Sometimes someone practices a routine so much they forget why the routine became a routine in the first place. Take the Spurs, who have done little but win over the last nine years. And in recent seasons, that has meant a steady dose of Tony Parker drives to the hoop. As the reigning Finals MVP showed last June against Cleveland and Thursday night against the Hornets, there are few players in the league who can slow Parker when he gets a head of steam toward the basket. With Tim Duncan bottled up by a combination of double teams and fever, Parker's elusiveness kept the Spurs even with the Chris Paul show until San Antonio's rebounding and sharpshooting put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Chris Paul was again spectacular, hitting an array of jumpers, circus shots and drives, and that's exactly what the Spurs wanted. For, as SI.com's Chris Mannix detailed, as long Paul was shooting, he wasn't getting the rest of his team the easy baskets they often found in Games 1 and 2, an approach the Spurs have adopted with success against Steve Nash and the Suns in recent seasons. Taking the 15-for-25 shooting performance from Paul and the 10-19 showing from David West out of the equation, the rest of the Hornets combined to connect on only 41 percent from the field. That's not going to cut it against a team as efficient as the Spurs can be and were Thursday.
Playing Manu Ginobili (right) off the bench for the Spurs works for two reasons: First, Ginobili is willing to accept the role, and second, Ginobili offers the Spurs' second unit an under-the-radar MVP candidate against opponents' bench players. Gregg Popovich risked that edge in starting Ginobili, but the maneuver paid off, with a lot of help from former starter Michael Finley. As Ginobili provided an effective release valve for an often double-teamed Duncan, Finley played an equally crucial role, hitting on his first three attempts from behind the arc while tallying 11 first-half points. On a night when Duncan wasn't allowed many chances to contribute offensively, the Spurs' off-guard tandem made the difference.
Every team talks about weathering runs of points; the Spurs do it. With New Orleans offering an opening 8-0 punch to the gut of Spurs fans, San Antonio's Big Three calmly went to work: a Duncan jumper here, a Parker drive there, a Ginobili layup. Before the Hornets knew it, the Spurs had connected on seven shots in a row to knot the game at 18 and halt the rush many expected the Hornets to pursue toward a 3-0 series lead.
For most of these playoffs the Hornets have played with the poise of an experienced Finals team rather than the playoff neophytes many of them are. The loss in Game 3 will test Byron Scott's abilities to keep the Hornets from folding like so many other Spurs opponents of the past who fold when they can't keep up to San Antonio's ruthless tenacity. Paul and West proved up to that task Thursday; will the rest of the team provide any more help in Game 4? They had better because once the Spurs find a weakness, they will exploit it until they advance to the next round.
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