PHOENIX (AP) – The San Antonio Spurs no longer have to worry about being on the wrong side of playoff history – or about facing Amare Stoudemire.

All they have to think about now is trying to win another NBA championship.

Tim Duncan had 31 points and 15 rebounds and the Spurs’ defense keyed a gamechanging 18-4 third-quarter run, giving them enough of a cushion to hold off Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns with a 101-95 victory Wednesday night that ended the Western Conference finals in five games.

As thrilled as the Spurs are about making the Finals for the second time in three years, and third in seven, they’re likely also relieved to be done with this series – and Stoudemire.

San Antonio led 3-0 before losing Game 4 at home and certainly didn’t want to go home for a Game 6 with the Suns halfway to pulling off a comeback that’s unprecedented in NBA history, but fresh in the mind of all sports fans after the Boston Red Sox did it last October.

The victory gives Duncan’s aching ankles and Manu Ginobili’s bumps and bruises plenty of time to heal while San Antonio waits to find out whether it will next face Miami or Detroit.

Stoudemire almost kept the Suns’ fabulous season alive by scoring 17 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, several of them on the powerful slam dunks that have become his calling card. His 37-point average in this series broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for a conference finals first-timer and he set the club record for consecutive playoff games with at least 30 points, doing so in all five. Phoenix hadn’t even had a player score 30 points in five straight regular-season games since Charles Barkley in March 1993.

Stoudemire scored the final two points just before time expired, then congratulated Duncan after the buzzer, with the two-time MVP offering congrats of his own.

Defensive lapses end Suns’ magical season

The Phoenix Suns’ impressive run is over, their improbable rise from the ashes of a 29-win season a year ago done in by untimely defensive breakdowns and an opponent with more depth and far more experience in playoff basketball.

Another awesome show by Amare Stoudemire – 42 points and 16 rebounds – wasn’t quite enough on Wednesday night.

If the Suns get back to the conference finals, and their young talent suggests they will, this year’s failure will serve as a valuable lesson in what to expect.

The series lasted only five games, but it was never a mismatch. Phoenix led in the fourth quarter of the first two losses, and was without the injured Joe Johnson in both.

The Suns were down 93-90 after Jim Jackson’s 3-pointer with 2:45 to play

In the end, though, the Suns couldn’t stop Tim Duncan when they had to, and again gave up too many layups to Tony Parker and especially the ever-aggravating Manu Ginobili. After Jackson’s 3, Duncan tipped in his own miss, Parker scored on a drive and the fast, fun Suns were finished.

In the San Antonio series, playing against one of the best big men in the NBA, Stoudemire scored 41, 37, 34, 31 and 42 points – an average of 37 per game. And he’s just 22.

Steve Nash wrapped up his MVP season with 21 points and 10 assists. But as had been the case when the Suns stumbled in the postseason, there wasn’t much help for the dynamic pair. Shawn Marion grabbed 10 rebounds but scored just eight points. Johnson, so important in Phoenix’s Game 4 victory at San Antonio on Sunday, scored 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting.

After the Spurs switched defensive stopper Bruce Bowen onto him at the start of the second quarter, Johnson was 3-for-10 for seven points.

Quentin Richardson was worst of all. The NBA 3-point shootout winner, and co-leader in made 3s in the regular season, was scoreless.

on 0-for-3 shooting, an awful end to a disappointing series.

The loss, at least briefly, clouded all of Phoenix’s accomplishments.

The 33-win turnaround to an NBA-leading 62 victories was the third-best in league history. The Suns were the NBA’s highest-scoring team in a decade. Nash was the MVP and coach Mike D’Antoni the coach of the year.

Owner Robert Sarver grabbed the microphone to exhort the crowd over the final few minutes, but it was futile. They could all find solace, though, in the bright future of the franchise and its turbocharged style that made the team a refreshing reminder of how entertaining basketball can be.

AP-ES-06-02-05 0004EDT

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