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Nuggets now face elimination

JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
** RECROPPED VERSION ** San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan, right, shoots over Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin, in the second quarter of Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference first-round playoff series Monday, May 2, 2005, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
AP | AP POOL

DENVER ” Tim Duncan’s teammates finished what he started and now the San Antonio Spurs are a game away from moving on to the second round of the playoffs.

Duncan had 39 points and 14 rebounds and Tony Parker scored 11 of his 29 points in overtime, helping the Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets 126-115 on Monday night to take a 3-1 series lead.

After struggling with foul trouble and poor shooting in Game 3, Duncan dominated the Nuggets from the start. He had 18 points by halftime and hit several key shots in the closing minutes of regulation.

Duncan also provided some inspiration after fouling out midway through overtime, gathering his teammates, tugging on their jerseys and telling them not to let down.

“The guys were great all around ” we never gave up,” said Duncan, who had 39 points and 14 rebounds after struggling with foul trouble and poor shooting in Game 3. “We’ve been through this a lot this year and kind of pushed through all of it, so I don’t think anyone of us gave up at any point.”

That’s for sure.

Manu Ginobili provided a spark off the bench for the third straight game, hitting 12-of-16 free throws to finish with 24 points and six assists. Parker finally had success getting into the lane against the Nuggets, hitting 11 of 19 shots and dishing out seven assists. And Bruce Bowen played his usual role of agitator, fighting the Nuggets for every inch in the lane.

It all means the Spurs can close out the series in Game 5 Wednesday in San Antonio, where the Spurs have lost three times all season ” but fell in the series opener to Denver.

“If we don’t finish it in the fifth game we have to come here again,” Ginobili said. “You don’t want to be in that situation, because then you give them a chance.”

Earl Boykins found his shooting touch after three tough games, scoring 32 points, and Carmelo Anthony finally got his stroke against the Spurs with 28. It still wasn’t enough for the Nuggets, who need to win three straight to keep from bowing out in the first round for the second straight year.

“We’re in the NCAA tournament now ” single elimination,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “If you lose, you’re going to sit a long time. All of us have been there. It’s not a fun place to be.”

Part of Denver’s problem has been that San Antonio has made the series a grind, slowing Denver’s break and turning each game into matchups of halfcourt sets.

Game 4 all but came to a halt, with 73 fouls and 91 free throws ” a perfect fit for the Spurs’ physical style.

It still wasn’t easy.

Denver trailed by as many as 12 in the third quarter before clawing its way back in the fourth. Anthony kept the Nuggets in it in the final minutes, following two free throws by Duncan with a drive, and after Ginobili’s finger roll, Anthony hit a baseline jumper to tie the game at 105.

Parker hit a baseline jumper at the other end to put the Spurs up, then Anthony hit two free throws to tie it again with 14.4 seconds left.

Ginobili held the ball for 10 seconds on the last shot, but Greg Buckner knocked it away and nearly hit from halfcourt.

It wound up the Nuggets’ last chance.

San Antonio took control of overtime, hitting its first three shots to go up 113-107. Duncan fouled out with 2:55 left when Anthony fell on a drive, but the Nuggets couldn’t get closer than four after that.

“San Antonio made us play a halfcourt game,” Anthony said. “Our game is to get out in the open court and every time they shot the ball they sent three of their men back, so it was hard to get out in transition.”

The Nuggets have turned Ginobili into the villain of the series ” at least in Denver ” calling his game ugly, his headlong approach wild and even taking a cheap shot at him late in Game 3.

The fans followed the team’s lead, greeting him with a chorus of boos as he entered the game midway through the first quarter and every time he touched the ball.

Ginobili needed just a few seconds to drop in a 3-pointer on his first shot in the third quarter. Putting his head down and drawing contact ” the move that has infuriated the Nuggets all series ” Ginobili had nine points over the final 7 minutes to help the Spurs to an 87-80 lead.

“I’ve never been booed that much ” I’ve always been the good guy,” Ginobili said. “I heard it a little in the beginning, but when you are in overtime you don’t really hear it.”

Notes: The University of Denver hockey team, the NCAA’s two-time champion, was honored during a timeout in the first quarter. … Denver Broncos WR Rod Smith attended the game. … San Antonio scored its most points in a playoff game since getting 130 against Golden State on April 25, 1990.


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