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SAN ANTONIO (AP)—Tim Duncan saved the San Antonio Spurs with his first 3-pointer of the season at the end of overtime, and Manu Ginobili hit a layup at the end of the second extra period to send the defending champions past the Phoenix Suns, 117-115 on Saturday in Game 1 of their first-round series.
The third-seeded Spurs celebrated almost as jubilantly as if they'd won the finals yet again after beating the sixth-seed Suns, their postseason nemesis. The teams will meet again in San Antonio on Tuesday night before the best-of-seven series shifts to Arizona.
This first-round series, which would have been fitting as a Western Conference finals, was the most anticipated. So far at least, it has more than delivered.
Duncan finished with 40 points and 15 rebounds.
"I guess they're not going to go easy," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Michael Finley sent the Spurs to overtime with a last-second 3 from the wing, tying the game at 93.
The Suns had controlled play for the first three quarters, leading by as many as 16 points despite early foul trouble for Shaquille O'Neal. The Suns had a six-point lead with a quarter left in regulation.
The Spurs took their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter, but were down 93-90 with 1:10 to go after Leandro Barbosa's fast-break layup.
With 15 seconds on the clock, Finley tied it at 93 for the Spurs.
Two-time MVP Duncan stole the show in the first overtime. With his team down 104-101, Duncan found himself all alone at the 3-point line. After only a slight hesitation, he fired the ball and made it with 3 seconds to play. It was Duncan's first 3 of the season. He was 0-of-4 previously.
"I didn't know what was going to happen, honestly," Duncan said. "Manu turned the corner, Shaq just totally leaves me and stayed with Manu."
In the second overtime, Shaq's dunk tied it at 112 with 1:33 to play. Ginobili's layup made it 114-112 San Antonio.
Steve Nash missed a key 3 from the corner with less than a minute to play. After a long and risky inbounds pass that crossed the width of the court to the Spurs' Brent Barry, the Suns fouled, and Barry sank one of two from the line to make it 115-112 Spurs.
With 15 seconds on the clock, the Suns went to sharp shooter Nash, who fired another 3 from the corner, sinking it this time to tie the game at 115.
Then Ginobili drove the lane against Raja Bell and got to the rim, as he often does, almost at will, and his layup fell with 1.8 seconds left for the win.
"We had a lot of opportunities to win," O'Neal said. "You can't make mistakes against a team like that especially here in this building."
Tony Parker added 26 points for the Spurs, and Ginobili had 24.
Amare Stoudemire, who fouled out with 12 seconds left in the first overtime, led the Suns with 33 points. Nash had 25 points and 13 assists, O'Neal scored 11 points.
The Suns and Spurs met last season in the second round in what many dubbed the real finals. San Antonio won in six tense and testy games on their way to a fourth NBA title.
This year's rematch comes in the first round in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
Phoenix acquired O'Neal in a blockbuster midseason trade for a series such as this one to give the run-and-gun Suns a defensive boost.
O'Neal played just under four minutes in the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls. He was on the court for just 24 seconds in the second quarter before picking up his third and sitting out the rest of the half.
O'Neal missed two shots right off, the first when his dunk off an alley-oop pass missed. He didn't score in the first half.
Even though Phoenix got O'Neal to help their half-court game, the Suns, who still like to play quick, had only nine fast break points in the game.
The Spurs, on the other hand, were able to punish the Suns with their strong suit. They had a 72-46 advantage in the paint.
The Spurs benefited early from O'Neal's absence, and Duncan scored 20 points in the first half on 7-of-9 shooting. But the rest of the Spurs weren't helping him much. They went a combined 7-of-28 in the first half.
Ginobili in particular struggled early before turning it on late. He was 1-of-7 in the first half, when the Spurs, except for Duncan, weren't looking good.
Ginobili finished 10-of-24 from the field.