- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

PHOENIX — The San Antonio Spurs no longer have to worry about being on the wrong side of playoff history — or about facing Amare Stoudemire.

All they have to think about now is trying to win another NBA championship.

Tim Duncan had 31 points and 15 rebounds and the Spurs’ defense keyed a game-changing 18-4 third-quarter run, giving them enough of a cushion to hold off Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns with a 101-95 victory last night that ended the Western Conference finals in five games.

As thrilled as the Spurs are about making the NBA Finals for the second time in three years and third in seven, they’re likely also relieved to be done with this series — and Stoudemire.

San Antonio led 3-0 before losing Game4 at home and certainly didn’t want to go home for a Game6 with the Suns halfway to pulling off a comeback that’s unprecedented in NBA history but fresh in the mind of all sports fans after the Boston Red Sox did it last October.

The victory gives Duncan’s aching ankles and Manu Ginobili’s bumps and bruises plenty of time to heal while San Antonio waits to find out whether it will next face Miami or Detroit. The Heat and Pistons are tied 2-2 with Game5 tonight in Miami. The final round will start June9, and the Spurs, who won it all in 1999 and 2003, will be the home team regardless.

Stoudemire almost kept the Suns’ fabulous season alive by scoring 17 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, several of them on the powerful slam dunks that have become his calling card.

His 37-point average in this series broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for a conference finals first-timer and he set the club record for consecutive playoff games with at least 30 points, doing so in all five. Phoenix hadn’t even had a player score 30 points in five straight regular-season games since Charles Barkley in March 1993.

Stoudemire scored the final two points just before time expired, then congratulated Duncan after the buzzer, with the two-time MVP offering congrats of his own.

“These guys are an incredible offensive team and they kept coming, but we stuck with it,” Duncan said. “These weren’t the kind of scores we like to play in but we made it happen.”

Phoenix came into this season never expecting to still be playing in June after winning 29 games in 2003-04. But with an energetic offense, the Suns ran off the most points and most wins in the NBA and charged through the first two rounds. This was only the second time in 15 postseason games they failed to score 100 points; the other also against the Spurs.

With big first halves from Stoudemire and league MVP Steve Nash, Phoenix was up by one at halftime. San Antonio quickly changed that.

Trailing 52-51 a few possessions into the third quarter, a dunk by Robert Horry gave the Spurs the lead, then began a 6:30 stretch that guaranteed they’d keep it the rest of the way. When it ended, San Antonio was up 69-56.

Along the way, the Suns had four turnovers (traveling by Nash, two lost balls by Stoudemire and a 24-second violation), Nash missed three shots, Stoudemire missed another and the flourish ended with Joe Johnson getting blocked twice.

The Spurs, meanwhile, had Tony Parker find his groove by hitting one of his trademark teardrop jumpers and two straight 3-pointers. Duncan passed out of a double team to an open Bruce Bowen for a jumper, then — perhaps the best sign of all for the Spurs — Duncan made two free throws.

Phoenix kept clawing and was within 93-90 on a 3-pointer by Jim Jackson with 2:45 left. However, San Antonio has too many players with championship pedigrees to fold down the stretch. Duncan tipped in his own miss on the next possession, then a steal by Horry led to a layup by Parker for a 97-90 lead with 50.3 seconds to go.

Duncan was 14-for-24 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free throw line, missing only his first one. It barely made it to the front rim, an ugly reminder of his 3-for-12 performance from the line in Game 4.

Ginobili had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Parker had 18, although he was 8-for-21.

Nash scored 21 points but only three in the second half. He also had 10 assists.

Johnson, whose big performance in Game 4 was the Suns’ biggest hope for coming back in the series, cooled off by shooting just 6-for-17 for 14 points. Unlike the last game, his presence didn’t help open things up for Shawn Marion and Quentin Richardson. Marion had eight points and Richardson, who went down hard in the first half, was scoreless in 28 minutes.


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