San Antonio 84, Phoenix 81

PHOENIX, Jan. 31 (AP) -- It was hardly a well-played game. However, it was one the San Antonio Spurs desperately needed to win - and they did.

Tim Duncan banked in a shot with 30.9 seconds remaining, Manu Ginobili hit four late free throws and the undermanned Spurs rallied to beat the Phoenix Suns 84-81 on Thursday night and end a three-game losing streak.

"I don't think either team is going to sell the tape of this game as fine basketball,'' San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "Both teams were sloppy for a lot of the time out there. We hung in and we had an opportunity at the end to win and we were fortunate enough to do it.''

The Spurs trailed most of the game, but Duncan's big basket gave them an 80-79 lead. After the Suns turned the ball over, Ginobili hit a pair of free tosses with 15.6 seconds left. Amare Stoudemire then made a layup with 8.7 seconds to go, pulling the Suns to 82-81, but he missed a free throw - his fifth of the game and fourth in the final quarter.

Ginobili completed the scoring with two more free throws with 6.5 seconds left, and the Suns' final shot - a 3-point attempt by Steve Nash - went awry. Phoenix, the league's highest scoring team, was held to its lowest output of the season.

Ginobili finished with 19 points - all in the second half - including 12-of-12 from the line. Duncan had 16 points and 17 rebounds, and Jacque Vaughn scored a season-high 17 for San Antonio.

Ginobili said that despite trailing all of the first half and most of the game, the Spurs were confident.

"At the half, I was scoreless, Tim (Duncan) had only six points and they (the Suns) had 15 points off turnovers, but we were only down six points,'' he said. "So we were optimistic that we could get the win.''

This was only San Antonio's third victory in 14 tries against an over-.500 team.

Going in, the Suns had the best record in the Western Conference, but the loss dropped them percentage points behind idle New Orleans.

"We should have been behind by a lot more at the half,'' Duncan said. "But we gave ourselves a chance with our defense.''

The Spurs' defense held the usually high-scoring Suns to 38 percent shooting (27-for-71). Phoenix also missed nine free throws and was outrebounded 45-38.

Shawn Marion led the Suns with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Steve Nash had 17 points and eight assists, and Stoudemire finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.

This was only the second time in 30 games the Suns lost when leading into the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't a pretty game and it's really ugly when you lose,'' Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We couldn't get going offensively.''

"We never got into a good rhythm offensively,'' Grant Hill said. "I don't know if it was us or their play defensively. We never got in sync offensively.''

It was the first meeting between the teams at Phoenix since last season's controversial playoff series, and the intensity was heightened by an raucous capacity home crowd. Adding to the atmosphere were the presence of many sports celebrities, either from the Super Bowl teams, other NFL clubs, including league rushing champion LaDainian Tomlinson, and the PGA golf tournament in town this weekend.

The fans got into it early, booing the Spurs on nearly every possession, and calling them "dirty,'' "whiners'' and "crybabies.'' The Suns won the first meeting this season 100-95 Dec. 17 at San Antonio, a game the Spurs played without star guard Tony Parker. Parker, averaging 19.2 points per game, again was absent in the rematch because of inflammation in his left ankle. San Antonio also was without guard Brent Barry (strained left calf), one of their 3-point specialist.

Phoenix led throughout the first half, despite shooting only 36.1 percent (13-for-36) and not hitting a field goal in the final 6:10 of the second period. Early in the second period, after scoring the first seven points of the quarter, the Suns led 32-18, but the Spurs made the final five points before halftime and chopped the lead to 40-34.

For the second quarter, the Suns made only four field goals in 17 attempts.

During the first half, the Spurs shot even worse than Phoenix, hitting only 13-of-40 for 32.5 percent. Ginobili, who scored 29 points in each of the previous two games, was scoreless, going 0-for-5, and Duncan was only 2-for-7.

The Suns were hampered early, when All-Star Stoudemire, who is averaging 22.7 points per game, picked up two personal fouls in the first 2:38. He sat out the rest of the period.

Ginobili got it going in the third period, scoring eight points, but the Suns still maintained their advantage, leading the entire way and finishing the quarter ahead 60-55.

Notes: The Spurs' Bruce Bowen holds the longest active games played and games started streak in the NBA at 481. The last game he missed was Feb. 26, 2002, against Phoenix. ... This was the Spurs' third game of a nine-game, 17-day road trip. The trip will cover 7,466 miles through the air. ... The Suns' previous low scoring output was 86 points against Utah Jan. 10. ... The Suns had a season-high 13 steals.

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