SAN ANTONIO (AP)—San Antonio looked tired and more than a little ragged. Shots weren’t falling, rebounds were getting away and the Denver Nuggets kept hanging around.
Five games into a tough first-round matchup in the Western Conference playoffs had the Spurs looking ripe for another home upset.
Then one basket fell, followed by another. Then the Nuggets started missing in the fourth quarter. Soon the Spurs were in control and on their way to a 99-89 victory that eliminated Denver and sends San Antonio on to a semifinals matchup with Seattle.
“I’m glad that is over,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who looked as tired as his team. “They are a monster. I’m thrilled to beat them.”
Spurs fans who left early in Game 1 as their team floundered down the stretch stayed for all of this one.
After twice falling behind in the third, the Spurs slowly pulled away in the final period. Glenn Robinson, who was cut by New Orleans in March and signed as a free agent just last month, hit a jumper and then followed with a long 3-pointer that made it 80-72 with 7:35 to play. The lead reached as high as 12.
“It felt like Game 1 out there for a little while,” said Spurs forward Robert Horry. “We were trading basket for basket for little while, then we were able to get a few stops and get a lead.”
Manu Ginobili added 18 points and Horry scored 17, including a pair of key 3-pointers in the third for the Spurs.
Denver couldn’t quite find the same game that won Game 1 and rallied them to overtime in a Game 4 loss on their homecourt. Down by 12, the Nuggets cut it to 85-78 before Bruce Bowen hit a 3-pointer from the corner.
“They play together with the heart of a champion,” said the Nuggets’ Kenyon Martin, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds in his matchup with Duncan. “They didn’t win (a title) a couple of years ago for nothing. They have pretty much the core they won with.”
“All I can say is we competed until the last three or four minutes,” Anthony said. “There’s nothing to really say. I can’t hang my head.”
With the home crowd behind them again after two road wins, the Spurs seemed ready to take control several times in the first half.
But each time, the Nuggets got the turnover or basket they needed to keep it within reach. Instead of folding in an arena few expected they could win again, the Nuggets pushed the Spurs hard again.
“I had a ball tonight,” said Denver coach George Karl. “It’s the most fun I’ve coached. It was fun to see their eyes and the way they responded. It wasn’t fun in the fourth quarter.”
Parker scored 10 points in the first quarter, but also picked up two fouls that forced him to the bench for much of the second.
Ginobili, who was greeted by a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball in Denver, was met with a loud cheer when he checked in. He hit his first two 3-pointers in the first but didn’t hit another basket until a 3-pointer bounced off the rim and backboard before falling in to make it 43-38 with 1:10 left in the half.
The five-point difference was the biggest lead of the half and the Nuggets closed it to within 45-43 at the break with a three-point play by Anthony and his layup with 1.8 seconds left.
Although Parker kept pushing the ball and driving to the basket, the rest of the Spurs looked tired in the third, perhaps still fatigued from their overtime win Monday night.
Shots hit the front of the rim, passes misfired and the Nuggets twice took one-point leads, the last at 65-64, before the Spurs ended the quarter with a 7-2 run. Horry’s second 3-pointer put San Antonio up 71-67 going into the fourth.
“Robert hangs out the entire season. Come playoff time, he shows up,” Duncan said.
The Nuggets started to struggle in the fourth. Twice called for shot clock violations against the stiff Spurs defense, the Nuggets couldn’t get the shots to fall when they got them off. Denver shot just 8 of 22 in the final period.
“We fought man,” Martin said. “We fought to put ourselves in a position to win the game. We just didn’t get it done.”
: Horry has played in 180 career postseason games, moving him past Michael Jordan and tying him for ninth in league history with Dennis Johnson. His five NBA titles won with the Rockets and Lakers are the most among active players … X-rays on Marcus Camby’s bandaged pinky and ring finger on his right hand before the game were negative. Camby took off the bandage by the second quarter but grimaced heading back up court after a dunk.