Spurs' sweep: 'It wasn't a fair fight'
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. "When you're a competitor, you want to compete on an even basis, and the Lakers weren't able to do that. ... Even though it wasn't a fair fight, we still want to win the series, and I'm glad we did. Our focus was great."
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 right down to their last gasp.
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.
"It was just a weird feeling," Parker said. "Obviously, I am happy we won, but it was just weird. They were missing a lot of guys, so we're just happy to go to the next round."
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 was that we kept our focus every night," Popovich said. "We played hard, followed the game plan and were very active and energetic every night, and 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.
"This is a good start for us," Duncan said. "We like the pace we're at right now."