SALT LAKE CITY — Through nearly 40 minutes, the Utah Jazz made Tony Parker look average.
He had 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting, and the San Antonio Spurs were clinging to a five-point lead.
Parker the MVP candidate then took over.
“They threw a lot of guys at me, so I needed to be more patient and then in the fourth quarter I was more aggressive,” said Parker, who hit all five field goals and went 6 of 6 from the line in the final period to finish with 27 points.
His effort fueled a 102-90 victory Saturday night that gave the Spurs a 3-0 lead in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.
No NBA team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The Spurs can close it out Monday night in Salt Lake City.
“My guys are experienced to realize an NBA game is 48 minutes. Anything can happen,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You can look at the other games and other series and realize you don’t stop playing. They stick with each other and the system. That experience is something they have gained over a long period of time and they feel comfortable with each other, even in a tough environment like we had here tonight.”
A sellout crowd of 19,911 was energized from the start, standing from pregame festivities that saw a massive green-and-yellow balloon drop.
The fans were on their feet again when a young Utah lineup brought the Jazz back after they trailed by 13 in the fourth.
DeMarre Carroll scored on a putback, rookie Alec Burks sank a pair of free throws and Derrick Favors scored after grabbing another offensive rebound to get Utah to 81-74 with 8:58 remaining. Favors then hit a 7-footer to make it a five-point game.
“He’s a handful and he’s very physical,” Parker said about Favors, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in his most extensive action of the series. “He goes to the boards hard.”
Parker, who took the Spurs on his shoulders this season, showed he can finish just as strong.
His 5-foot floater halted Utah’s run, then Matt Bonner blocked Favors’ shot to set up Stephen Jackson’s fast-break layup.
Parker’s 18-foot jumper then bumped San Antonio’s lead back to 10 with 5:44 left.
Utah would only get within eight after that on Paul Millsap’s dunk. But Parker was there to finish the Jazz off at the line.
“We needed to get this one because we know they’re not going to give up, especially in this building,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who finished with 14 points, including a block and fast-break layup that helped seal the game midway through the fourth.
The Jazz, meanwhile, lamented the missed free throws — 12 in all in a game they lost by 12 points.
“Those were free points we need in a game like this,” said Jazz point guard Devin Harris.
Harris, after scoring just 12 points in the first two games combined, had 12 in the first quarter and finished with 21.
Al Jefferson also rebounded from two sub-par games and finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-18 shooting.
Jefferson, in the end, was thinking more about Utah’s bad plays.
“We can’t make mistakes,” said Jefferson, playing in his first playoff series since he was a rookie in 2005. “We’ve got to play a perfect game to even have a chance to beat a team like this. We make too many mistakes during the crunch time of the game and they made us pay every time.”
Popovich gave reserve Tiago Splitter plenty of credit.
Splitter missed Game 2 because of a bruised wrist, but had 10 points, eight boards and a blocked shot. He had four points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter alone.
“I thought Tiago was huge for us,” Popovich said. “When Favors was giving us trouble, he made shots, got the boards and then scored a bunch during the most important time of the game.”
The last time the two teams met in the postseason, in the 2007 Western Conference finals, the Spurs went on to win the NBA title.
San Antonio, with coach of the year Popovich, its Big 3 and collection of castoffs, foreigners and rookies, looks intent on doing the same.
The Spurs won the first two games by 46 points combined, but figured Saturday’s would be the toughest of the series.
They were right.
“We expected them to have a much better effort,” said Tim Duncan, who had 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks for the Spurs. “It was a good win for us. We had a lot of guys really step up and play well for us.”
Utah’s Tyrone Corbin, still looking for his postseason coaching victory, tried several different approaches Saturday.
He put 6-foot-8 swingman Gordon Hayward on Parker. And Corbin went to his Big 3 lineup early and often.
Corbin had said he wanted Favors to play more, and Favors showed why he deserves more minutes.
He blocked Splitter’s jam attempt early in the second quarter then scored on a putback that gave Utah a 41-40 lead. He followed with a 9-foot turnaround jumper over DeJuan Blair, and then grabbed his own miss and drew the foul from Duncan. He made one of two free throws for a 44-42 Jazz lead.
In 16 minutes in the first half, Favors had seven points and seven rebounds, with a pair of blocks.
While Favors was 3 of 7 shooting in the fourth, Utah’s other budding star struggled down the stretch.
Burks was just 1 of 6 in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 points.
A stark contrast to Parker.
“The experience showed tonight,” Corbin said. “They know exactly what to do… They make adjustments and we didn’t get the energy and sense of urgency when we needed it.”
NOTES: Jazz Hall of Famers Jerry Sloan and John Stockton were in attendance. … The Spurs shot 60 percent and outscored Utah 18-2 in the paint in the first quarter (50-28 overall). … The Jazz made 8 of 16 free throws in the first half, with Millsap and Favors both missing three. … Manu Ginobili had six assists in the first half and finished with 10, but scored just six points. … Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have played 125 playoff games as teammates — the most among any active trio in the NBA.