Defense and reliable clutch shooting from Duncan have been a staple for the Spurs over the past 11 years when they have won four NBA championships and posted the league's top overall record.
Offseason ankle surgery has prevented Ginobili from playing any games, and Parker missed his fourth straight game because of an ankle injury.
Against the Kings, Mason had 18 points, Bonner added 11 and Vaughn had 10. Yet it was a tenacious fourth-quarter defense that limited the Kings to 5-of-18 shooting and gave the Spurs a 23-16 edge in the decisive final quarter.
"We did a real good defensive job in the fourth quarter, and for us that's necessary," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We're not exactly a juggernaut on offense. We gave up 88 points, that's about as much as we can allow and still win."
The offense was left up to Duncan in the final minute.
Duncan's short jumper tied it with 49 seconds left and his bank shot off a drive put San Antonio ahead for good at 90-88 with 15.5 seconds remaining.
"That's the play called by Pop," said Duncan, who knocked over defender Quincy Douby after releasing the shot. "I caught it, looked toward the basket and there was no one there. I turned the corner and went to the basket. I didn't even see it go in. I thought there was going to be a foul called."
Duncan, who also had 10 rebounds and three blocks, had a chance to seal the victory, but missed two free throws with 2.3 seconds left. That gave Douby a chance to win the game, but his airball on a 3-point attempt ended the game.
On the Kings' previous possession, Brad Miller shot an airball on a wide-open baseline jumper with five seconds left.
"The coach has a lot of confidence in me, he knows I can shoot lights out," said Douby, who missed a shot at the buzzer Friday night against Phoenix that could have won a game the Kings eventually lost in overtime.
Scoring frequently from the outside and also penetrating inside for baskets, Salmons made 10 of 13 shots from the field and was 8-of-9 at the line. He finished a point short of his career high, but surprisingly only had two fourth-quarter shots and made both.
"With guys like Manu and Tony out, we have to make fewer mistakes," Duncan said. "We gave up 30 points in the third and then gave up less than 20 in the fourth. That is the way we do things."
The lead went back and forth in a tight fourth quarter. After Udrih made two free throws to break a tie, Duncan answered on the Spurs' next possession, splitting two defenders and putting in a short jumper to pull the Spurs even at 88.
"It's a tough way to finish the game," Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "We had a lot of opportunities and we just didn't knock them down. We did a great job on the boards, but I thought we turned the ball over a little too much in the fourth quarter."
Behind the outside shooting of Salmons, the Kings retook the lead in the third quarter. The veteran forward made a pair of 3-pointers and scored nine points, helping the Kings take a 72-68 lead into the fourth
After suffering a disappointing overtime loss on Friday to Phoenix, the Kings were looking to bounce back as they conclude a stretch of six of seven home games. It's been a positive stretch for Sacramento, which opened the season by losing four straight, three of them by lopsided margins.
It's been a difficult start for the Spurs, who lost their first three games and have yet to be over the .500 mark thus far.
- Kings reserve Spencer Hawes, who was leading the NBA in 3-point percentage in the first few weeks of the season, has missed nine straight.
- Mason, a rookie point guard, was coming off his best game as a pro, getting 17 points, five assists and zero turnovers against Houston.
- The Kings play back-to-back games against Memphis and New Orleans on Tuesday and Wednesday, beginning a stretch of four of five games on the road.