Spurs 122, Kings 88

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SAN ANTONIO – Wow, that was Quick.

The San Antonio Spurs got their NBA title defense off to a blazing start with 25 points from speedy Tony Parker and a surprising boost from Nick “the Quick” Van Exel, who scored 11 points in the decisive second quarter of a series-opening 122-88 victory over the stunned Sacramento Kings on Saturday.

San Antonio’s fleet-footed point guards led a 41-15 run in that quarter, staking the Spurs to a 34-point halftime lead. The second half was all garbage time in San Antonio’s seventh victory in the last eight playoff series openers – and the biggest postseason loss in the Kings’ history.

Parker’s frenetic dominance was no surprise after his excellent regular season as the Spurs’ leading scorer. But three 3-pointers from Van Exel, the seldom-used veteran guard who’s retiring after this season, were shockers from which the Kings couldn’t recover.

San Antonio made eight 3-pointers and 68 percent of its first-half shots – both franchise records for a playoff half. Ten Spurs scored at least six points apiece in the game, and coach Gregg Popovich still got to rest his stars for Game 2 on Tuesday in the best-of-seven series.

Tim Duncan had 11 points and seven rebounds while sitting out the fourth quarter along with Parker and Bruce Bowen. Nazr Mohammed added 18 points and eight rebounds, hitting the first 3-pointer of his NBA career in the final minute.

The Spurs lost their first-round opener to Denver last spring on the way to their third title in seven seasons, but Duncan’s crew hit the ground sprinting in this postseason.

Mike Bibby scored 17 points and Ron Artest had 16 on 7-of-21 shooting for the Kings, whose newfound defensive intensity is lost again after Artest labeled his surging club as “the team to beat” in the first round. Sacramento entered the playoffs with 25 wins in its last 36 games, including nine of 11 to earn its eighth straight postseason trip.

Instead, Sacramento was thoroughly outrebounded and outworked in its biggest defeat of the season, surpassing 26-point losses to New Orleans and Dallas. It also was the biggest margin of defeat in the Kings’ playoff history, besting a 30-point loss at Utah in the 1999 postseason opener.

Parker penetrated the lane at will from the opening minutes, and Manu Ginobili also set the tone with several drives past Artest. Both Bibby and Artest got into foul trouble, and their teammates fared no better in slowing down the Spurs.

Sacramento actually kept it close in the first quarter, trailing just 32-24 before Van Exel hit the first of his three 3-pointers to open the second. San Antonio made a 12-2 run before scoring 14 consecutive points midway through the period, including eight more from Van Exel on a pair of 3s and two free throws.

Van Exel says he’ll end his 13-year NBA career after this season, and he wasn’t terribly effective in his first season on the Spurs’ bench, scoring in double figures just three times between late November and the regular season’s final week.

But San Antonio picked up the veteran guard mostly for his experience and some instant offense in the postseason, and he provided both.

The AT&T Center crowd was as stunned as the Spurs when Michael Finley’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer rattled in and out, sending San Antonio to the locker room up 73-39. The Spurs set a franchise playoff record with eight 3-pointers in the half while outrebounding Sacramento 26-10.

The Spurs won a franchise-record 63 games in the regular season, but Popovich was concerned with his club’s first-round matchup with the hard-charging Kings, who remade themselves as an intense defensive team after acquiring Artest in a trade with Indiana in late January.

Notes: Kings F Shareef Abdur-Rahim had six points and eight rebounds in the first playoff game of his 10-season NBA career. Abdur-Rahim played in 744 games for four NBA teams before reaching the playoffs – the second-longest drought in NBA history behind Tom Van Arsdale. … The Spurs had their highest-scoring non-overtime playoff game since a 130-121 win over Golden State in 1991. … Artest was hit flush in the mouth by Ginobili’s elbow while they scrambled for a loose ball on the Spurs’ opening possession. Artest was down for several seconds, but popped back up – but not before a full timeout was called just 18 seconds into the game. … The longtime Western Conference powers have never met in the postseason.

AP-ES-04-22-06 2009EDT

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