LOS ANGELES — After 16 seasons, Tim Duncan knows the NBA postseason is no time for mercy. Particularly when an opponent is down and seemingly ready to go out.
In the opening minutes of Game 3, Duncan made three consecutive baskets and blocked Dwight Howard’s shot, dominating with his usual ruthless grace.
He put the San Antonio Spurs ahead to stay, and they ended up handing the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers their biggest home playoff loss in franchise history.
After a 120-89 victory Friday night, all that’s left is the finish — something Duncan and the Spurs also know how to do pretty well.
Duncan had 26 points and nine rebounds, and Tony Parker had 20 points and seven assists in a largely silent Staples Center as San Antonio pushed the Lakers to the brink of first-round playoff elimination for the first time since 2007.
“We respect these guys, and we’re not trying to give them any momentum whatsoever,” Duncan said.
The short-handed Lakers played without their top four guards due to injury, and the Spurs posted their biggest win of a series thoroughly controlled by coach Gregg Popovich’s playoff-tested club.
San Antonio led throughout the final 44 minutes, going up by 18 in the first half and 25 early in the fourth quarter with its smooth, flexible offense.
“I think we’re playing fairly well,” Popovich said. “Whether the team you’re playing is whole, or banged up like the Lakers are … we have to bring the energy and the professionalism to play.”
They’ve had little trouble doing it so far, and the Spurs can close it out in Game 4 on Sunday night.
Tiago Splitter limped to the Spurs’ locker room late in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle, but not much else went poorly for San Antonio while silencing the Lakers’ enthusiastic crowd.
Howard had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Pau Gasol added his first career playoff triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, but the Spurs were far too much for a team without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Andrew Goudelock scored a career-high 20 points in his first playoff start, and fellow starter Darius Morris scored 12 of his 24 points in the blowout fourth quarter.
With Bryant and Nash joined by Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake on the injured list, the Lakers started Goudelock and Morris, using a starting five that had never started together for the second time in three games. The young guards didn’t play poorly, but they weren’t enough to overcome Duncan’s dominance and Parker’s continued move back to top form.
“It’s been a very tough year, but we’re not going to make any excuses, and we’re not going to quit,” Howard said.
The Lakers exceeded their 29-point home loss to Portland on May 22, 2000, the previous worst home defeat for the 16-time NBA champion franchise. Staples Center’s lower bowl was half empty in the final minutes, an unfamiliar sight in an arena used to celebrating championships.
“The first half, we gave everything we had, and it obviously wasn’t enough,” Los Angeles coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I thought our guys played as hard as they can play.”
After finishing the regular season with a loss at Staples Center among their seven defeats in their final 10 games, the Spurs took control of the series with two methodical wins in San Antonio.
Nash was largely ineffective after missing the final eight regular-season games, and the Spurs’ veteran chemistry was more than enough to finish off the Lakers.
The first half of Game 3 had the same theme. San Antonio jumped to an 18-point lead late in the second quarter with steady offense from 10 scorers, while the Lakers had an understandable lack of chemistry.
The Lakers’ tumultuous season appears to be drawing to a merciful end, since they’re nearly out of healthy players after beginning the season with a star-studded roster and championship aspirations.
Nine of the Lakers’ 15 players were on their injury report for Game 3, and Metta World Peace played despite getting fluid drained from a cyst behind his surgically repaired left knee. After the game, World Peace said he’ll probably sit out Game 4.
Bryant attended the game, hobbling through the Lakers’ locker room before the game with crutches and a large walking boot on his immobilized ankle, but didn’t join Nash, Blake and Meeks watching in suits at courtside.
The Lakers were forced to rely on Goudelock, their second-round draft pick from two years ago who spent this season in the D-League until Los Angeles signed him 12 days ago, and Morris, another second-year pro who barely left the Lakers’ bench for long stretches this season.
Goudelock, the MVP of the NBA’s D-League this season, put up plenty of points with ample opportunity to shoot, but Parker largely matched him while Duncan thoroughly outplayed Howard and Gasol down low with his timeless game as the Spurs pulled away.
Goudelock started slowly, but scored 10 points in a 2:25 burst late in the second quarter to trim San Antonio’s halftime lead to 55-44.
NOTES: Gasol is the seventh player to post a playoff triple-double in Lakers history. … F Boris Diaw, the Spurs’ only player with a significant injury, is running on a treadmill and shooting in his comeback from the removal of a cyst from his spine. He’s likely to play 2-on-2 with contact next week. … World Peace ran with obvious discomfort in his knee. Before the game, he considered sitting out, but didn’t feel he could miss a game with the Lakers’ injury woes. … Ashton Kutcher, David Arquette, Jon Heder and “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner watched from courtside.