SEATTLE (AP)—Shot after shot, quarter after quarter, Tim Duncan kept firing and missing.
But that last one? It went in, and it sure looked good to the San Antonio Spurs.
Duncan took a sharp pass from Manu Ginobili and banked in a 4-foot basket with 0.5 seconds left, lifting San Antonio to a thrilling 98-96 win over the Seattle SuperSonics on Thursday night and putting the Spurs into the Western Conference finals.
“Manu did a great job of decision-making,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We just left it up to him to make the right pass or get to the hole, get fouled, whatever was going to be available.
“He made a super decision, obviously and Timmy knocked it down—one of the very few,” he added.
Duncan had 26 points and nine rebounds, and the Spurs survived his 6-for-21 shooting to win the series 4-2 and move one step closer to a chance for the franchise’s second NBA title in three seasons.
“I took shots when they were there,” Duncan said. “If I’d have taken bad shots, then I’d be conscious of it. They were good shots.”
“My biggest concern was not to leave them a shot,” Ginobili said. “I wanted to take as much time off as I could. I was very happy to see Tim catch it and make the shot.”
The Sonics didn’t have much time for a final attempt. Antonio Daniels inbounded to Ray Allen, who lobbed a shot from the left corner over Duncan’s head. It bounced off the rim, ending a remarkable season in Seattle.
“I didn’t really see the basket. I just tried to get the ball over Tim’s hands,” said Allen, who choked back tears when he described how much fun he had this season. “That’s a shot I’ll probably think about for a long time this summer.”
Allen scored 25 points while Daniels had 22. Jerome James and Damien Wilkins each scored 10 for the Sonics, who played their third straight game—half the series—without All-Star Rashard Lewis, sidelined by a bruised toe on his left foot.
Going into the fourth quarter, Duncan had missed 12 of his 13 field goal attempts, and he didn’t make his first shot from the floor until the 5-minute mark of the third period.
But he came though when it really mattered, shooting 5-of-8 from the field and scoring 12 points in the final 12 minutes. Duncan was 14-of-17 from the free throw line, too, which carried him until the final period.
The Spurs also survived a scare when Duncan curled on the floor and grabbed his left foot with 8:05 remaining. He crashed into Seattle’s Nick Collison on a drive, and his ankle turned when he landed squarely on Collison’s foot.
“I didn’t want to come out of the game,” Duncan said. “Maybe it would have been better for my team, the way I was shooting.”
After walking it off, the perennial All-Star made two free throws to put San Antonio ahead 78-77. Duncan then spent 11 seconds on the bench, just long enough for a quick inspection.
“That thing is probably going to be jelly tomorrow,” Popovich said. “I can’t believe he kept playing on it. He would have me assassinated if I kept him out of the game any longer than I did. I just wanted to make sure and have the trainer look at it. He showed a lot of guts playing through that damn thing.”
That touched off a wild swing, part of nine lead changes and five ties in the fourth quarter. The teams traded baskets until Duncan’s fifth field goal put San Antonio ahead 95-91 with 1:23 to go.
Daniels drove past Duncan to pull Seattle to 95-93 five seconds later, and James fouled out when Ginobili drove into the big man at the other end. Ginobili made one of two free throws, giving the Spurs a 96-93 lead with 58.4 seconds left.
Collison had a tip-in to make it 96-95 with 37.9 seconds remaining, and Duncan’s try at the other end bounced off the rim with 14.4 seconds to play. Robert Horry was called for a loose ball foul, putting Daniels on the line.
Daniels missed the first free throw, sending a nervous buzz through the crowd. The second one bounced on the rim and dropped, tying it at 96. When Allen’s shot missed moments later, fans stood and cheered Seattle’s remarkable run.
“I never felt a tighter bond than I did this season,” Allen said.
The Sonics weren’t expected by many to be able to improve a 37-win season the year before, but they won the Northwest Division and won 52 games.
Now the team faces a long list of questions in the offseason. Chief among them is whether they’ll be able to re-sign Allen, who will be one of the premier free agents, and if coach Nate McMillan will return.
“It hurts,” Daniels said. “This is a business, so who knows if this team will be back together again next year the way it was this year.”
With Seattle’s loss, the Miami Heat are the only playoff team that hasn’t lost a home game. … Fans cheered when former Sonics star Brent Barry fouled out for the Spurs with 6:03 to play. … Collison picked up three fouls during a 27-span in the first quarter. … Mariners RF Ichiro Suzuki got a standing ovation in the second quarter. It was even louder for retired DH Edgar Martinez a few minutes later. … Ginobili limped to the bench after a late collision as the first quarter ended but started the second period.