x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Duncan does the star turn for Spurs

Michael Finley hit a buzzer-beater, Tim Duncan was nearly unstoppable and the Spurs claimed another division title.

SAN ANTONIO // Michael Finley hit a buzzer-beater, Tim Duncan was nearly unstoppable and the Spurs claimed another division title. The play-offs 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 on Wednesday.

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 Houston Rockets fell 95-84 in Dallas and Hornets finished regulation.

The Spurs haven't opened the play-offs on the road since Duncan was a rookie in 1998. 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 41.1secs 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." It was the 16th division title for the Spurs, but their first since 2005-06. That was the same year the Mavericks and Spurs last met in the play-offs, when Dallas outlasted San Antonio in seven games and went on to play in the NBA finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost just the second home game all season and missed a chance to tie an NBA record after Philadelphia 76ers defeated them 111-110 in the other match on the final day of the regular season. The Cavaliers, who long ago secured the No 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, rested forward LeBron James, All-Star guard Mo Williams and other regulars for the finale. They then watched the Cavaliers fall one win short of the 40-1 home record in a season set by the Boston Celtics in 1985-86, as Andre Miller scored 30 points to help the Sixers snap a six-game losing streak.

* AP