Smooth Spurs oust injury-riddled Lakers
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES — For four straight games, the San Antonio Spurs showed off all the teamwork and tenacity that the Los Angeles Lakers lacked all season long.
And when the Lakers’ tumultuous season finally collapsed Sunday night, the smooth Spurs rolled right past them to the second round.
Tony Parker scored 23 points, and San Antonio completed its first-round sweep of the injury-plagued Lakers with a 103-82 victory in Game 4.
Tim Duncan had 11 points and six rebounds for the second-seeded Spurs, who will face the winner of Denver’s series with Golden State in the second round. They’ll get plenty of rest after flattening the Lakers, who staggered through back-to-back blowout losses at home without three regular starters in their first opening-round exit since 2007.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a fair fight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
San Antonio never trailed in the clincher, leading by 25 points in one more businesslike effort against the seventh-seeded Lakers, who provided their usual drama.
In his final game before unrestricted free agency, Dwight Howard scored seven points before getting ejected early in the third quarter for arguing. Pau Gasol had 16 points for the Lakers, who were swept from the postseason for the second time in three years despite a late courtside appearance by Kobe Bryant on crutches.
Howard said the season was “like a nightmare. It’s like a bad dream, and we just couldn’t wake up from it. That’s what it felt like.”
The Los Angeles Lakers gave away thousands of white towels to their fans Sunday, and they acquired an unfortunate symbolism: In the final game of a season that began with championship aspirations, the Lakers couldn’t keep up without injured starters Bryant, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. They had just nine available players in uniform for the final minutes.
“I’m proud of them, because they fought,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It was kind of a year that was all upside-down, but I appreciate the effort to get us into the playoffs. We just didn’t have it.”
After Duncan led the Spurs’ blowout in Game 3, Parker took the lead in the clincher, scoring 15 points in the first half while exploiting the Lakers’ hastily assembled backcourt. Los Angeles’ top four guards are out with injuries, including backups Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, and Parker was merciless against third-stringers.
“What I was pleased about our team is the way we focused every night,” Popovich said. “Sometimes that’s hard to do when your opponent is wounded.”
Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair added 13 points apiece in the Spurs’ balanced scoring effort.
San Antonio trailed for fewer than five combined minutes in the four-game series, grinding out points and defensive stops with the steady professionalism of Popovich’s best teams.
After an unimpressive game featuring just two field goal attempts in 20 minutes, Howard was tossed with 9:51 left in the third quarter for his second technical foul. The All-Star center, furious with the Spurs’ unpunished physical play, yelled a few parting words at the court after walking past general manager Mitch Kupchak in the tunnel to the locker room.
“I just felt sorry for him,” D’Antoni said, lamenting the lack of foul calls against players guarding Howard. “If you watch tapes, he just gets beat. … He takes a pounding in there. After a while, his nerves were shot.”
Moments later, Bryant got the solemn Staples Center crowd on its feet when he hobbled out of the tunnel to a seat behind the Lakers’ bench, making his first appearance at courtside since tearing his Achilles tendon 16 days ago. Bryant, who might not be healthy by the start of next season, repeatedly yelled instructions and encouragement at the Lakers’ young backcourt, Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris.
After sending Los Angeles to the worst home playoff defeat in franchise history two days earlier, the Spurs also dominated Game 4, jumping to an 18-point lead in the first half while forcing 16 turnovers by a patchwork roster including starters Goudelock, Morris and Earl Clark.
The 16-time NBA champion Lakers had high hopes for this season after landing Howard and Nash to play alongside Bryant and Gasol, but their hopes disappeared in an avalanche of injuries, losing streaks and turmoil.
There’s almost no turbulence around the Spurs, who seamlessly replaced injured starting center Tiago Splitter in Game 4 with Australian rookie Aron Baynes, who had six points and played decent defense in his first NBA start.
The Spurs had control of this series from the start: They posted two methodical victories at home before sending the Lakers to their biggest home playoff defeat in their long franchise history in Game 3, 120-89. The clincher was more of the same, with the Lakers unable to mount enough teamwork to challenge the smooth Spurs.
The Spurs have swept three of their last four playoff series, winning every game in the first two rounds last season before losing in six games to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. San Antonio is in the second round of the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons since their last championship in 2007.
HEAT 88, BUCKS 77
MILWAUKEE — LeBron James scored 30, Ray Allen had another big game against his old team and the Miami Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a victory over the Bucks. It’s the first time the Heat have swept a playoff series since James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami three years ago.
And the Heat didn’t even need Wade to do it. The guard missed only the second postseason game of his career, and first since 2005, with three bone bruises on his right knee.
But the Heat still won handily, winning their fourth straight game by double digits.
Wade will get plenty of time to rest now, too. The Heat will face the winner of the Brooklyn Nets-Chicago Bulls series — Chicago leads 3-1 — but the next round won’t begin until next Saturday.
CELTICS 97, KNICKS 90, OT
BOSTON — Jason Terry scored Boston’s last nine points as the Celtics weathered a strong comeback by the Knicks and avoided being swept with a overtime win.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 29 points as they forced a fifth game in the series, but it was Terry who provided the finishing touches.
In Game 3, he had been elbowed by J.R. Smith, and the NBA suspended the Knicks guard for Sunday’s game.
New York had tied the game 84-84 after trailing by 20 points early in the third quarter. It was 88-all before the Celtics regained control and took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Terry. Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 32 points, hit a short jumper, but Terry connected on a 15-footer with 50 seconds remaining for a 93-90 lead.
After Anthony missed a 3-pointer with 21 seconds to go, Terry was fouled and sank both free throws. He added a layup to close out the game.
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