x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

NBA: Tony Parker shoots San Antonio Spurs past Los Angeles Lakers

Frenchman scores 23 points as injury-plagued former champions are blanked 4-0 in first round of Western Conference.

Tony Parker, centre, was the best player for the Spurs against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Joe Klamar / AFP
Tony Parker, centre, was the best player for the Spurs against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Joe Klamar / AFP

The Los Angeles Lakers gave away thousands of white towels to their fans on Sunday, and the unintended symbolism became devastatingly appropriate.

The Lakers started the season with a loaded roster and NBA championship aspirations. They finished with Kobe Bryant leaning on crutches and Dwight Howard getting ejected while their patchwork line-up staggering through one last blowout loss.

Wave the white flag. Throw in the towel. The Lakers' tumultuous season is finally finished.

Tony Parker scored 23 points, Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair added 13 apiece, and the San Antonio Spurs completed their first-round sweep with a 103-82 victory in Game 4.

San Antonio never trailed in the clincher, leading by 25 points in one more business-like 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, Howard scored seven points before getting tossed early in the third quarter for arguing. Pau Gasol scored 16 points for the Lakers, who were swept from the post-season for the second time in three years despite a late courtside appearance by Bryant, who cheered on his teammates until the final buzzer.

"It's like a nightmare," Howard said. "It's like a bad dream we couldn't wake up out of. That's what it felt like. It seemed like nothing could go right from the start."

The 16-time NBA champions had high hopes for this season after landing Howard and Nash to play alongside Bryant and Gasol, but their hopes disappeared in an avalanche of injuries, losing streaks and turmoil. They made a 28-12 surge late in the regular season, but lost Bryant on the way – along with any chance of keeping up with the smooth, veteran Spurs, who finished Los Angeles with back-to-back wins by more than 20 points at Staples Center.

Starters Bryant, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace sat out the finale with injuries, while Gasol and Howard played with pain. Coach Mike D'Antoni had just nine available players in uniform when Howard got himself kicked out of the game after taking just two shots in 20 minutes.

The All-Star centre, furious with the Spurs' unpunished physical play, yelled a few parting words at the court after walking past general manager Mitch Kupchak in the tunnel to the locker room. Afterward, Howard said he must "do a better job of keeping my cool".

"I hate it for him," D'Antoni said. "He gets banged up so much in there that I'm sure he didn't mean to (get ejected), but he takes a pounding, and after a while, I guess his nerves were shot."

Moments later, Bryant got the solemn Lakers crowd on its feet when he hobbled out of the tunnel to a seat behind the Lakers' bench, making his first appearance at courtside since tearing his Achilles tendon 16 days ago. Bryant, who might not be healthy by the start of next season, repeatedly yelled instructions and encouragement at the Lakers' young backcourt, Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, and fill-in starter Earl Clark.

The Lakers went down hard against the Spurs, but they appeared to stick together.

"It's been a very challenging season, but we've done our best," said Gasol, who got a late standing ovation from fans who realise he also might be gone in the fall. "We've done our best and fought our way through it. We pretty much didn't have a chance against the Spurs, but we still fought. We stayed together, and that's the thought I will keep for the future."

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 will get plenty of rest after flattening the Lakers, who took back-to-back home defeats 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."

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 line-up. Los Angeles' top four guards are out with injuries, including back-ups Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, and Parker was merciless against third-stringers.

"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."

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.

The Spurs seamlessly replaced injured starting center Tiago Splitter in Game 4 with Australian rookie Aron Baynes, who had six points and played decent defence in his first NBA start.

The Spurs had control of this series from the start: They posted two methodical victories at home before sending the Lakers to their biggest home playoff defeat in their long franchise history in Game 3, 120-89. The clincher was more of the same, with the Lakers unable to mount enough teamwork to challenge the smooth Spurs.

"You can't expect to come in and have instant success against a team like that, especially since we haven't even been playing," said Goudelock, who scored 14 points. "We basically threw a team together, threw us out there, and, `Go play.' So, tough circumstances, but I think we all learned a lot from it. I think we'll all be better from it."

Miami Heat 88 Milwaukee Bucks 77

LeBron James scored 30 and Ray Allen had another big game against his old team as the Miami Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a victory over the Bucks. It's the first time the Heat have swept a playoff series since James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami three years ago.

And the Heat didn't even need Wade to do it. The guard missed only the second postseason game of his career, and first since 2005, with three bone bruises on his right knee.

But the Heat still won handily, winning their fourth straight game by double digits.

Wade will get plenty of time to rest now, too. The Heat will face the winner of the Brooklyn Nets-Chicago Bulls series – Chicago leads 3-1 – but the next round won't begin until next Saturday.

Boston Celtics 97 New York Knicks 90 (OT)

Jason Terry scored Boston's last nine points as the Celtics weathered a strong comeback by the Knicks and avoided being swept with a overtime win.

Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 29 points as they forced a fifth game in the series, but it was Terry who provided the finishing touches.

In Game 3, he had been elbowed by J.R. Smith, and the NBA suspended the Knicks guard for Sunday's game.

New York had tied the game 84-84 after trailing by 20 points early in the third quarter. It was 88-all before the Celtics regained control and took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Terry. Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 32 points, hit a short jumper, but Terry connected on a 15-footer with 50 seconds remaining for a 93-90 lead.

After Anthony missed a 3-pointer with 21 seconds to go, Terry was fouled and sank both free throws. He added a layup to close out the game.

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