Tim Duncan stood under New Orleans' basket for several seconds, a bemused expression on his face, seemingly pondering how he could have fouled out with half a quarter still left in a surprisingly tight contest between the Western Conference-leading Spurs the reeling New Orleans Pelicans.
As Duncan finally starting walking to the bench, with mocking cheers raining down from the stands, Spurs point guard Tony Parker decided it was time for him to take over.
Parker capped a 27-point outing with three clutch layups in the final minutes, and the Spurs held on for their fifth straight victory, 101-95 on Monday night.
"I was in attack mode," Parker said. "When I saw TD go out, I knew I was going to be aggressive and try to create for myself or for my teammates."
Duncan scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds before fouling out with 6:02 to go. Manu Ginobili added 14 points, Kawhi Leonard 13 and Marco Belinelli 12 for San Antonio, which sent hobbled New Orleans to its sixth straight loss since leading scorer Ryan Anderson went out with a herniated disk.
Anthony Davis had 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Brian Roberts, starting at point guard for the injured Jrue Holiday (fracture right tibia), scored a season-high 19 points for New Orleans. Eric Gordon added 12 points and Al-Farouq Aminu pulled down 13 rebounds.
"We really don't like moral victories, but we came in and competed," Roberts said. "Unfortunately, they made plays down the stretch. They are a veteran team. They are going to keep their composure through those stretches. Hats off to them.
New Orleans led from late in the first quarter until late in the third, when Parker's 17-foot jumper gave the Spurs a 74-73 lead. The shot was part of an 11-0 run, capped by Matt Bonner's 3, that put San Antonio ahead 79-73 early in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans, however, declined to fold, and kept it close into the final minute.
"They made it hard on us. We were in survive mode in that first (half)," Parker said. "You have to give them a lot of credit. They played with a lot of energy and it was hard to get that win."
Davis' running hook as he was fouled by Duncan gave New Orleans one more brief lead at 87-86 with 7:08 to play. San Antonio regained the lead on Parker's layup, but then Duncan fouled out when he tried to stop Gordon's drive.
Gordon missed the second of two free throws to tie it, however, the Pelicans were further hurt by three turnovers down the stretch, two by Davis and one by Aminu.
San Antonio led 94-90 on Belinelli's 3, but Roberts came right back with a 3 for New Orleans. Leonard responded with a 3 of his own, but Roberts' runner off the glass pulled New Orleans to 97-95 with 1:46 still left. Gordon's steal set up a potential tying possession, but Davis' short jumper rimmed out, and Parker converted a difficult reverse scoop with 44 seconds left to make it 99-95.
The Pelicans set up Roberts for a quick 3, but it rimmed out and New Orleans did not threaten again.
"We had our chances tonight and we just didn't execute down the stretch. We had three costly turnovers in the last few minutes of the game," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "We had 87 looks tonight — 87 shots. We just need to put the ball in the basket."
The Pelicans managed to open up a double digit lead in the second quarter when Anthony Morrow's floater made it 41-30.
The Spurs quickly closed the gap later in the period with an 8-0 run capped by consecutive layups by Duncan and Parker.
The Pelicans maintained the lead for the rest of the half, but Belinelli, who played for New Orleans when the club was called the Hornets, hit a 20-foot fadeaway to pull San Antonio to 51-50 at halftime.
Notes: San Antonio G Danny Green missed his first game with a fractured finger in his left hand and is expected to be out for about four weeks. ... The Spurs improved to 24-0 when leading after three quarters. ... New Orleans G Austin Rivers scored 11 points, his sixth time in double digits this season. ... Davis now has 12 games this season in which he has scored at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds.