San Antonio 110, New Orleans 99

SAN ANTONIO, May 8 (AP) - The San Antonio Spurs' Big Three congregated around the scorer's table during a timeout in the fourth quarter, not long before they put the game away for good.

Tim Duncan patted Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They all laughed.

The NBA's defending champions were not going into an 0-3 hole against the New Orleans Hornets.

Parker and Ginobili scored 31 points each and Duncan added 16 points and 13 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Hornets 110-99 in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals on Thursday night.

"We know that going 3-0 - it's never been done to come back like that,'' said Ginobili, who along with Parker consistently got to the rim. "Today, for us, it was a Game 7. We knew if we didn't win today, it was almost over. So we had a different approach. We played with more passion, more edge.''

The Hornets still have a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Sunday night in San Antonio.

Chris Paul, still almost unstoppable, led the Hornets with 35 points and nine assists. David West had 23 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans, which was dominant in the first two games of the series.

With the Spurs' win, the home teams are 10-0 in the four conference semifinal series.

"You got to give them a lot of credit,'' Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "I thought they played a lot more aggressive tonight. A lot more physical. Basically kind of took us right out of our game. I thought we lost our composure tonight a little bit as well.''

After trading leads all night, the Spurs led 83-78 entering the fourth quarter.

Ginobili, the league's top sixth man, started for the first time this postseason and led a Spurs charge early in the final quarter. Left alone, he hit a wide-open 3 and was fouled by Bonzi Wells, who scrambled at him to guard the shot. Ginobili's free throw put San Antonio up 87-82, and another 3 by Ginobili 38 seconds later made it 90-84.

New Orleans got within 90-88 before the Spurs took over, playing out the fourth quarter better than they have played all series.

"They made a lot more shots,'' Paul said. "We got away from our defensive game plan somewhat. We didn't defend as well as we did the first two games.''

San Antonio went on an 11-0 burst to take a 101-88 lead with 5:57 to play.

The Spurs couldn't stop Paul, but West missed three of four free throws and the Hornets got no closer than 10 points in the latter half of the quarter.

The Spurs outscored the Hornets 27-21 in the fourth with Parker and Ginobili combining for 17 points.

"We knew that they were going to play better at home. We just didn't respond,'' West said.

Peja Stojakovic, the Hornets' 3-point sharpshooter, was held to eight points on 2-of-7 shooting as he was guarded by San Antonio's Bruce Bowen.

"Chris is going to score regardless. He's got the ball in his hands every single time. Every single play it's Chris Paul,'' said Parker, who had 11 assists. "He's going to score. So we decided to put Bruce on Peja and at least hold somebody down because Peja was killing us.''

The Hornets took an 8-0 lead in the first quarter before the Spurs evened things and started the second quarter down 23-21.

While Bowen was successful in containing Stojakovic in the first half, West and Paul, the stars of Games 1 and 2, were let loose and shot a combined 14-of-21 to account for 30 of the Hornets' points at halftime.

Tyson Chandler dunked alley-oop passes from West, Paul and Wells in the first half, each time quieting the raucous Spurs crowd that took to booing both the officials and the Hornets.

The Spurs led by as many as four points in the second quarter after Michael Finley, who came off the bench because usual reserve Ginobili started, hit a corner 3 to give San Antonio a 41-37 lead.

After Parker hit a jumper with 49 seconds to play in the first half, Stojakovic and Morris Peterson each hit 3s to leave the Spurs down 56-49 with 23 seconds left. But Bowen hit a 3 and Ginobili hit a buzzer-beating jumper to bring San Antonio within 56-54 at halftime.Duncan was quiet in the first half with just five points as New Orleans' double-teams continued to hamper him.

In the third the Spurs did not break down as they did in Games 1 and 2 when New Orleans took control. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili took over, scoring all but three of San Antonio's 29 points in the period.

"We were waiting for that third quarter, that it would be on our side this time,'' San Antonio's Fabricio Oberto said. "I think we did a pretty good job. It's not the best job we can do.''

But the Hornets wouldn't go away as Paul scored 11 points in the quarter. Late in the period he hit a highlight shot when he flipped up the ball as he spun around and put his back to the basket. He as fouled for the three-point play to bring the Hornets within 77-76.

Notes: Paul's shoes read "Brian!'' in white lettering in honor of an 8-year-old fan with cancer who was set to attend Monday's Game 2 but missed it with a fever and died hours later. "To the family, I'm terribly sorry,'' Paul said after the game. "I'm just happy I could honor Brian tonight by putting his name on my shoes. It has to be the most touching story I've had as a professional athlete.'' ... Paul was named first-team All-NBA on Thursday. Duncan was named to the second team and Ginobili the third. ... Chandler had 12 points for New Orleans. ... Bowen scored 12 points for San Antonio and Finley had 11. Kurt Thomas grabbed 10 rebounds for the Spurs.


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