PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — 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 the Blazers 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.
The Blazers took a brief 13-12 lead midway through the first quarter on Lillard’s step-back jumper. It was just their second lead of the series.
But Parker pestered the Blazers and his finger-roll layup put the Spurs up 25-15. Marco Belinelli’s falling-down jumper pushed the lead to 28-17 before the first quarter was over.
Parker’s back-to-back 3-pointers gave the Spurs a 58-35 late first-half lead and they went into the break ahead 60-40.
Portland rallied to start the second half, pulling to 64-52 after Nicolas Batum’s 3-pointer. He hit another 3 to narrow it to 68-60, but the Spurs kept the Blazers from coming any closer and led 83-69 going into the fourth.
Parker’s layup and free throw gave San Antonio a 100-81 lead in the fourth. Portland mounted a rally to get to 103-91 on Robin Lopez’s layup with 5:46 left but it was too late.
“Pop, you have to give him credit. He looked at the big picture, and rested me (the last month),” Parker said. “When we started the playoffs, he told me `Be ready to play 37-38 minutes a game, we’re going to need you to play at your best.’ And so far it’s working.”
Portland advanced to the second round for the first time in 14 years by defeating the Houston Rockets in six games, clinching the series with Lillard’s amazing 3-pointer at the buzzer at home for a 99-98 victory in the deciding game.
The Spurs have a 3-2 series advantage over Portland in the playoffs, sweeping the previous meeting in the 1999 conference finals. The teams split the regular-season series 2-2.
NOTES: Before Game 2 in San Antonio, Blazers forward Thomas Robinson saw a snake in the locker room at the AT&T Center. Because the snake hissed, the team at first thought it was a rattlesnake, but it later turned out it was not venomous. So before Saturday night’s game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked if his team had seen any critters in the Moda Center: “We expected a Beaver but we didn’t see one,” he laughed. … Tim Duncan moved past Karl Malone into fifth place all-time for career playoff points. He trails only Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.