DALLAS -- Tony Parker was sore and Tim Duncan was struggling. Yet there was no way the San Antonio Spurs were giving up, not after six months of waiting to reclaim their edge over the Dallas Mavericks.
Parker shook off a sprained ankle to score 19 points and Duncan scored only 13 points but had a key rebound and putback in the final minute of the Spurs' 97-91 victory Thursday night in the season opener for both Western Conference powers.
San Antonio trailed for most of the first three quarters, but never by more than 10 points. The Spurs charged ahead over a 6:13 span in which they held Dallas without a point, then protected it down the stretch with good defense and the same kind of errant shooting by the Mavs that doomed them in their last games that counted -- their four straight losses to Miami in the NBA Finals.
"It was a hard-fought game," said Duncan, who had only five points midway through the third quarter. "Neither team can claim to have played a great game, but we toughed it out."
Jason Terry missed a 3-pointer that would've put them ahead with about a minute to go, then Duncan answered with a follow shot off a missed dunk by new teammate Francisco Elson. San Antonio was hardly threatened again, silencing a loud crowd, then sending many fans to their cars with about 35 seconds left.
"We really lost our rhythm," Howard said.
While this game lacked the stakes of their second-round playoff series that wasn't decided until overtime of Game 7, it still featured more intensity than usual for an opener. Among the made-for-TV moments:
- Howard was called for a flagrant foul on Spurs tough-guy Bruce Bowen ("A situation happened where I got to protect myself," Howard said), and Elson got a technical for taunting when he shrieked after a dunk ("All I did was scream!" he protested to officials).
- Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before the game he'd be on his best behavior, per the commissioner's orders, although he seemed heavy on sarcasm, with lines like "going to the University of David Stern." While he avoided joining team huddles, he couldn't completely control himself, jumping up after a questionable foul called on Nowitzki, making a shoving gesture and saying, "He pushed him." He looked up at the replay, shook his head and dropped to his seat. He later signaled double dribble on a non-call against Parker
- Official Jess Kersey was KO'd with a split chin before halftime when a blocked shot bounced hard off the whistle still in his mouth. He needed five stitches for the cut. He also was knocked down hard earlier in the game.
"All the games with Dallas will be like this one. One team will lose that just as easily could have won," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.
The Spurs felt that way in the playoffs, then had six months to think about their narrow loss. That's another reason this game carried more weight than the first of 82 games.
"We wanted to win really bad. But it's not the same as the playoffs last season," said Manu Ginobili, who scored 16 points. "The only thing that will make us forget is to have a great season and play them again."
Bowen scored 13 points, but made things interesting when he badly missed two free throws with 1:30 left. Elson had 12 points and six rebounds and Michael Finley added 10 points. New starting center Fabricio Oberto scored four points in 16 minutes.
Terry scored 14 points and Austin Croshere had 12 in his debut as Nowitzki's backup. Croshere got off to a great start with a 3-pointer and dunk on his first two attempts.
Dallas went 19-0 last season when Howard scored at least 20 points, but is 0-1 now -- another reminder that things are already different in 2006-07.
"We have a lot to work on," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. "We need to get it going again."
- After waiting until the third night to open their season, the Spurs play four games in five nights. "I don't ever remember it," Popovich said.
- Dallas had five subs on the court late in the first quarter. And another top reserve, free-agent signee Devean George, was home recovering from a stomach ailment that hospitalized him Tuesday. "He's still woozy but at least he's keeping some food down," Johnson said.
- Opening night glitch: Instead of playing a song left over from the playoffs that jabbed at the Spurs, arena operators played one jabbing the Suns. It was shut off within seconds.