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.Comment on this story
"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.