SAN ANTONIO (AP)—Warming up before Game 4, Tim Duncan decided to have a little fun. He threw the ball behind his back and between his legs, then went up for the lay-in.
Yep, it was going to be that easy.
Duncan had his best game of the series against New Orleans—22 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks—to lead the San Antonio Spurs to a 100-80 victory over the Hornets on Sunday.
“I’m just trying to do my part,” Duncan said. “It’s just that. You’ve got to step up at playoff time. It’s win or go home. So you’ve got to step up and make plays.”
The Spurs have stormed back from an 0-2 deficit that looked as if it would be tough to overcome, especially after the losses in Games 1 and 2 were each by nearly 20 points.
Now the Spurs, the old guard and defending champions, and Hornets, this year’s youthful surprise success story, are even at 2-2 in the Western Conference semifinals.
Tony Parker added 21 points for the Spurs, who are assured of a Game 6 back in San Antonio. Game 5 is Tuesday in New Orleans.
“We’ve got to play Game 5 the same way we approached Game 3 and 4,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said. “That is going to be huge, so we don’t have to have any satisfaction with what we just accomplished. We are the same way we started.”
The Spurs led by as many as 27 and were ahead nearly the entire game. They shot 51 percent (39-of-76), while the Hornets were cold when it counted. They shot 37 percent through three quarters and finished 33-of-82 (40 percent) from the field.
Chris Paul led the Hornets with 23 points.
“Our intensity was terrible. From Game 1 to Game 4, ours has gotten worse and theirs has gotten better,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “And that’s been the difference. They’re just kicking our butts right now. Is that simple enough?”
San Antonio scored 40 points in the paint. New Orleans’ plan to keep Parker out of the lane didn’t work, as he knifed his way through heavy traffic or found openings to get to the rim, and hit jumpers.
Ginobili, who also got to the rim at will in Game 3, wasn’t as successful in Game 4. But he hit jumpers and two 3-pointers, finishing with 15 points. Parker and Ginobili each had eight of the Spurs’ 27 assists. The Hornets had 12 assists — five from Paul.
The Spurs outrebounded the Hornets 45-36 and outscored them 30-19 in the decisive third quarter.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re responding. That’s the key,” West said. “We have to respond to what they’re trying to do. If we’re not able to do that, we’re going to find ourselves in some trouble.”
The Hornets were hoping to return to New Orleans with a commanding 3-1 series lead, but allowed Duncan and Parker to shoot a combined 18-of-25 from the field. The only area where the duo struggled was its free-throw shooting. Duncan was 2-of-5 and Parker 5-of-8.
“I really can’t explain this one,” Paul said. “We just looked pretty bad out there tonight. We’ve got to bounce back. We came out here to try and get a win here and we came up short. But the good thing about it is it’s just 2 to 2 now. Now it’s a three-game series. First one to win two games wins it; there’s no time to panic.”
Paul said that after the Game 3 loss, too. And the Spurs will still need to win one the Hornets’ court. So far that’s been a tough task, with only one team losing at home in the second round of the playoffs.
The Spurs were ahead for all but 3:24 in the first half, taking the lead for good after Parker’s layup with 8:36 to play in the first quarter broke a 4-all tie.
San Antonio shot 57.5 percent in the first half, led by Parker and Duncan, who each hit 7-of-10 from the field. Parker had no problem getting to the rim early to lead the Spurs with 18 points at the break.
“Our defense was solid tonight,” Parker said. “We are trying to do a better job on Chris Paul and David West but our help defense was great tonight and so we have to play the same defense on the road now.”
Parker had two layups as part of a 13-2 Spurs run, and his jumper capped the burst with 5:27 left in the second quarter to put the Spurs up 45-28.
Duncan had 15 points and three blocks at the half. He started the series with a miserable five points and three rebounds in Game 1. After suffering from flu-like symptoms and running a fever earlier in the series—something he was loath to discuss—he said the day before Game 4 that he was feeling good.
His spin move on Tyson Chandler for an easy layup put San Antonio up 47-33 with four minutes left in the half.
Paul had 14 points at halftime, but the Hornets were down 55-42 at the break. West was struggling as he was harassed by the Spurs but also missed a couple of open shots, including an airball to start the second quarter.
In the third quarter, when the Hornets were so dominant in the first two games, the Spurs kept up their hot shooting and New Orleans got worse.
Chandler had to sit with 8:39 to play after picking up his fourth and fifth fouls in quick succession. He finished with just two points—a pair of free throws—and four rebounds.
Ginobili’s floating jumper with 7:19 left and ensuing foul shot put the Spurs up 69-48, and the Spurs would finish the quarter with a 7-0 run and their biggest lead of the night to that point, 85-61.
Scott emptied his bench to start the fourth. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich soon did the same.
“What we have to do is get the level of intensity back,” Scott said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to compete. And I don’t think we competed tonight.”
Paul’s mother and Hornets F Julian Wright’s mother were in attendance … The Hornets switched to their teal uniforms on Sunday from the gold they wore in Game 3. … Parker’s wife, Eva Longoria Parker, was at the game. She missed her own TV show, ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” which was on during the game. … Actor Tommy Lee Jones and country singer George Strait also were in the crowd. … Spurs F Robert Horry played in his 237th playoff game Sunday, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA record. Horry called tying Abdul-Jabbar’s record “a dream come true.” … Ime Udoka scored 15 for the Spurs. Michael Finley had 12.