SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Michael Finley hit a 3-pointer as time expired to force overtime, and Tim Duncan put on a dominating show from there, leading the San Antonio Spurs to a division-clinching 105-98 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night.
Coupled with a Houston loss to Dallas, the Spurs clinched the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and will play Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. The Hornets fell to the seventh seed after letting this one slip away.
New Orleans led by five with 47.6 seconds left in the fourth period, but missed free throws gave the Spurs a chance. Finley took advantage, draining a 3-pointer as the clock ran down to zero.
Duncan took over from there.
He scored six of his 20 points in overtime, when he also had six rebounds, two assists and swatted Chris Paul’s layup. It was the most commanding performance from Duncan since the All-Star break, when his knees began aching and his health became a constant worry.
David West scored 34 points for New Orleans, which blew its chance at the No. 6 seed. Duncan’s jewel in overtime came on a tough one-handed, baseline jumper _ leaving West screaming in frustration.
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.
Paul had 26 points and 14 assists for the Hornets, who will play Denver in the first round. The Spurs will start off against the Mavericks at home, but it was close.
Never have the Spurs opened the playoffs on the road since winning the first of four NBA titles in 1999. The last time it happened, 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.
But thanks to Finley’s clutch 3-pointer and the Mavs, San Antonio will open the playoffs at home once again, and on a four-game winning streak.
The Hornets have stumbled down the stretch as badly as any playoff-bound team in the West and have now lost six of eight.
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.
West scored 15 points in the first quarter, hitting seven of New Orleans’ first 11 field goals. He cooled off in the second period, but New Orleans still went into halftime ahead 50-48 after closing the quarter on a 15-8 run.
West hit a jumper with 47.6 seconds left in the fourth period, set up by Paul’s 14th assist of the night. Paul juked past Parker before kicking it out to West, who calmly sank the 17-footer before tiptoeing past a deflated Spurs bench. It put New Orleans ahead 88-83.
But the Hornets missed two of four free throws in the final 20 seconds, keeping the Spurs in it. With 7.6 left, Roger Mason stormed toward the 3-point line before dishing at the last moment to Finley.
He calmly sank the 3-pointer, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the Hornets back to the bench in disbelief.
Notes:@ The Spurs sent guard Marcus Williams back to t-e Austin Toros, their NBA D-League team, before the game. Williams appeared in just 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 stole one in Sacramento this week on a winning 3-pointer by Michael Finley with 1.3 seconds left, but the ball clearly 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.