NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A title defense endures for the playoff-savvy San Antonio Spurs.
Manu Ginobili scored 26 points, hitting four free throws in the final minute and sending the Spurs to the Western Conference finals with a 91-82 victory over the New Orleans Hornets last night in Game 7 of their second-round series.
West led the Hornets with 20 points, while Paul and Jannero Pargo each added 18. Chandler had 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Hornets, who cut a deficit as large as 17 down to three in the final two minutes.
The Hornets had dominated the third quarters of their three previous home games in this series. This time, the Spurs, who have won four titles in the previous nine seasons, had an answer. It was their calling card: stingy defense.
The Hornets, down by nine to open the period, could not manage consecutive baskets throughout the quarter, never getting closer than seven.
New Orleans went nearly a three-minute stretch without a basket before Paul hit a pair of free throws to close the gap to 58-50.
New Orleans finally began to look overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment, even missing open shots. Peja Stojakovic shot an airball on an open 3-point attempt. West missed an open 12-footer. The Hornets shot 5-for-17 for the quarter.
New Orleans continued to play solid defense inside, holding Duncan in check and limiting San Antonio to 6-for-18 shooting in the quarter. But that didn’t help much with the Spurs hitting clutch shots from outside.
Buoyed by a home crowd that stood throughout the fourth quarter, the Hornets fought back to make a game of it, largely behind Pargo, who had done little in this series. He scored seven straight on four free throws sandwiched around a 3-pointer, pulling the Hornets to 81-77 with 3:10 left.
Pargo made another 3-pointer to cut it to 83-80 with about 1½ minutes to go, then attempted another for the tie with a minute left, but it rattled out.
Parker drained a jumper on the other end with 50 seconds left to make it 85-80, and New Orleans could not recover.
Paul’s driving floater off the glass turned the tide, sparking a 12-0 run that included 3-pointers by Stojakovic and Morris Peterson. Stojakovic’s baseline jumper briefly put New Orleans ahead 37-36, but Ginobili came back with a 3-pointer, Parker a driving layup and Duncan a short fade to put San Antonio right back in front.
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