The San Antonio Spurs are on to the Western Conference finals, along with their 18-game winning streak and 8-0 mark in the playoffs.
They rallied in the closing minutes behind Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 102-99 on Sunday night and wrap up the second-round series 4-0.
“We needed a game like that. It arrived at the perfect time,” Parker said. “We battled. We executed our plays, made big baskets.”
Now they wait to find out their next opponent. Oklahoma City took a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.
“All these teams know each other pretty well, so I don’t think there will be a huge surprise for anybody no matter who we play,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Duncan scored 21 points, Parker added 17, Danny Green and Gary Neal had 14 each, and Ginobili and Thiago Splitter had 11 each as the Spurs overcame a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter after leading by 12 earlier in the game.
Their playoff winning streak is tied for third-best in franchise history. Not that either streak is a topic among the team.
“It doesn’t exist for us,” Popovich said. “We don’t talk about it. It is not even a thought in our minds.”
The Spurs’ experience and guile was foremost in withstanding the Clippers’ second-half pressure. San Antonio trailed much of the fourth until tying the game twice in the final 3:32. The 30-something trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined to score nine of the team’s final 10 points.
“Their experience showed with their execution,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. “Tim looks great and the rest of the guys are feeding off that.”
Chris Paul had 23 points and 11 assists, Blake Griffin added 21 points, and Eric Bledsoe had 17 for the Clippers.
Paul faltered in the final two minutes, usually a time when the All-Star guard is at his best.
Both nursing injuries, Griffin and Paul combined to score 21 of the Clippers’ 28 points in the third quarter when they took their first lead of the game. In the fourth, Bledsoe came up big, scoring 11 in a row, to extend the lead to 90-85 with 5:38 remaining.
After Reggie Evans missed two free throws, Green hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 92.
Duncan’s hook put the Spurs in front 96-94 before Paul tossed up a one-handed shot that rose to the top of the backboard before dropping straight in as he crashed into a baseline photographer. He made the free throw to put the Clippers ahead by one.
Parker scored consecutive baskets and the Spurs regained the lead, 100-97, with 1:47 left.
Paul’s two free throws drew the Clippers within one. After a timeout, Paul drove the basket and lost the ball. He fouled Green, who made the first and missed the second to keep the Spurs ahead for good.
“I messed up, bad decisions,” Paul said, holding his 2-year-old son on his lap. “I should have shot it and I missed the shot, all on me.”
Paul then missed another shot, and Mo Williams fouled Parker, who missed the first and made the second with a second left.
“To let my team down in that situation is probably the toughest part of the season,” Paul said. “We scrapped, we played hard. At the end of the day, playing hard isn’t always enough. You got to execute. On that last play, at least we could have gotten a shot off and I turned the ball over.”
DeAndre Jordan added 10 points. Paul had best performance of the series after sub-par efforts in the first two games. He’d been playing with a strained right hip, while Griffin had a sprained right knee, an injured left hip and got stitches for a cut lip in the first half.
Neither team led by more than five points in the third period. Duncan had 10 points for the Spurs. Bledsoe’s putback slam dunk gave the Clippers 75-74 lead going into the fourth.
The Spurs stretched their lead to 12 points with Duncan sitting out the opening 7 minutes of the second quarter.
The Clippers closed on a 14-6 run to trail 51-47 at halftime. Paul got it started with a 19-foot jumper and ended it with a 3-pointer. Early in the spurt, Griffin ran into Ginobili’s shoulder, fell and one of his top teeth went through his lip. He left the court with 2:20 remaining to get two stitches on the inside and outside of his lip.
NOTES: Duncan, Parker and Ginobili played in their 130th post-season game together, the most as an active trio in the league. ... Duncan finished with nine rebounds, just short of his 135th career playoff double-double. ... The Clippers have lost all seven of their playoff series after losing Game 1. ... The Spurs had a 40-36 edge on the boards, while the Clippers outscored them in the paint, 56-50.