Tim Duncan delivered a monster effort after a one-game layoff, and the San Antonio Spurs held on for a 92-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks to clinch a playoff spot.
Duncan, held out of Tuesday's startling 107-83 loss at Northwest Division bottom-feeder Minnesota with a sore left knee, racked up 28 points and 19 rebounds to lead the way as the Western Conference front-running Spurs secured a postseason berth for a 16th consecutive season.
"Well he's a great player, he is going to play well either way," Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle said about the challenge of facing a rested Duncan.
Gary Neal added 16 points and Kawhi Leonard, also rested during Tuesday's setback, had 12 along with six rebounds for San Antonio.
"Without the points he gave us coming off the bench, we would be in big trouble," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said about Neal.
The Mavericks entered the contest having matched a season high with four straight wins, and nearly made it five after scoring seven unanswered points to pull within 92-91 in the closing seconds. Dallas got the ball back with a chance to prevail, but Vince Carter's 3-point try rimmed out at the buzzer.
Dirk Nowitzki finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Mavs, with Darren Collison netting 12 points in the setback.
The Spurs led virtually wire-to-wire and were ahead by as many as 13 points after Duncan's reverse layup early in the third quarter made the score 54-41. Dallas came through with a 14-4 run to briefly get back into it, though San Antonio countered with an 8-2 spurt in which Duncan accounted for six points to go up by a 66-57 count with 3 1/2 minutes left in the frame.
A Neal 3-pointer to begin the fourth quarter restored a double-digit cushion at 76-66, but a 12-1 sequence capped by Nowitzki's triple with 7:46 left gave Dallas its first lead of the night.
Neal knocked down a trey on the other end, however, to start a series of seven straight San Antonio points that staked the Spurs to a 84-78 edge midway through the final session.
San Antonio owned an eight-point advantage after Leonard's basket from beyond the arc created a 92-84 score with 2:37 remaining, but the Spurs failed to score thereafter and very nearly gave the game away.
An O.J. Mayo jumper followed by Carter's 3-pointer brought Dallas within 92-89 entering the final minute of play, and following a shot clock violation by San Antonio, Nowitzki sank a 16-footer that cut the deficit to one with 28.2 seconds showing.
Nowitzki then grabbed the rebound on a missed jumper by the Spurs' Manu Ginobili, with the Mavs calling timeout with 8.7 seconds left. Carter got an open look at the top of the key following the inbounds play, but his on-target shot wouldn't fall through as San Antonio escaped with the win.
The teams were deadlocked at 41-41 with 2:25 to go in a tightly played first half, before San Antonio put up the final nine points of the second quarter. Tiago Splitter was fouled on a layup with one second remaining and hit the subsequent foul shot that sent the Spurs into the break owning a 50-41 lead.