Tim Duncan erased a sluggish performance with a rebound and putback with 50.4 seconds left, preserving a slim, late lead that the San Antonio Spurs parlayed into a 97-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.
Whether it's the playoffs or the season opener, games between the Spurs and Mavericks are always filled with drama.
Dallas became the team to beat in the West by outlasting the Spurs in a tense second-round playoff series that wasn't decided until overtime of Game 7, then going on to reach the NBA finals. In its first game that counted since losing the championship, Dallas played a similar game -- leading most of the way, then watching it slip away.
Dallas went scoreless for a 6:13 stretch that ended midway through the fourth quarter, letting a five-point lead turn into a five-point deficit. Despite 21 points from Dirk Nowitzki and 20 from Josh Howard, the Mavericks never recovered, although they were able to make things interesting down the stretch.
Tony Parker, who was questionable because of a sprained ankle, scored 19 points and Manu Ginobili had 16 for San Antonio. Duncan had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but made only five of 13 shots; he had only five points midway through the third quarter and wasn't as involved as usual in the Spurs' scheme.
Clippers 96, Nuggets 95
At Los Angeles, Sam Cassell scored 35 points and made a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to lift the Los Angeles Clippers to a victory in its home opener against Denver.
The Nuggets, playing their season opener, were without star Carmelo Anthony for most of the second half. He was ejected after drawing two technicals in a three-minute span early in the third quarter.
Cassell sank the free throws after his turnover in the backcourt six seconds earlier had led to J.R. Smith's layup that gave Nuggets a 95-94 lead.
A 6.2m shot by Denver's Earl Boykins bounced off the rim and the Clippers rebounded as time expired.
Tim Thomas had 21 points off the bench in his first game for the Clippers in Los Angeles, including three 3-pointers in the final 2:38.
Marcus Camby had 16 points and 18 rebounds for Denver, and Smith led the Nuggets with 21 points.
Los Angeles eliminated the Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs last season, the first postseason series win for the Clippers franchise in 30 years.
Chinese forward Yi Jianlian, a 19-year-old rising star touted by many as the next Yao Ming, has received permission from his club to enter next year's NBA draft, state media said yesterday.
Yi, who led the Guangdong Tigers to three straight national championships, was given the backing of his club to enter the draft, the China Daily reported.
The 2.1m Yi has attracted attention in basketball circles for several years and had been promoted as a draft prospect fro this year, but his club said he was too young and inexperienced.
``But now he is different, he is getting stronger mentally and physically. I think next year will be a big chance for him, so for us, it's time to let him go,'' Guangdong general manager Chen Haitao was quoted as saying.
``This is a great opportunity and also a test for me,'' said Yi, whose height and moves have brought comparisons to 2.26m Houston Rockets center Yao.
Yi, who averaged 20.5 points and 9.6 rebounds last season, still needs the approval of the Chinese Basketball Association and an exemption from a CBA rule that Chinese players are not eligible for the NBA draft until they turn 22.