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SAN ANTONIO -- To get to the first Game 7 on the road of Tim Duncan's life, there was bound to be just one sure path.
In this repetitive series? You could only assume that what happened in the third quarter, as usual with these teams, would decide whether Duncan could pack for one more trip to the French Quarter.
As San Antonio's Tony Parker helpfully observed: "The whole series, man. Third quarter looks like it's pivotal."
New Orleans 3, San Antonio 3
L.A. Lakers 3, Utah 2
Detroit 4, Orlando 1
Boston 3, Cleveland 2
In the intervening three days until the decider, expect to hear loads about how the playoff rookies from New Orleans have outscored the reigning champs by a tidy count of 93-46 at home in the third quarters of their three victories ... and how the Hornets completely buckled in the third quarter of a Game 6 that could have eliminated the Spurs.
"That third quarter was ugly," Hornets guard Chris Paul conceded.
"Ugly." He said it twice for a reason. The scenes after halftime were that unsightly and dispiriting for the visitors, who suddenly might need this forthcoming 72-hour break as much as the "very old team" they're playing, as Parker jokingly called the Spurs.
Coming out of intermission feeling reasonably fortunate -- given that San Antonio shot 71 percent from the field in the first quarter and led by only seven points (58-51) at the break -- New Orleans promptly botched the inbounds pass to open the second half, essentially gifting Parker a layup.
"I looked at that as a bad sign right off the bat," Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
Not long after, Paul was called for two offensive fouls in a span of 17 seconds, followed by three fouls on David West in a span of 28 seconds. The flurry of whistles saddled both of their stars with four fouls and naturally enraged the Hornets, whose ensuing spiral helped San Antonio stretch its lead to 78-63 entering the fourth.
Manu Ginobili's fifth and sixth 3-pointers to open the final period quickly pushed that lead to 21 before the Hornets' evening, West's specifically, got progressively worse. Unaware that Robert Horry was setting a hard back screen behind him -- and already trying to play through back pain -- West leaped to block Ginobili's entry pass and wound up falling backward hard as Horry leaned forward.
The hit instantly floored him and eventually required West to be carried to the locker room with 10:11 to play.
"It's probably a good thing that Game 7 is Monday," Scott said, not denying that West especially might need the added rest to recover. Yet that might also be because Duncan played him so well for long stretches, which is bound to be forgotten in the aftermath of the Hornets' collapse and West's painful exit.
With memories of West's 38-point, 14-rebound, five-block masterpiece in Game 5 still fresh, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made a concession he had hoped to avoid by starting Fabricio Oberto over Kurt Thomas and eventually asking Duncan to be his primary West defender. The result: West never looked comfortable, even in the first two quarters, while Duncan avoided foul trouble and amassed 20 points, 15 boards and a team-best six assists to highlight San Antonio's superior ball sharing and complement the nine triples pumped in by Ginobili (25 points) and Ime Udoka (13).
Said Popovich: "Things went our way tonight, that's for sure."
Now to see if the Spurs can do anything about changing the cycle of this series ... on top of their quest to alter their playoff history. They've split the only two previous Game 7s in Duncan's 11 seasons, both played in San Antonio. The Spurs' first Game 7 on the road since 1990 comes as they're trying to avoid going 0-for-5 in the Duncan Era in pursuit of back-to-back championships. The Team That Never Repeats also goes back to the French Quarter knowing that the home team, in an NBA first, has won all six games in this series by 10 points or more. And knowing, most of all, which quarter matters most.
Boiling things down for us one more time, Parker said: "If we can't keep it close, experience won't help us. If we can keep it close, [experience] can help us. We have played a Game 7 before."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.Playoff Dimes Past: May 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
SAN ANTONIO -- Even at 37, Robert Horry is still known at playoff time as Big Shot Rob.
Except in certain cities.
Phoenix is naturally No. 1 on that list. Horry will always be known in the desert as Cheap Shot Rob, thanks to his infamous hip-check of Steve Nash in Game 4 of the Spurs' memorable second-round series with the Suns last spring.
As for New Orleans ...
We won't know for sure until Monday's Game 7, but it seems safe to suggest that Horry can expect an unfriendly welcome from Hornets fans after Thursday night's fourth quarter, when the unsuspecting David West slammed right into Horry's back screen and absorbed a hard hit to his previously tender back.
Dirty play? Horry is likely to hear that accusation plenty over the next few days, since he had to know West has been playing through a back injury and since he appeared to lean into the contact.
Yet Horry couldn't have known that West was going to leap for Manu Ginobili's entry pass, which appeared to be what caused West to smack so hard into Horry behind him.
The Hornets haven't complained too loudly -- yet -- apart from Chris Paul's reaction to the fan reaction.
Paul was mostly (and rightly) angered that pockets of Spurs fans let loose with a few chants of "Horry, Horry, Horry" after West was knocked to the floor and had to be helped to the locker room.
"Our man gets hurt and they start chanting [for] Horry," Paul said in disbelief.
Horry's intentions were easier to question when he sent Nash hurtling into the scorer's table last May, since he certainly seemed to be looking to initiate contact in a game that was already slipping away. The moment likewise will live in playoff infamy because of the reactions of Suns forwards Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, who were suspended for the pivotal Game 5 in that series after briefly leaving the Suns' bench.
This time, though, it seems unlikely that the league office would even consider punishing Horry beyond the offensive foul he received. Horry was suspended for two playoff games for his role in the Nash clash.That said ... Horry will almost certainly be tagged as a villain again since this tangle with West came with the Spurs leading by 21 points in the fourth. The impact could be similar to the Nash episode, too, if the All-Star forward doesn't heal in time to be the Game 7 force that the Hornets expect after West's three big performances in New Orleans' home games. Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
-- Maurice Brooks
Matt (Boston): Stuckey and Rondo -- are these two guys getting close to joining Paul, Williams, Parker, Roy and Joe Johnson as the future of NBA point guards? Stuckey really intrigues me. He's really big, strong and fast and his confidence level is through the roof. Rookie? From Division II? Are you kidding me?
Chad Ford: Yes ... though Rondo's further ahead. Everyone was concerned about his shaky jump shot coming out of college, but he's starting to hit that shot with more consistency now and defensively, I'm not sure there's a tougher guard defender in the league. Stuckey has a lot of D-Wade in him but he's a bit more of a facilitator. I like that we're getting lots of good young point guards in the league. This summer Derrick Rose and D.J. Augustin and maybe Russell Westbrook will add to that class.
To read the full chat, click here.
Not only did All-Star forward David West aggravate his injured back, but the Hornets dropped Game 6 by 19 points to the Spurs.
The Celtics, who visit the Cavs in Game 6 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), are the first team in NBA history to finish the regular season with the best road record and then lose five consecutive playoff road games to start the postseason.
Fewest road wins by NBA champion
-- Lisa Brooks, ESPN Research
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