Spurs take sting out of the Hornets

From the Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- A title defense endures for the playoff-savvy San Antonio Spurs.

Manu Ginobili scored 26 points, making four free throws in the final minute, to send the Spurs to the Western Conference finals with a 91-82 Game 7 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Monday night.

Tony Parker had 17 points, including a crucial jump shot in the final minute, as the Spurs held off a late rally to become the first team in this series to win on the road.

"We really believed we had a chance to win on the road here," said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds. "It's just a lot of confidence. A lot of games under our belt."

The Spurs will visit the Lakers for Game 1 of the conference finals Wednesday.

The Hornets appear destined for greatness but not now.

"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," Hornets Coach Byron Scott said. "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."

David West led the Hornets with 20 points, and Chris Paul and Jannero Pargo each scored 18. Tyson Chandler had 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Hornets, who cut a 17-point deficit to three in the final minutes.

While the Hornets managed to limit Duncan by crowding the inside, his Spurs teammates combined for 12 three-point baskets to keep alive their chance to win consecutive titles for the first time.

"We just let it fly," said Ginobili, who made four three-pointers.

The win also gave Coach Gregg Popovich 100 playoff victories, moving him into a tie with Larry Brown for third.

The Hornets had dominated the third quarters of their three previous home games in this series. This time, the Spurs, who have won four titles in 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.

"I'm glad that's over," Popovich 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."

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