for this game

Spurs down Hornets, advance to conference finals

May 20, 2008 - 8:49 AM NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- In the biggest game in the history of the New Orleans Hornets, the San Antonio Spurs showed that they've been there before.

Manu Ginobili scored 26 points as the Spurs broke through on the road en route to a 91-82 victory over the Hornets in Game Seven of their Western Conference semifinals series Monday.

"I'm sure glad that's over," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "The Hornets are an unbelievably tough team in every way that one could imagine, and they had a great year.

"I don't think there's any doubt their time will come. We feel thrilled to be able to get out of here with a victory. They were really something else, and we were very fortunate."

Tim Duncan had 16 points and 14 rebounds for San Antonio, which will continue its quest for its first back-to-back NBA titles when it advances to play the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals.

Game One is Wednesday in Los Angeles, and the defending champions already have packed and are on their way to there Monday night.

"We were very confident, and we knew we could do it," Ginobili said. "We packed our bags because there was no other option. We're playing in two days."

But unlike Popovich, Ginobili didn't seem especially moved after Monday's win.

"It was not any different than any other game," Ginobili said. "Game Six, we had the same responsibility. It just happened that I made a lot of shots in the first half. Then, in the second (half), I didn't play as well, but we stayed solid and we kept them to 82 points and that's great for us. It was great teamwork."

Tony Parker scored 17 points - including a crucial jumper in the waning seconds - for the Spurs, who erased a 2-0 series deficit to advance for the first time in franchise history.

"We're down 2-0 and we're going home, obviously your back's against the wall," Duncan said. "We're a pretty confident team, especially going back home. We feel pretty good about ourselves. We feel like we can get it done. We believe we can win on the road. Obviously, it didn't happen in the first three games here, but we really believed that we had a chance to win on the road here."

Third-seeded San Antonio, which has won four titles in the last nine seasons, has faced just one Game Seven in its championship campaigns - a dramatic victory over the Detroit Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals.

The Spurs, who have been criticized for their aging roster, got some help from the geriatric duo of Robert Horry and Michael Finley, who combined to scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting - all 3-pointers - to help turn the tides in this decidedly one-sided series.

"You know that's the thing with people always talking about us being old," Horry said. "They say you're too old because you don't dunk anymore and you don't slash as fast as you used to. But our game plan is usually pretty good."

The home team had won each contest in this best-of-seven matchup by at least 11 points, with most of the games already decided by the fourth quarter.

In fact, the third quarter had been the pivotal period throughout the series. Entering Monday's contest, the Hornets outscored the Spurs, 93-46, in the third quarter of their three home wins.

San Antonio turned the tables in this one by outscoring New Orleans, 20-12, in the third on Monday en route to a 71-56 lead entering the final period. The second-seeded Hornets were not able to get over the hump in the final 12 minutes.

"I think for us it was defense," Popovich said. "We really concentrated on the fact that it might help fuel our offense. We wanted to try to keep them off balance, so we changed defenses tonight more than we did in any other game, and maybe it helped us a bit."

New Orleans cut its deficit to 83-80 on a 3-pointer by Jannero Pargo, who started the possession with a missed shot from the arc. Three offensive rebounds later, he was able to drill a crucial shot from the right wing.

But on the ensuing possession, Parker nailed the biggest jumper of the game from the left elbow to make it 85-80 with 50.1 seconds left.

"That was the shot of the game," Ginobili said.

If that shot did not effectively seal the game, it was Pargo's missed 3-pointer after New Orleans' timeout which stalled any chance at comeback for the Hornets, who had never advanced to the conference finals in the franchise's 20-year history.

That history included a stint in Charlotte, where the Hornets had some promising young teams - featuring Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues.

This season, New Orleans superstar point guard Chris Paul emerged as perhaps the most talented player in the franchise's history after making a serious run at the league's Most Valuable Player Award - finishing second behind the Lakers' Kobe Bryant.

But despite their inspiring play, which revived basketball in the hurricane-ravaged city, the Hornets could not break through in this one thanks in part to inexplicable inefficiency on the boards. New Orleans was outrebounded, 51-42, on Monday.

"Tonight they just outworked us," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "They ran down loose balls and got long rebounds. We just allowed them to get too many rebounds, that's the bottom line. When you give a team like that second and third opportunities, they're usually going to score."

"We are not satisfied," Paul said. "(David West) said we will be back here next year in the same situation and our group."

West, who had been questionable for Monday's game with a back injury, had 20 points and nine rebounds and Paul collected 18 and 14 assists for the Hornets, who shot just 40 percent (33-of-82).

"You don't use excuses," West said. "They just outplayed us."