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Tony Parker swished a crucial jumper with 50 seconds on the clock. Manu Ginobili followed with four key free throws, essentially booking the San Antonio Spurs a date in the Western Conference finals.
This wasn't the ending Hornets coach ron Scott envisioned, but he admired the poise of the defending champion Spurs as they pulled out a grueling, seven-game series with a 91-82 triumph in front of a hostile crowd on Monday night.
"If you have to lose to anybody, San Antonio is a class act," Scott said. "We aspire to be like they are in every facet. They are one of the best organizations in all of sports."
With a young nucleus of Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler, the Hornets appear destined for greater things, but now is not their time.
It's the Spurs and their championship ring-laden trio of Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Parker who'll be traveling to Los Angeles to face the Lakers in Game — of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.
Ginobili scored 26 points and Parker added 17 to help the Spurs hold off the Hornets' late rally and become the first team in the series to win away from home.
"We really believed we had a chance to win on the road here," said Duncan, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds. "It's just a lot of confidence, a lot of games under our belt."
While the Hornets managed to stop Duncan from scoring in bunches by crowding the inside, his teammates combined for 12 3-pointers to keep alive San Antonio's hopes of winning back-to-back titles for the first time.
"We knew the shots were going to be there. It happened today that we just made more," said Ginobili, who hit four 3-pointers. "We just let it fly."
The win also gave Spurs coach Gregg Popovich 100 playoff victories, moving him into a tie with Larry Brown for third on the career list. Popovich was just relieved to be rid of a Hornets squad that pushed his team to the limit.
"I'm glad that's over," he said. "The Hornets are an unbelievably tough team in every way you could imagine, and they had a fantastic year. I don't think there's any doubt their time will come."
West led the Hornets with 20 points, but missed 11 of 19 shots. Paul had 18 points and 14 assists. Jannero Pargo also scored 18, including a fourth-quarter flourish that helped the Hornets cut a deficit that was 17 in the third quarter down to three inside the final two minutes.
"Guys showed a lot of heart out there," said Chandler, who had 13 points and 15 rebounds. "It just came down to some baskets we normally make that didn't fall."
The Hornets had dominated the third quarters of their three previous home games in this series on the way to double-digit wins in each. 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 51-42 to open the period, could not manage consecutive baskets throughout the quarter, never getting closer than seven points.
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.
Michael Finley responded with a 3-pointer and Parker added a jumper, putting San Antonio up 63-50.
New Orleans began to look overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment, even missing open shots. Peja Stojakovic, who finished with a relatively low seven points, shot an airball on an open 3-point attempt. West missed an open 12-footer. The Hornets shot 5-of-17 for the quarter.
New Orleans continued to play solid defense inside, limiting San Antonio to 6-of-18 shooting in the quarter. But that didn't help much with the Spurs hitting clutch shots from the perimeter.
Finley added another 3, as did Robert Horry, and Ginobili's free throws gave San Antonio a 71-54 lead late in the period.
"People always talk about you being old because you don't dunk anymore or slash as fast as you used to slash, but we're one of the smartest teams in the league and we have a very good coaching staff," Horry said. "We didn't make stupid mistakes."
Buoyed by a home crowd that stood throughout the fourth quarter, the Hornets fought back to make a game of it. Pargo scored seven straight on four free throws sandwiched around a 3-pointer, pulling the Hornets to 81-77 with 3:10 to go.
Pargo made another — to cut it to 83-80 with about 11/2 minutes left, then attempted another for the tie with a minute left, but it rattled out.
Parker's crucial jumper made it 85-80. New Orleans missed on its next try and had to foul Ginobili, who put the game away.
The Hornets were left to soak in the finality of the loss as they wiped away tears in the locker room.
"One thing I want them to remember when they start working out next season is how they feel right now," said Scott, adding he was proud of his team's improvement over last season, which ended short of the playoffs.
"You have to go through some things before you can really understand how good it's going to feel when you get to that next level," Scott continued. "You don't go from not making the playoffs to winning a championship. It just doesn't work that way. ... We're headed in the right direction."
The Hornets fell to 0-5 in second-round series. ... This marks the first time the Spurs have gotten past the second round one season after winning a title, and the first time they won a series after losing the first two games. ... Home teams were 22-3 in the second round of this season's playoffs, with Detroit, the Lakers and Spurs getting the only road wins.
Spurs hold off Hornets, advance to conference finals
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