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  • Game info: 7:00 pm EDT Sun Apr 25, 2010
  • TV: TNT, FSSW
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SAN ANTONIO (AP)—While Manu Ginobili(notes) was fitted for a mask Saturday for his broken nose, Tony Parker’s(notes) face in these playoffs has remained unchanged.

Smiling. Nodding.

Yes, he insists. He’s fine coming off the bench.

“Whatever helps the team,” Parker said. “I trust Pop and he decided that it’s the best thing.”

If Parker does harbor any bruises to his ego, he’s consistently taken the high road in the playoffs while taking the revitalized Spurs to a 2-1 series lead over Dallas, heading into Game 4 on Sunday night in San Antonio.

Call him the New Manu.

Parker scored 23 points in a Game 3 win on Friday night, ruining Dallas’ zone late with clutch shots while scoring eight points in the last 2:34. His first jumper in that final stretch gave San Antonio the lead and put the second-seeded Mavericks on their heels in this series.

The Spurs won their previous three championships with Ginobili as their spark plug sixth man. Over the last three weeks, Parker has settled into the same role.

“He can’t live through Manu’s experience,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You change roles with somebody, it’s tough. We appreciate the fact that he understands it and that he’s doing well with it.”

Popovich said Ginobili, who didn’t speak to reporters Saturday, will play in Game 4. Whether it’s with a mask to protect his nasal fracture remains to be seen, as Popovich said Ginobili wasn’t sure he wants to wear one.

But sacrifices are in fashion lately for the Spurs. Parker had started the previous 122 playoff games for San Antonio over the last nine years. But with Parker coming off the bench, the Spurs have appeared to solve a season-long, trial-and-error process of failed lineups and bad combinations.

Better than tinkering with personnel in the playoffs. Just ask the Mavericks, who surprisingly benched Caron Butler(notes) for the entire second half Friday night and didn’t let Shawn Marion(notes) play much more.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle stuck by that decision Saturday.

“Decisions that a coach has to make can be difficult for players,” Carlisle said. “But all year long we’ve talked about sacrifice and that fact that we have a deep roster, and that this wasn’t going to be about keeping guys happy. It was going to be about winning.”

Carlisle didn’t say how he would play Butler going forward. Butler scored 22 points in Game 1 and 17 in Game 2, but by halftime on Friday he had just two points on three shots.

“Coach made a call and adjustment, and I was all for it,” Butler said.

Sounds a lot like Parker.

Losing his starting job isn’t what Parker had in mind when he returned earlier this month from a broken hand, which he suffered March 6. But in an injury-marred season for Parker, his latest clearance came just as the formerly sputtering Spurs finally found a lineup that worked.

As far as problems go, there are worse than how to reinsert an NBA finals MVP back into the fold. But Popovich could hardly ignore that the Spurs went 11-5 with Parker gone, buoyed by Ginobili playing so well as a starter that the Spurs finally had to reward him with a three-year extension.

So Popovich turned to Parker, who missed 26 games this season with a variety of ailments, and asked his leading scorer from last season to come off the bench so as not to disrupt what was finally working. Parker accepted.

“It’s a little bit different,” Parker said. “You have to play quicker. You can’t wait two or three minutes to start the game. You have to come in and be aggressive.”

Not that Parker hasn’t seen it done before.

“I learned watching Manu,” he said. “Manu did it for so many years, so I’m just trying to get into that mentality. Try to bring a boost and try to bring some energy to the team.”

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Sunday, Apr 25