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Manu Ginobili, voted the league's top reserve this season, didn't have his usual downtime at the start of the first quarter on Thursday night.
The super sixth man instead got his first start of this postseason, and the San Antonio Spurs harnessed his energy early against the New Orleans Hornets and avoided going into what has historically been an insurmountable hole.
Ginobili and Tony Parker scored 31 points apiece to lead the defending NBA champions to a 110-99 Game — win in the Western Conference semifinals. New Orleans still has a 2-1 series lead.
"Going down 3-0 would have been really difficult &
obviously," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We played for 48 minutes for the first time in the series, and it got us a win."
Game 4 is Sunday night in San Antonio.
In the other NBA playoff game Thursday night, Boston beat Cleveland 89-73. Home teams are 10-0 in the four conference semifinal series.
No NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, and Ginobili and the Spurs knew it.
"Today, for us, it was a Game 7," said Ginobili, who along with Parker consistently got to the rim. "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."
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.
"We can't let them dictate how we're going to play. The first two games we didn't do that," West said. "We just can't let them dictate how we're going to play. We have to be willing to go out and just play with what's going to give us some success."
Tim Duncan had 16 points and 13 rebounds for San Antonio. Tyson Chandler scored 12 for the Hornets.
After trading leads all night, Ginobili led a Spurs charge early in the final quarter. Left alone, he hit an open — and was fouled by Bonzi Wells. Ginobili's free throw put San Antonio up 87-82, and another — 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've played all series.
"I don't think there's cause for us to panic or anything like that," Paul said. "We understand what we did. We're just going to go to the drawing board and get this thing right."
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.
Peja Stojakovic, the Hornets' 3-point sharpshooter, was held to eight points on 2-of-7 shooting while being 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 — and 2, were let loose and shot a combined 14-of-21.
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 hit a corner — to give San Antonio a 41-37 lead.
Celtics 89, Cavaliers 73
At Boston, the Celtics got contributions from all of its Big Three and now have a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Paul Pierce scored 19 points, Kevin Garnett added 13 with 12 rebounds, and Ray Allen had 16 points. The Celtics trailed by 10 points in the first quarter but took control in the third.
Pierce was 2-for-14 from the field in Game — and Allen didn't score, missing four shots. Garnett had 28 points in the opener.
LeBron James had another poor shooting night for the Cavaliers. One game after going 2-for-18 from the field and missing his last six shots, including a layup to tie the game with 8.5 seconds left, James missed his first three shots and finished with 21 points on 6-for-24 shooting.
Game — is Saturday night in Cleveland.
Spurs fend off Paul, pesky Hornets
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