SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan is enjoying a renaissance in his 16th NBA season. The San Antonio Spurs All-Star just calls it a case of experience trumping youth.
“I’m old, but I’m slow,” he said. “So I think I trick people into kind of coming into a certain territory and I’ve gotten a couple (of blocked shots).”
Whatever Duncan is doing, San Antonio is immensely grateful because once again he saved them.
Duncan had 31 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks to help the short-handed San Antonio Spurs escape with a 99-97 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.
Kawhi Leonard added 23 points and DeJuan Blair had 11 for San Antonio, which clinched the Southwest Division title for the third straight year and 19th time in franchise history.
The Spurs were without Tony Parker (neck) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring strain), who sat out the game with injuries. They also lost Boris Diaw, who left midway through the second quarter with back spasms.
Still, San Antonio struggled against an Atlanta team that opted to sit four of its top-five scorers in the second game of a back-to-back.
“Well, Tim Duncan saved us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s such a professional. We’re so lucky to have him here for as long as we have. He’s an ultimate professional and he rose above a lot to do it.
Rookies John Jenkins (23 points) and Mike Scott (22) had career highs to lead Atlanta, which has lost three straight. Ivan Johnson added 14 points, Shelvin Mack had 12, and Johan Petro had 11 points and 15 rebounds.
San Antonio was 3 for 15 on 3 pointers, but still managed to win its 15th straight at home against Atlanta.
The Spurs needed a late rebound to seal the victory.
Dahntay Jones was awarded three free throws after Cory Joseph stepped in front of him as he attempted to heave a 3-pointer with 1 second left. Jones purposely missed the third after making the first two free throws to pull Atlanta within 99-97, but Leonard grabbed the rebound to prevent a game-tying tip-in.
“We’re not in a great rhythm right now,” Duncan said. “Honestly, the injuries are hurting us right now. We lost some close ones for a little while and that can push you over the top or that can set you back a little bit. We’ve been set back a little bit, but we won the game, that’s the good part.”
Hawks coach Larry Drew elected not to play Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith and Devin Harris in the second game of a back-to-back.
Not that they would receive any sympathy from the Spurs.
Parker left two minutes into the fourth quarter of San Antonio’s 100-88 loss at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night after experiencing pain in his left shin. Popovich was “very concerned” about Parker’s injury, saying he believed it could be tendinitis, but team officials said his absence Saturday was due to his neck.
Ginobili missed his fifth straight game after straining his right hamstring in the first quarter of San Antonio’s 104-102 home victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on March 29.
Nando De Colo, a 25-year-old rookie from France, had six points, seven rebounds and three assists while playing 22 minutes in his fifth career start.
Duncan played limited minutes early, but finished with 32 as the Spurs needed him down the stretch.
“In general, other than Timmy, in a lot of ways it was a pathetic performance,” Popovich said. “That kind of play isn’t going to get us very far at the end of the season. It’s not the first time we’ve played like that in the last few weeks. This team needs to get its head around itself and understand what it takes to be there, because as a group, they don’t have it right now.”
Duncan was limited to eight minutes in the first quarter, grabbing five rebounds and scoring four points on 3-for-5 shooting. He did not re-enter until 7 minutes remained in the half, but had an immediate impact. Duncan had 12 points, three rebounds, three blocks and two assists as the Spurs closed the half on a 22-12 run.
With Horford sitting, 6-foot-8 forward Ivan Johnson primarily guarded Duncan.
“He was up pressuring, but Tim is still Tim,” Drew said. “Tim’s still good. He’s as good as they are in the low post. He takes his time and he is very, very patient with what he wants to do down in the post. He’s still a terrific player.”
Leonard drove the length of the court in 3.3 seconds for a layup to give San Antonio a 51-40 lead at the break.
NOTES: Horford did not play due to a coach’s decision. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes during the Hawks’ 101-90 loss to Philadelphia on Friday. … San Antonio C Aron Baynes was assigned to the team’s developmental league team, the Austin Toros, on Friday. … Harris (sore left foot), C Zaza Pachulia (sore right Achilles) and G Lou Williams (torn ACL, right knee) missed the game with injuries.