Manu Ginobili scored 26 points and Tim Duncan added 16 points and 14 rebounds on Monday to lead San Antonio into the NBA semi-finals by beating New Orleans 91-82.
The defending NBA champions took the only road victory in the best-of-seven series to win the Western Conference semi-final four games to three and advance to a showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers to decide a berth in the NBA Finals.
The Spurs and Lakers, who split four regular-season meetings, open the Western Conference final today at Los Angeles, where they flew immediately after the victory.
Laker star Kobe Bryant is 14-11 against the Spurs in the playoffs with an average of 26.8 points a game against San Antonio in post-season matchups.
“It’s a quick turnaround for us,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “They have a presence inside [in Spanish star Pau Gasol] and Kobe is playing unbelievable.”
The Lakers have not lost at home in two months and have won 16 of their past 19 games but New Orleans had a home mastery over the Spurs as well until the game-seven matchup, leading the series 2-0 and 3-2 before San Antonio rallied.
“Sustaining everything they gave us and finding a way to win, this was a huge, huge series for us,” Duncan said. “We’re right back in it. We feel good about ourselves. We felt we could get it done. We gained a lot of confidence.”
San Antonio led most of the night but the Spurs hit only 3-of-17 from the field to open the fourth quarter, allowing the Hornets to rally within 83-80 on a 3-pointer by Jannero Pargo, who scored 15 of his 18 in the fourth quarter.
“Everybody is playing well when they make shots. When things aren’t falling, those are the tough times. You have to play through them and I thought we did that pretty well,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
“Everybody was really focused, starting with the defense and the rebounds.”
Pargo missed a 3-pointer that could have leveled the game and Spurs guard Tony Parker answered with a key jump shot to stretch San Antonio’s lead to 85-80 with 50 seconds remaining. The Frenchman finished with 17 points.
New Orleans star Chris Paul drove to the basket but missed a shot over Fabricio Oberto and was forced to foul to stop the clock. The Spurs hit six free throws down the stretch to keep New Orleans at bay.
“It was a good season but we weren’t satisfied,” Paul said. “One thing D-West said in the locker room is that we will be right back here next year. We will be back here next year and we’ll get through it.”
David West led the Hornets with 20 points while Paul and Pargo, who went 6-of-18 from 3-point range, each had 18 points. Paul added 14 rebounds.
“I told them when they start working for next season, remember how they feel right now,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
“You don’t go from not making the playoffs to winning the championship. But we’ve got something working here. We’re going in the right direction and we’ve got some good pieces of the puzzle.”
The Spurs led at New Orleans for the fourth game in a row, but where the Hornets had roared ahead with superb third quarters, they were frustrated by the Spurs defense and made their comeback only in the final minutes.
“Finally, experience helped a little bit,” Parker said. “The first three we were up a little bit. We felt if we could hang in in the third quarter we would be all right and in the fourth they missed a lot of open shots.