D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
Tony Parker scored 15 points Wednesday as the Spurs rallied for their fifth straight victory.
SAN ANTONIO, March 26 (AP) - Every game is important now for the San Antonio Spurs, who are in a tight playoff race in the Western Conference.
The Los Angeles Clippers also played with a sense of urgency Wednesday night, even though they won't be in the postseason.
The Spurs withstood a late Clippers rally before they racked up their fifth straight win with a 97-88 victory.
"It was just great focus,'' said guard Tony Parker, who scored 15 points. "Even when we were down five it was like, 'Come on.' We knew that, the standings, we can't afford to lose the game.''
The win gave San Antonio a 1 1/2-game lead over the sixth-place Phoenix Suns in the West, where the standings change nearly every night.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 26 points and 12 rebounds to close out the last of six back-to-backs the team played this month. They went 4-2 on the second night of the back-to-backs.
"I'm real proud of the effort they put out and the focus they showed at the end of the game tonight,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Now we'll take a well-deserved day off.''
Corey Maggette scored 22 points for Los Angeles, which has lost nine in a row and is out of playoff contention. Al Thornton added 21 points and nine rebounds and Chris Kaman, back after a nine-game absence with a sore lower back, scored 16.
"We just wanted to play well,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "And we've been playing a lot of good games. But we play a lot of guys a lot of minutes because we've been short-handed. It catches up to you a little bit. Tonight our guys were tired. We had good, open looks. We just didn't finish.''
The return of Kaman, who had been relatively quiet for the first three quarters and played limited minutes, proved crucial to the Clippers in the fourth quarter. He and Maggette keyed an 11-0 run by the Clippers, and his basket with 7:23 to play gave them their first lead - 80-79 - since they were up 3-2 early.
The Clippers went up by five before the Spurs answered with a 10-0 run - highlighted by a 3 from the team's resident sparkplug, Manu Ginobili - that put them up 89-84 with 1:43 to play. At the same time, the Clippers didn't post any points for more than 4 1/2 minutes and didn't hit a field goal for the last 5:58.
"We took the lead there and just couldn't capitalize. They got a bunch of stops in a row. We just fell apart on offense,'' Kaman said. "I think we panicked a little bit. ... We were up five points but we couldn't finish the game, which has been a consistent problem for us all year.''
The surge gave San Antonio the lead for good, though Ginobili didn't stop and scored another basket, followed by a 3 from Michael Finley to make it 94-86 with 37 seconds to play and put the game out of reach for the Clippers.
"We missed some easy shots that were dead-on. You want to give yourself a chance in the fourth quarter, especially against a really good team. And we gave it a battle,'' said Cuttino Mobley, who scored 10 points for Los Angeles.
Finley added 16 points for the Spurs, and Ginobili scored 13.
The Spurs jumped out to a 27-18 lead after the opening quarter and led by as many as 13 in the first half, but eight straight Clippers points from Thornton to close the half brought Los Angeles to within 48-44.
In the third quarter, the Clippers crept close to the Spurs before finally tying it at 69 with 1:04 to play off Thornton's jumper, but they never took the lead. It was tied again at 71 before Bruce Bowen's 3-pointer, from his sweet spot in the corner, gave the Spurs a 74-71 lead with one quarter to play.
Notes: Spurs G Brent Barry, who re-signed with the team this week after a monthlong absence as part of a San Antonio-Seattle trade in February, was on the Spurs' bench but didn't dress. ... Clippers C-F Aaron Williams continued to sit out with a lower abdominal strain. ... Spurs F Robert Horry was still out with a bruised left knee. ... The Clippers shot 39 percent from the field.