Duncan, Spurs advance to Western Conference finalsMay 19, 2007 - 6:53 AM SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were back. But the San Antonio Spurs still made sure the Phoenix Suns were down and out.
Tim Duncan collected 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks and Manu Ginobili had 33 points and 11 boards as the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference finals with a thorough 114-106 victory over the Suns in Game Six of their semifinal series on Friday.
Tony Parker added 30 points for third-seeded San Antonio, which will face fourth-seeded Utah with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.
"I don't know what the (heck) we're going to do," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I've been kind of absorbed with Phoenix, so I haven't really thought about anything yet. We respect them and model some of what we do after them. They're one of the best executing teams in the business. They're tough and they play for 48 minutes."
Game One of the conference finals will be in San Antonio on Sunday.
The Spurs, who have won three NBA championships since 1999, will be making their first trip to the conference finals since hoisting the trophy in 2005 thanks to tough victory Friday.
"It was another hard-fought, physical basketball game," Popovich said. "We're thrilled with the win. (Suns coach) Mike D'Antoni, his staff and the Suns' players are an unbelievable basketball team. They're great in a lot of ways on both ends of the court. Frankly, I can't figure out how we did this. I have a lot of respect for them."
But in a series rife with controversy, the clinching game was not easy. The Suns, who trailed by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter, did not go down without a fight.
Phoenix attempted a furious comeback in the final period - outscoring the Spurs, 39-33 - but fell short as it could not string together enough quality defensive stances down the stretch.
After converting one field goal in the first quarter, Suns guard Steve Nash did not score again until the 8:18 mark in the fourth. But that hoop was the start of 10 straight points for his team by the two-time MVP, who capped his personal run with a short jumper in the lane to climb within 96-82 with 6:06 left.
Phoenix got as close 106-101 on Shawn Marion's follow jam with 34 seconds left, but it was too little, too late. It was the last in a series of disappointing losses for Phoenix in the best-of-seven matchup.
"We understand the importance of finishing teams when you get the chance," Duncan said. "We also have a healthy respect for our opponent. In the time I have been here, we have only been in one Game Seven, I believe, because we understand the pressure that it brings."
In fact, if not for untimely injuries and suspensions, San Antonio still might be fighting for its playoff life.
After a stirring Game Four victory on the road, the Suns were in the unenviable position of playing a pivotal Game Five at home without two of their key performers, including Stoudemire - a member of the All-NBA first team.
Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended for Wednesday's contest for leaving the bench during a scuffle late in the previous game. Spurs forward Robert Horry committed a flagrant foul that sent Nash sprawling into the scorer's table.
Horry then proceeded to tangle with Suns guard Raja Bell, resulting in a two-game suspension for the 15-year veteran.
"I can sit up here and complain about it after the fact or cry about it after the fact, but it's tough," Nash said. "You'll think forever what might have happened if this stupid rule hadn't gotten in the way of the series. There's no guarantees, but it's hard to come this far and put this much into the season and not to be without two players in Game Five for nothing that we instigated.
"We'll never know (if it was a tainted series). Part of me as a sportsman wants to give them credit and say they beat us, and I will and I do, but at the same time, I can't answer that question because I don't know what the outcome would have been if we went home tied with a full team. I can't give an honest answer because I don't know what the outcome would have been if we had our guys."
Stoudemire, for his part, did not put as much thought into it.
"I don't think about it too much," he said. "It is what it is. It happened that way, and we had a chance to win, but we couldn't get it done."
It certainly was not the first sign of rising tensions between the squads. Ginobili was the second player to suffer a battle scar in Game Three. The swingman was scraped just beneath his right eye, leaving him with a nasty bruise.
It marked yet another gruesome injury in this series. Nash suffered a deep cut on his nose in Game One. His nose bled profusely in the latter stages of the contest, forcing the Suns to keep him off the floor during crunch time.
Back at home on Friday, San Antonio held just a two-point lead at halftime but came out with a point to prove in the third quarter, outscoring Phoenix, 28-16.
"At the end of the day, if you want to win a championship, you have to win big games on the road," Parker said. "Phoenix is a great team, but I thought we played better."
Duncan was 11-of-19 from the field, Parker shot 11-of-27 and Ginobili was 11-of-17.
"(The Suns) are an incredible team, and unfortunately, the situation sort of put them in a hole, but that's something we all have to play through," Duncan said. "They did. Those guys are so tough and they brought their best effort every night. They are a great group of guys, and we had to bring it every night to beat them."
Stoudemire collected 38 points and 12 rebounds and Nash added 18 and 14 assists for Phoenix, which lost in the conference finals each of the previous two seasons and fell further short of its championship goal this campaign.
"It hurts. We left it on the floor," Marion said. "We fell off our game and we couldn't catch a break. It was a hard-fought game. It's frustrating that we should have won this game, it really hurts.
"They took some really big shots, they just kept knocking them down. We just couldn't get over the hump. I'm hurt right now. It's hasn't fully set in yet."
SAN ANTONIO 114 FINAL
May 19 12:28 AM
SAN ANTONIO 81 END, 3RD QTR
May 18 11:45 PM
SAN ANTONIO 53 HALFTIME
May 18 10:52 PM
SAN ANTONIO 23 END, 1ST QTR
May 18 10:13 PM
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