Defending NBA champion San Antonio ousted Phoenix and New Orleans dumped Dallas on Tuesday to book a second-round playoff showdown against each other.
But the Utah Jazz could not join the Spurs and Hornets in advancing as the Houston Rockets kept their title hopes alive with a 95-69 triumph as the focus became clear in the Western Conference playoff chase.
Frenchman Tony Parker scored 31 points and Tim Duncan added 29 points and 17 rebounds to power San Antonio past Phoenix 92-87, giving the Spurs a four to one triumph in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
The Spurs scored seven of the last nine points to break a deadlock at 85 and book a date with the Hornets, who used a supreme performance by Chris Paul to defeat Dallas 99-94 to capture that series four to one.
“The whole series I was trying to be aggressive, get to the basket,” Parker said. “Now it’s New Orleans. They are very good. It’s going to be a great challenge for me to play against Chris Paul.”
The Hornets and Spurs split four regular-season meetings, but each managed to dominate an opponent that made a major mid-season trade, the Suns landing star center Shaquille O’Neal and the Mavericks obtaining guard Jason Kidd.
“We weren’t overconfident but we have a different mentality,” Paul said. “We expect to win. We expect a lot from ourselves. We’re trying to set a new standard.”
The Spurs closed the first half with an 18-6 run for 54-45 half-time lead, but Phoenix closed the third quarter on a 20-9 run to seize a 72-69 lead.
The Suns fell apart when it mattered most, however, hitting only 5-of-15 shots in the final period while making seven of their 14 turnovers in the last quarter. Phoenix missed 17 free throws, 13 of them in the first half.
“We were struggling. We had a bad third quarter,” Parker said. “In the fourth quarter, we played like it was a game seven.”
France’s Boris Diaw led Phoenix with 22 points while Amare Stoudemire added 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Canadian Steve Nash hit a 3-pointer to equalize at 85, but Nash made three key late turnovers and Diaw gave away another. Parker took advantage for a key jumper for an 88-85 Spurs lead and the others set up three Ginobili free throws and two more by Duncan that sealed the triumph.
“We didn’t play too well,” Nash said. “We should have slowed it down. I take responsibility for that. I made a couple key turnovers that cost us.
“On paper we have more talent than they do but their commitment and understanding of what they do is what made them better. They make the little plays that make them better. That’s why they are the champions.”
At New Orleans, Paul scored 24 points, passed out 15 assists and grabbed 11 rebounds for his first career playoff “Triple Double” to spark the Hornets to their first playoff series victory since moving from Charlotte.
“It feels great to know we are out of the first round,” Paul said. “We showed a lot of poise at the end. We let them back in the game but we pulled it out. We’re always going to fight.
“We stick together as a team. That’s what makes this really special.”
Tracy McGrady scored 29 points to lead Houston past Utah, trimming the Jazz lead to 3-2 in that series with game six Friday at Salt Lake City. The series winner will face the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round.
“It feels good. Our backs were against the wall. If we lose our season is over,” McGrady said. “This was like a game seven.”