SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Michael Finley hit a buzzer-beater, Tim Duncan was nearly unstoppable and the Spurs claimed another division title.
The playoffs are here, and things are looking familiar in San Antonio.
Down by five with 48.7 seconds left, the Spurs clawed to an thrilling comeback against New Orleans that began with Finley sinking a 3-pointer as time expired in the fourth quarter and Duncan dominating in overtime to stun the fading Hornets in a 105-98 victory Wednesday night.
Coupled with a Houston loss to Dallas, the Spurs clinched the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and will play the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. The Hornets fell to the seventh seed after letting this one slip away.
"Just enough time," Finley said of releasing his 3-pointer that forced overtime. "Everything lined up for us."
Did it ever.
Even with a win, the Spurs weren't assured of starting the playoffs at home. But San Antonio didn't have to sweat the NBA scoreboard after the game, since the Rockets fell in Dallas before the Spurs and Hornets finished regulation.
The Spurs haven't opened the playoffs on the road since Duncan was a rookie in 1998. Back then, David Robinson was their leading scorer, they played in the Alamodome, and Duncan's first postseason lasted just four games when they were ousted by Phoenix.
After this one, the Spurs can largely thank Duncan for keeping the streak going.
Taking over the game in overtime, Duncan scored six of his 20 points in the extra period and finished with 19 rebounds. His brilliant final five minutes included six rebounds, two assists and stopping Chris Paul with a block.
The jewel came on a turnaround, one-handed baseline jumper with 41.1 seconds left that pushed the lead to seven. David West scored 34 points for the Hornets, but fumed after Duncan sank that one.
"It's great that we have home court," Duncan said. "It's a great way to end the season."
It was possibly the most commanding performance from Duncan since the All-Star break, when his aching knees became a constant worry. Tony Parker led the Spurs with 29 points, and was serenaded with chants of "M-V-P!" as he sank free throws in the closing seconds to seal the unlikely win.
"That was the old Timmy," Parker said. "Just controlling the game."
Not so for the Hornets. New Orleans has stumbled down the stretch as badly as any playoff-bound team in the West and have lost six of eight. Had the Hornets won — which looked likely until the final minute of the fourth quarter — they'd have gotten the No. 6 seed.
West, frustrated after the game, said the Hornets should've fouled before Finley hit the final shot. The Spurs inbounded with 7.6 seconds left, and Roger Mason had the ball in his hands for most of the time before passing to Finley at the last second.
He calmly sank the 3-pointer, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the Hornets back to the bench in disbelief.
"We played pretty good for about 47 minutes and 40 seconds, something like that," said Paul, who had 26 points and 14 assists. "We got burned again with that last-second shot. We played on him as tight as possible, and he hit another tough shot as usual."
Paul finished as the league leader in assists with an 11.0 average.
Said West: "We're going to need guys to step up. That's just the bottom line. We're going to need guys to make shots. We need guys to make plays for us."
For the first time in months, the Hornets entered San Antonio at full strength. Tyson Chandler returned for the first time since inflammation in his left ankle forced him out of the lineup on March 2. He had 10 points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
It was the 16th division title for the Spurs, but their first since 2005-06. That was the same year the Mavs and Spurs last met in the playoffs, when Dallas outlasted San Antonio in seven games and went on to play in the NBA finals. This year, the Mavs and Spurs split their season series at 2-2.
Notes:@ The Spurs sent guard Marcus Williams back to the Austin Toros, their NBA D-League team, before the game. Williams appeared in two games after being called up last week. ... Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he wouldn't mind the NBA modifying its rules about instant replay. San Antonio was fortunate in Sacramento on Sunday on a winning 3-pointer by Michael Finley with 1.3 seconds left, but the ball didn't leave his hand in time. The play was not reviewable. "We've all been on both sides of calls that can change a game right at the end," Popovich said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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