SAN ANTONIO -- Must-win situations are not a familiar place for the San Antonio Spurs.
They survived one Thursday night, earning the chance to play in another.
The defending champions beat the New Orleans Hornets, 99-80 in Game 6, staying alive and forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday in New Orleans.
"That's what you want to have, an opportunity," said Spurs point guard Tony Parker. "That's why Game 6 was huge. We won the game and now we have an opportunity to win a game on the road."
The Spurs cruised through the playoffs last year and to their fourth title in nine seasons without ever facing the threat of elimination.
Before Thursday, the last time San Antonio faced a must-win game was 2006, when they were down 3-1 to the Dallas Mavericks, then came back to force a Game 7 and lost in overtime.
"We know what we're facing. We're facing elimination," Duncan said. "And we know we have to put a good game together there. ... We're going to take it in there and it's do-or-die."
Chris Paul led the Hornets with 21 points and eight assists, and Tyson Chandler scored 14 points. David West had 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter after aggravating a back injury.
"It's sore right now. Good thing we have two or three days here to get rest and treatment. It's the way it happens sometimes," West said.
The aging defending champions and the injured Hornets now get three days off before the deciding game in New Orleans, where the Hornets have won three blowouts.
"Thank God we get to go back to New Orleans for Game 7," Paul said.
Home teams are 20-1 in the second round of the playoffs.
The Hornets are the No. 2 seed and the Spurs the third. The teams had the same regular-season record, were tied in their head-to-head matchup and had the same division record. The Hornets won the Southwest Division and received the higher seed because they had the better conference record.
"I have confidence," Parker said. "We've won a lot of big games on the road."
Who wins Game 7 Monday?
Hornets at home
Spurs on the road
Total Votes: 18,918
Despite the closeness of the series, Game 6, like the five before it, was won by double digits. It was also won, like those before it, in the third quarter, when the Spurs outscored the Hornets 20-12.
"It's something about them third quarters," Paul said. "It's the same way in New Orleans. In Game 5 they felt like they couldn't get a break. The same thing for us tonight."
The Spurs took the lead for good after Parker's jumper with 4:27 left in the first quarter broke a 17-all tie. They led by as many as 24.
The Spurs hit 11 of 21 3-pointers, led by six from Ginobili. The Hornets had only two 3s. But the Hornets had 48 points in the paint to only 28 from the Spurs.
The Spurs shot 49 percent from the field (38-for-77) to the Hornets' 41 percent (33-for-80) and outrebounded them 45-40. The Spurs had 28 assists and the Hornets had 13.
The Spurs came out with desperate energy, shooting 71 percent in the first quarter. They led by as many as 13 in the opening period after Bruce Bowen's 3-pointer made it 36-23. The Spurs took a 36-24 lead into the second quarter.
"I think we lost our focus at the beginning of the game," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "They got three quick baskets in the paint, all on the things we talked about not doing. I don't think our guys were totally focused on what we needed to do. And maybe in the back of their minds they had that false sense of 'Hey, we got Game 7 at home, so just in case we do lose, at least we're going home for the last one.' "
In the second period it was the Hornets who heated up -- albeit to a lesser extent. Paul scored 10 points in the quarter, though Ginobili countered with three 3s.
The Spurs maintained a double-digit lead early in the second period before the Hornets started chipping away.
Chandler's dunk off an alley-oop pass from Paul brought New Orleans within 46-41 with 5:35 to play. The Hornets came within 55-49 and the Spurs were up 58-51 at halftime.
Early in the third -- the quarter that has been pivotal in just about every game in this series -- the Hornets found themselves in foul trouble. Paul picked up back-to-back offensive fouls, his third and fourth, and West picked up his second and third, all in a span of 1:05.
Then West picked up his fourth foul and, visibly upset about it, also received a technical with 8:44 to play.
West did not score again in the quarter, but Paul kept his composure, hitting another layup and jumper and feeding Chandler for two more dunks.
After Chandler's second slam, which brought the Hornets within 71-63, they didn't score for the last 4:44 of the period and the Spurs pulled away.
Duncan sank a shot over Chandler, then hit a layup and pumped his fist after Ime Udoka blocked Paul's layup attempt. Duncan was fouled but couldn't convert the three-point play.
It didn't matter. The Spurs were firmly in control and Ginobili's back-to-back 3s to start the fourth quarter gave San Antonio an 84-63 lead.
With 10:11 left in the game, West left the court after aggravating a back injury.
West, who played with back pain in Game 5, fell to the floor after being picked from behind by Spurs forward Robert Horry, who was called for an offensive foul. Laying face down on the floor, West put his left arm behind him and rested it on his lower back before going to the locker room.
|Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are all smiles, but can they win on the road Monday? (AP)|
|New Orleans (3-3)||24||27||12||17||80|
|San Antonio (3-3) «||36||22||20||21||99|
|NO:C. Paul 21 Pts
NO:P. Stojakovic 6 Reb
NO:C. Paul 8 Ast
|SA:M. Ginobili 25 Pts
SA:T. Duncan 15 Reb
SA:T. Duncan 6 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|San Antonio||New Orleans|
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|T. Chandler, C||40||7-8||0-0||6||1||2||14|
|C. Paul, PG||39||9-18||3-3||6||8||5||21|
|D. West, PF||38||4-14||2-2||6||1||4||10|
|P. Stojakovic, SG||36||5-10||2-2||6||0||1||13|
|M. Peterson, SG||22||1-5||0-0||6||2||2||3|
|J. Pargo, PG||16||1-6||0-0||2||0||3||2|
|M. James, PG||12||0-3||2-2||1||0||0||2|
|J. Wright, SF||12||4-8||0-0||2||1||0||8|
|M. Ely, C||10||1-3||3-4||2||0||0||5|
|R. Bowen, SF||8||1-2||0-0||3||0||0||2|
|B. Wells, SG||8||0-3||0-0||0||0||2||0|
|C. Andersen, PF||Did Not Play|
|R. Butler, SG||Did Not Play|
|H. Armstrong, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|T. Duncan, PF||35||7-14||6-8||15||6||2||20|
|M. Ginobili, SG||33||9-15||1-2||4||2||3||25|
|T. Parker, PG||31||6-13||2-3||4||4||3||15|
|B. Bowen, SF||28||1-6||3-4||1||3||1||6|
|F. Oberto, C||19||2-4||0-0||4||4||2||4|
|K. Thomas, PF||21||3-4||0-0||9||2||3||6|
|I. Udoka, SF||21||5-5||0-1||3||2||2||13|
|M. Finley, SG||18||1-6||0-0||0||2||0||2|
|R. Horry, PF||14||0-3||0-0||4||1||5||0|
|B. Barry, SG||8||1-2||0-0||0||0||0||2|
|J. Vaughn, PG||8||1-2||0-0||0||1||0||2|
|M. Bonner, PF||6||2-3||0-0||1||1||0||4|
|D. Stoudamire, PG||Did Not Play|
|D. Johnson, SF||Did Not Play|
|I. Mahinmi, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|