SAN ANTONIO, May 17 (Ticker) -- With their reign as NBA champions on the line, the San Antonio Spurs finally got the stops they needed.

Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen made great defensive plays down the stretch and the Spurs held on for a season-saving 98-97 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals.

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Tim Duncan was again a major force, posting 36 points and 12 rebounds for the top-seeded Spurs, who still face a 3-2 deficit in a series that is quickly becoming a classic. The defending champions ended their first three-game losing streak of the season with their trademark defense.

"We didn't want to go on vacation yet," Ginobili said. "We knew that if we played hard, we could be in a position to beat them."

"This was just two teams that refused to lose," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "You have to take your hat off to them. But we make no excuses. Win or lose, I'm proud of the effort and I'm proud of the team."

San Antonio had surrendered an average of 113.3 points in losing the last three games as it was unable to stop the overall quickness of Dallas. For the first time since the series opener, the Spurs were not let down by their defense - and got a break or two.

"You don't deserve anything. You just go play the game," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "If you start thinking about what you deserve or don't deserve, then you'll lose focus. You just go out and play."

A free throw by Ginobili, who scored 18 points, gave the Spurs a 98-97 lead with 1:59 remaining, and neither team scored again. With 1:08 to go, Ginobili stole the ball from Game 4 hero Jason Terry.

The Mavericks got back the ball and went to Dirk Nowitzki, who had 31 points and 10 rebounds. But the 7-footer had his foul-line jumper smothered by Bowen, one of the top defenders in the league. A jump ball was called with 6.3 seconds left.

"I was just fortunate enough to get my hand over the ball," Bowen said. "He was rising up. I think he felt he got enough space in between me and him at that point and he went to go pull up."

"I didn't see him," said Nowitzki, who made 13-of-22 shots. "He made a great defensive play. I probably could have up faked one more time and possibly created more separation. But give Bruce credit - he blocked me from behind and that was a great play."

Popovich marveled at Bowen's game-saving play.

"You can see why coaches select him to be on the NBA First Team All-Defense," Popovich said. "He really takes great pride in it, and how do you guard Dirk? I've stayed up late seeing his face at night because you just can't stop a guy like that. But Bruce made a heck of a play in forcing the jump ball and that one was unbelievable."

On the ensuing jump ball, Nowitzki won the tip to Terry, who was tied up by Ginobili with 3.4 seconds to go as he tried to call a timeout.

The following jump ball wound up in the hands of Dallas forward Josh Howard, who called timeout with 2.4 seconds remaining. The Mavericks went to Terry, whose fallaway jumper was an airball that Nowitzki could not follow up as the horn sounded.

Tony Parker scored 27 points and Michael Finley added 12 for the Spurs, who shot 54 percent (37-of-69) from the field. Duncan made 13-of-19 shots, including his first 12.

Howard scored 16 points and Terry and Devin Harris added 15 apiece for the Mavericks, who shot 51 percent (39-of-77) and get another chance in Friday's Game 6 at home.

"We put ourselves in this position when we won Game 2 (here) and then we went home and defended our court," Johnson said. "Now we just look forward to Friday night. We'll treat that game like it's a Game 7."

"It's good to give them a little bit adversity," Popovich said. "We'll go up to Dallas on Friday and try to do the same thing we did tonight."

A breakaway dunk by Ginobili gave the Spurs an 86-80 lead before the Mavericks ran off eight straight points for an 88-86 edge with 6:42 left.

A driving dunk by Finley and a three-point play by Duncan - who had missed his last five shots - restored a 91-90 lead with 5:38 to play. Two free throws by Finley and a running hook by Ginobili pushed the margin to 95-90 with 3:57 to go.

"I think Manu is the best competitive player I've ever been around," Popovich said. "Those are the plays we want him to make during the game. The steals, layups and the hook in the lane when we needed a basket, all of that is huge and he comes up with plays that help you win a basketball game."

Back came Dallas, as Jerry Stackhouse made two free throws and Nowitzki buried a 3-pointer - his first of the series - for a 95-95 tie just 41 seconds later.

Duncan was unstoppable in the first half, making all 11 shot attempts and scoring 28 points. In the process, he put centers DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier and forward Keith Van Horn, seeing his first action since March due to a broken hand, in foul trouble.

"I had to be aggressive early," Duncan said. "I was able to get a couple of shots to go down early and it just went from there. I didn't think I was in a zone or anything because I missed five or so in a row (in the second half)."

Despite Duncan's dominance and another flying start by Parker, the Spurs could not create serious separation from the Mavericks. Their biggest first-half lead was 37-29 early in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Brent Barry.

Using their advantage in quickness, Dallas rallied and took a 55-54 lead on a driving dunk by Stackhouse.

Parker re-emerged in the third quarter with 12 points. He followed Duncan's three-point play with two free throws, a steal and a layup for an 81-71 advantage with 2:51 to play.

"I'm just trying to create and I wanted to play aggressive," Parker said. "We were at home, in front of our home crowd. Sometimes, you feel a little faster."