LOS ANGELES (AP) — After 16 seasons, Tim Duncan knows the NBA postseason is no time for mercy. Particularly when an opponent is down and seemingly ready to go out.
In the opening minutes of Game 3, Duncan made three consecutive baskets and blocked Dwight Howard's shot, dominating with his usual ruthless grace.
He put the San Antonio Spurs ahead to stay, and they ended up handing the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers their biggest home playoff loss in franchise history.
After a 120-89 victory Friday night, all that's left is the finish — something Duncan and the Spurs also know how to do pretty well.
Duncan had 26 points and nine rebounds, and Tony Parker had 20 points and seven assists in a largely silent Staples Center as San Antonio pushed the Lakers to the brink of first-round playoff elimination for the first time since 2007.
"We respect these guys, and we're not trying to give them any momentum whatsoever," Duncan said.
The short-handed Lakers played without their top four guards due to injury, and the Spurs posted their biggest win of a series thoroughly controlled by coach Gregg Popovich's playoff-tested club.
San Antonio led throughout the final 44 minutes, going up by 18 in the first half and 25 early in the fourth quarter with its smooth, flexible offense.
"I think we're playing fairly well," Popovich said. "Whether the team you're playing is whole, or banged up like the Lakers are ... we have to bring the energy and the professionalism to play."
They've had little trouble doing it so far, and the Spurs can close it out in Game 4 on Sunday night.
Tiago Splitter limped to the Spurs' locker room late in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle, but not much else went poorly for San Antonio while silencing the Lakers' enthusiastic crowd.
Howard had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Pau Gasol added his first career playoff triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, but the Spurs were far too much for a team without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Andrew Goudelock scored a career-high 20 points in his first playoff start, and fellow starter Darius Morris scored 12 of his 24 points in the blowout fourth quarter.
With Bryant and Nash joined by Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake on the injured list, the Lakers started Goudelock and Morris, using a starting five that had never started together for the second time in three games. The young guards didn't play poorly, but they weren't enough to overcome Duncan's dominance and Parker's continued move back to top form.
"It's been a very tough year, but we're not going to make any excuses, and we're not going to quit," Howard said.
The Lakers exceeded their 29-point home loss to Portland on May 22, 2000, the previous worst home defeat for the 16-time NBA champion franchise. Staples Center's lower bowl was half empty in the final minutes, an unfamiliar sight in an arena used to celebrating championships.