SAN ANTONIO (AP) — It’s easy to see why Tony Parker is headed to another All-Star game.
Parker had 31 points and seven assists, and the San Antonio Spurs earned their eighth consecutive win by shutting down the Phoenix Suns in the final quarter for a 108-99 victory on Saturday night.
“He is unbelievable,” said teammate Manu Ginobili, who had 20 points. “I cannot say he became a fourth-quarter finisher this year because of how he played last year, especially in the first two months. But he is in that point of his career where he is so confident. He is doing so good that he can relax a little bit in the first half then when we need him, he starts making those jumpers and takes over.”
Tiago Splitter had 13 points and Boris Diaw finished with 11 for San Antonio (36-11), which has won 16 in a row at home.
Michael Beasley had 25 points and Jared Dudley scored 23 for the Suns (15-29), who lost for the first time since coach Lindsey Hunter took over.
“He’s their best player,” Dudley said of Parker. “He’s their best offensive threat. He knows their offense. If they don’t have him, I know the Spurs are always good, but they can’t win without him.”
Playing without Tim Duncan (sore knee) and coach Gregg Popovich (illness) for a third consecutive game, the Spurs needed a clutch performance from Parker in the fourth and he stepped up again.
Showing no ill effects from a blow to the head by Elton Brand that required three stitches during a 113-107 victory at Dallas on Friday night, Parker had 11 points and five assists as San Antonio outscored Phoenix 27-17 in the fourth, forcing six turnovers in the period. The speedy point guard finished 13 for 17 from the field and only had three turnovers in 34 minutes.
The Spurs turned up their defensive pressure in the final period, forcing three turnovers and three missed shots while building a 96-88 lead with 6:21 remaining. Parker had four points and an assist in the 7-0 run, including racing down the court for a layup after stepping in front of a pass by Markieff Morris.
“Over the last few years it is becoming my team and coach Pop is always challenging me to become the franchise player who closes games and makes good decisions with the ball offensively for myself and my teammates,” Parker said. “I always take to heart Pop’s challenges.”
San Antonio grabbed control after Ginobili was knocked down by Shannon Brown with 31.4 seconds left in the third, leading to a flagrant foul and an ejection.
Brown struck Ginobili violently across the side of the head as he attempted to recover defensively after getting beat off the dribble. Ginobili also was undercut by Morris almost simultaneously, leading to loud jeers by the crowd. The ejection shocked Brown, who watched mouth agape as the foul was replayed on the video screen.
“I saw a clear path and I thought I was going to go to lay it up and then I felt that hit in the head and I did not know what happened,” Ginobili said. “I knew it was a flagrant foul, but I did not see what the player was doing.”
The play invigorated Ginobili, who had two steals and a 3 to bridge the third and fourth quarters and tie the game at 84.
Hunter refused to blame the foul for Phoenix’s struggles in the fourth.
“We talk about being a no-excuse organization and that’s no excuse,” he said. “We’re not at that level right now, but I can tell you this, it won’t be long before we are.”
Just as it did in Wednesday’s 106-102 victory over New Orleans, San Antonio struggled early.
The Spurs missed their first three shots while failing to score in the first 3 minutes. After Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard each missed a 3, Parker scored on a layup after Goran Dragic fell while attempting to backpedal defensively.
The basket sparked the Spurs, who made their next 10 attempts in a 22-13 run. Parker scored 10 points during the run, including a layup that put San Antonio up 22-19 with 4 minutes left.
Beasley scored 10 points in the second quarter, including six during an 11-6 surge that put Phoenix ahead 49-48 with 4:21 left in the half.
“They have history,” Beasley said. “They just know how to win. The same guys have been here for the last hundred years. They know how to play with each other. They’ve won titles on top of titles. We’ve got to be able to take care of the ball, at the very least get a shot.”
NOTES: Duncan has sat out four games this season after missing eight during last year’s strike-shortened season. … Suns F Channing Frye (enlarged heart) remains out indefinitely. Frye has not played this season. … The Spurs swept the season series against the Suns last season, winning the four games by an average of 8.5 points. … Phoenix general manager Lance Blanks spent five seasons in San Antonio’s front office, ascending to director of scouting before joining the Suns.