LOS ANGELES — Nothing was going to rattle the calm, cool and collected Spurs. Not even a 24-point deficit.
Tim Duncan scored 19 points, helping engineer a defining 24-0 run in the third quarter, and San Antonio defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 96-86 on Saturday to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their second-round playoff series.
“We didn’t plan on being down that much,” said Duncan, who at 36 is hungry to win the team’s fifth NBA championship and first since 2006-07. “We stuck with it.”
Led by Tony Parker’s 23 points and his defense on an ailing Chris Paul, the Spurs kept running their plays even as Blake Griffin’s early offensive assault buried them in a huge hole. Griffin missed three shots in the first half, when he scored 20 points and carried his team to a 24-point lead despite a left hip injury and a sprained right knee.
“They came out like we expected, very strong. Blake was making crazy shots,” Parker said. “We just took our time. It’s a long game, a very long game. At halftime, we were very calm.”
Griffin had 28 points and 16 rebounds, and reserve Mo Williams added 19 points for the Clippers, who face some daunting NBA history heading into Game 4 on Sunday at Staples Center. No team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
“If we don’t play with that sense of urgency, it’s not going to be pretty,” Griffin said.
The Clippers played a must-win Game 7 in the opening round on the road at Memphis and succeeded.
“We have to keep fighting,” Paul said.
Rookie Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and Manu Ginobili 13 to help the top-seeded Spurs win their 17th in a row and improve to 7-0 in the playoffs.
“We all struggled in the first quarter. We didn’t feel right out there,” said Duncan, who like his teammates, looked to Parker to pick the team up.
“We follow his lead. He stuck with it, made some big shots down the stretch and continued to attack,” Duncan said. “He was playing defense really hard and got up into Chris.”
Besides Parker, the Spurs threw two other defenders at Paul. He finished with 12 points and 11 assists after two previous sub-par efforts in the series.
“Tony really ran the show well,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I’d say, ‘Let’s do this’ and he said, ‘No, let’s do this,’ and we’d do it.”
After a quiet first half in which he scored eight points, Duncan helped the Spurs control the third quarter when they outscored Los Angeles 26-8.
The Spurs took their first lead during the 24-0 run on a fadeaway jumper by Duncan, who scored nine points in the outburst that put them ahead for good. Danny Green added seven and Leonard five.
“We kept telling Kawhi and Danny to stay calm,” Parker said.
The Clippers’ defense completely faltered and they piled up miss after miss on the offensive end.
“When they spread the floor and Tim Duncan runs a high pick-and-roll, it’s trouble for a lot of teams,” Griffin said. “That’s basically what killed us in the third. This is what they do best.”
The Clippers scored the final four points of the third, which ended with a turnover by Williams, to trail 69-61 heading into the fourth.
“You knew they were going to make a run. It was just a matter of trying to withstand it,” Griffin said. “In the second half, especially the third quarter, we did a poor job of responding.
“I missed some shots I hit in the first half, easy shots.”
San Antonio led by 11 points early in the fourth before the Clippers got within seven on consecutive baskets by Williams. Gary Neal hit a 3-pointer to launch a 13-9 spurt, capped by Parker’s 3-pointer, that extended the Spurs’ lead to 89-78. Paul, so dominant in the final period during the regular season, was limited to four points.
“I felt like we were playing good, but if you know anything about the Spurs, you know they are not going to let up,” Paul said. “Everybody knows how explosive the Spurs are, but we just could not get a stop.”
Reggie Evans, a defensive spark for the Clippers off the bench, missed 6 of 8 free throws in the final 3:42.
“They play the same whether they’re up 20 or down 20,” Griffin said of the veteran Spurs. “Their communication and rotations are so good. Offensively, they know exactly what they’re going to do in every situation.”
The Spurs were 9 of 22 from 3-point range, with Leonard hitting three.
Los Angeles came in 2-1 at home in the playoffs and 24-9 during the regular season. With their red-clad sellout crowd on its feet, the Clippers were still shooting 63 percent midway through the second quarter, when Griffin’s one-handed dunk kept them ahead by 20 points.
The Spurs closed the half on a 15-5 spurt, with Parker and Ginobili scoring five each, to trail 53-43 at the break. Griffin missed just three of his 13 shots in the first half, when the Clippers controlled the boards and the paint.
The Clippers opened the game with a rush, outscoring the Spurs 33-11 while shooting 64 percent. Los Angeles ended the first quarter on a 20-2 run, including 14 in a row. Griffin scored 12 points in the spurt, hitting eight straight while the Spurs committed six turnovers and made just five of 20 field goals.
Notes: The Clippers have lost 29 of 33 games against the Spurs dating to Dec. 1, 2003. … The Clippers have dropped all three games in the series by double digits. … The Clippers have lost all six of their playoff series in franchise history after losing Game 1. … The teams were even in the paint with 44 points each after the Spurs had dominated there in Game 2. … The Clippers controlled the boards, 44-41, after being outrebounded in seven of their previous nine playoff games.