NEW YORK - After watching his All-Star point guard Tony Parker carve up the Brooklyn Nets like a surgeon, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had nothing but high praise for Parker.
"I don't think anyone in the league is playing better than Tony Parker," Popovich said, after Parker put on a offensive clinic, scoring 29 points and dishing out 11 assists without the benefit of All-Star teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in the Spurs' 111-86 rout of the Nets Sunday night at the Barclays Center.
"With the others out, Tony has been carrying us," Popovich said. "Not only did he score, but he had 11 assists without a turnover. He should be in any conversation for any award. You mention the best players in the league, well, he should be right there in that group. He's the one who's playing the best. He realized that the other two are not there and had to pick up his scoring while involving the whole team. That's not easy."
The win enabled the Spurs (40-12) to become the first NBA team to reach the 40-win plateau. The Spurs have won 12 of their last 13 games, after Detroit ended their 11-game win streak Friday night.
The loss was the Nets' fifth straight against the Spurs, and it marked the 31st straight time that the Spurs held the Nets (29-22) under 100 points. San Antonio trailed the Nets by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, yet won going away. The Spurs outscored the Nets, 60-29, in the second half.
It also marked the 19th loss in the last 20 games for the Nets against the Spurs, with the lone win coming March 29, 2010, by a 90-84 margin.
Besides Parker, the Spurs got 14 points from Danny Green and 13 points and nine rebounds from Tiago Splitter. Matt Bonner had 11 points and Boris Diaw 10 for the winners.
Green credited the Spurs' defense, which stifled the Nets after halftime.
"We took the loss hard Friday night and wanted to come back," Green said. "We might have been without some of our top players, but the defense has to remain the same."
"We played great defense after the first quarter," Popovich said. "We made a lot of stops and forced them to take bad shots. We don't get back into the game without stops. It was a combination of our defense and Tony Parker."
Duncan (sore knee) missed his eighth game out of the last 10, and Ginobili missed his fourth straight with a hamstring issue.
Splitter, who started at center in place of Duncan, said that playing with Parker is easy.
"Tony's a great player and when he gets the ball and draws the defense to him, I roll to the basket," Splitter said. "Tony is the one who makes this team roll."
The Nets received 19 points from Joe Johnson, 18 points and nine rebounds from Brook Lopez and 15 points from Deron Williams. However, Johnson only had six and Lopez four after halftime.
Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo was befuddled by his team's collapse.
"I honestly don't know," said Carlesimo, whose team lost for the fourth time in the last six games. "I think the players are obviously aware of it. They're an excellent team, but this one was a little different. We were up at the half and we were able to do a lot of things we wanted to do. The bigger issue is when a team makes a run or puts us on our heels and we're not responding. I'm just surprised by the way we performed in the third quarter."
Parker was sensational in the third quarter, when the Spurs broke the game wide open, outscoring the Nets, 30-14. Parker had 10 points and four assists in the third quarter alone.
It marked the second straight time the Spurs destroyed the Nets in the third quarter of a game. In a 104-73 win Dec. 31, the Spurs held the Nets to a franchise-record-low five points in that quarter. It means the Spurs outscored the Nets, 60-19, in the two combined third quarters in the wins.
The Nets came out sizzling in the opening period, with Johnson establishing himself early, scoring eight of his team's first 10 points, and Lopez taking over late, scoring 10 points in the final four minutes. The Nets owned a 35-25 lead after one period, shooting 64 percent from the floor and 80 percent from 3-point range, easily one of their best quarters of the season.
The Nets pushed the lead to 37-25 to start the second quarter, with Kris Humphries nailing a pretty hook shot.
However, the Spurs caught fire midway through the second period, with Parker doing most of the damage. Parker went to the basket with authority for two straight layups, and Kawhi Leonard nailed a long 3-pointer, bringing San Antonio to within 52-49 with 1:43 remaining in the half. Parker had eight points and four assists in the second period.
Johnson scored the Nets' last five points of the half, hitting a little turnaround in the lane and then nailing a 25-footer at the buzzer, to give the Nets a 57-51 lead at intermission.
Splitter made one free throw, then Parker hit a jumper to give the Spurs a 63-61 lead with 8:02 remaining in the third. It was the Spurs' first lead since they scored the first four points of the game.
Parker, who averages 27 points per game in games in which Duncan and Ginobili don't play, hit a long jumper with the shot clock winding down, pushing the lead to 65-61.
Then, it became show time. Parker made a 360-spin for one layup with Gerald Wallace all over him, then followed it with a duck under scoop shot under the outstretched arms of Lopez, pushing the Spurs' lead to 71-65.
Diaw made a driving layup off a feed from Parker to give the Spurs an 81-71 lead going into the fourth quarter, completing a total turnaround after the Nets led by 12.
Popovich credited the Spurs' camaraderie for the comeback.
"We've been together for a long time and know what to do when the big guys are out," Popovich said. "The Nets don't have that. They haven't been together that long and are still getting to know each other. Our guys believe in our system and believe we can come back."
NOTES: Carlesimo, who spent five seasons with the Spurs as Popovich's top assistant, helping San Antonio win three NBA titles, was asked before the game what makes the Spurs so consistently successful. "It's clearly personnel first," Carlesimo said. "Back in the day, they had David (Robinson) and Timmy (Duncan) and then they were able to add people like Parker and Ginobili. They've been winners for a long time and they put their roster together with winners. Plus Pop is beyond excellent as a coach and his understanding of the game. He definitely has the ability to teach the game and he handles people well."...The Spurs are now 8-6 when both All-Stars Duncan and Ginobili don't play and 32-6 when they do play...The Nets were without Jerry Stackhouse (stiff neck)...Carlesimo was asked why his team had been struggling of late, losing three of five entering the game. "I don't think we're playing with the same enthusiasm as he had early on," he said. "That's a major issue for us. We need to have a little more fun and play with enthusiasm. We also have to find a way to get through our mistakes offensively. We have to get back to putting the ball in the basket."