By Mike Monroe
LOS ANGELES – No team in NBA playoff history ever had recovered from a deficit as large as the Spurs faced at the end of the first quarter of Saturday’s Game 3 at Staples Center: Clippers 33, Spurs 11.
As if this weren’t discouraging enough, L.A.’s lead grew to 24 points in the first three minutes of the second quarter, the red-clad crowd howling approval.
It was a situation so daunting even the most competitive of Spurs believed the third victory of the Western Conference semifinals series would have to wait for another day?
“At one point,” Manu Ginobili said, “I thought there was no chance. (The Clippers) were playing so well and making every shot and we couldn’t even shoot. We were turning the ball over and they were playing great. We were not ready. We looked like we were still in bed.”
If Ginobili feared all was lost he never let it show, and what ultimately got the Spurs out of such a deep hole was the calm, calculated approach to chipping away at the Clippers’ big lead, one possession at a time. It helped that Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker had seen nearly every playoff situation imaginable, though none quite so daunting so early in a game.
“Their experience lets them know you’ve just got to stay in the system and work it, and it will either work out, or it won’t,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “And that’s that.”
After the Clippers lead reached 24 the goal was to cut it to 10 by halftime. When they headed to the halftime break trailing, 53-43, optimism reigned.
“Once we made a little run and were down 16, 18, we were really talking about cutting the lead to 10 at halftime,” Ginobili said. “It happened, and then the starters in the third quarter were great. They just moved the ball well. They played easy and played great defense and when we went up eight (in the third) we knew it was going to be very hard for them to overcome that change of game.
“Being up 24, and then being down six, eight is very hard to overcome.”
Confidence is Popovich: When the Clippers sliced a 12-point Spurs lead to seven with 9:13 left in the game Popovich called a time out and drew up a play intended to get Gary Neal open for a 3-point attempt.
Coming from the baseline to the 3-point line off two screens, Neal took a pass from Tony Parker and nailed the long-distance shot to push the lead back to double digits.
“Coach Pop drew that play up out of a timeout,” Neal said. “It was great execution. I got two great screens from the bigs and I came up. Mo (Williams) shot the gap and I was wide open. I’m glad it went in.”
Duncan said Popovich’s skill in drawing up plays during timeouts helps the Spurs execute his plays.
“Obviously, we’ve all kind of been through this with him and he’s one of the best in the league at drawing plays up in timeouts and having them work,” he said. “He did it again.
“I don’t know how to explain it but he understands that if we’re able to execute and move the ball and find shooters good things are going to happen.”
Defying history: The Clippers are well aware no team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.
“We have to keep fighting,” point guard Chris Paul said. “It’s never been done before in history.”
Guard Nick Young, who looked ready for a fashion runway as he exited the Clippers locker room, said the team knows precisely how to approach tonight’s game.
“We have to look at this like we did in Game 7 (vs. Memphis). Nobody wants to be in this situation. We made it hard on ourselves. We’re desperate now. It’s win or go home.”
SPURS VS. CLIPPERS
(Spurs lead best-of-seven series 2-0)
Game 4: Sunday, @Clippers, 9:30 p.m., TNT
* Game 5: Tuesday, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* Game 6: Friday, @Clippers, TBA, ESPN
* Game 7: May 27, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* If necessary