard, already brainwashed into the Spurs way of never getting flustered, showed no signs of panic even with a 24-point deficit.
"I think if we panicked, he'd panic, too," Duncan said. "In the case of (Leonard), I don't think he ever gets excited. I think he's even more mellow than me, if that's possible."
There was laughter in the interview room now, as the subdued Duncan starts to open up just a little in his old age.
Even as the Spurs played with a double-digit lead in the fourth, there was one more burst to be withstood from the exhausted, hobbled Clippers. A jumper from Williams cut the Spurs' lead to seven, 76-69, and Popovich called timeout with 9:13 left. The Spurs came out of the stoppage with one of their trademark inbounds plays, as Parker found Gary Neal in the corner for an open-3-pointer that pushed the lead to double digits again.
"We've all kind of been through this with him," Duncan said of his longtime coach. "He's one of the best in the league at coming out of timeouts with plays that actually work."
They make it seem so simple. So simple, in fact, that you want to envy them and hate them for it, except you respect who they are, what they've done and how they've done it too much for that.