SAN ANTONIO — One day after Miami Heat forward LeBron James said he did not believe the San Antonio Spurs are too old to contend for another spot in the NBA Finals, the Spurs confirmed that assessment.
The oldest of the Spurs, 37-year-old forward Tim Duncan, produced 23 points and 11 rebounds as San Antonio defeated Miami 111-87 Thursday for its eighth victory in nine games.
The victory was the first for the Spurs (45-16) this season over any of the other four teams with the best records in the NBA. They were 0-8 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets and Miami before Thursday.
The win came against a Miami team that defeated San Antonio in a seven-game NBA Finals last season.
“They want every game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I’m sure this has some special meaning. To say it’s something different would be silly.”
A few of Popovich’s players said this type of victory was necessary and overdue.
“We haven’t beaten many big teams this season,” forward Boris Diaw said.
Added Duncan, “It’s a very big win for us. We’re getting to the end of the season, and we need to start winning games like this start to building confidence.”
Guard Tony Parker scored 17 points for San Antonio, including 10 in the first quarter, when the Spurs took a 15-point lead.
Diaw, starting in place of Tiago Splitter, added an efficient 16, converting all five of his field goal attempts, including two 3-pointers. He also contributed eight rebounds and five assists.
Forward Chris Bosh, the most consistent Miami player all night, scored 24 points.
James, shedding the mask he was wearing to protect a broken nose, scored 19 for the Heat (43-16). Hounded by Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (five steals), James hit just six of 18 shots and committed five turnovers. He also had eight rebounds and seven assists.
Guard Dwyane Wade added 16 points and seven assists for the Heat.
The Spurs led by 17 early in the second quarter, but Miami used a five-point possession with 31 seconds left in the half to close to within eight.
James made two free throws, and Miami retained the ball because Diaw was called for a clear-path foul for grabbing James as he sprinted out on a fast break. Forward Michael Beasley then hit a 3-point shot, and the Heat had serious momentum.
Diaw atoned for his foul, though, making a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to give San Antonio a 62-51 lead at the half.
Miami dominated most of the third quarter, converting five consecutive shots during one stretch, followed by another span when the Spurs missed five in a row.
“I thought we were (playing) in mud in the third quarter,” Popovich said.
The Heat trimmed the deficit to five points with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third. However, the Spurs responded with a 3-pointer, as they did at the end of the first half, this time by guard Patty Mills (nine points, 10 rebounds).
Duncan was the go-to guy in the fourth quarter, when he made four of five shots.
“I don’t want to forget that he’s here,” Popovich said.
Wade indicated that the Spurs are a top-notch offensive team regardless of which player shoots the ball.
“They are difficult to guard,” Wade said. “They have a great system, and they have a very unselfish team. That is why year after year they are one of the better teams in the league. They stay true to their system, and they believe in it.”
NOTES: Spurs reserve F/C Jeff Ayres missed the game with a hand injury suffered in practice Wednesday. … Miami C Greg Oden appeared in his 15th game this season, and he played six scoreless minutes. The Heat could have used Oden against Rockets C Dwight Howard during a loss at Houston on Tuesday, but coach Erik Spoelstra maintained his policy of not allowing Oden to play two days in a row. The Heat faced the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday. Oden has spent most of his career recovering from knee injuries. … The Spurs, who rank second in the NBA in assists at nearly 25 a game, outdid themselves in several recent games. They matched their season-best with 34 assists, on 44 baskets, against the Detroit Pistons. They assisted on 39 of 43 baskets at Cleveland on Tuesday, then on 30 of 40 baskets Thursday. … Heat F Michael Beasley began the night with career bests in shooting accuracy (51.5 percent) and 3-point accuracy (45.5 percent). He made five of 10 shots against the Spurs, including his lone 3-point attempt.
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