Now they have to keep it up for five more games.
George Hill scored 29 points and the Spurs ended a six-game losing streak by beating up the Phoenix Suns 114-97 on Sunday. It was a cathartic rout after San Antonio went winless for nearly two weeks and squandered their once-comfortable position for the No. 1 seed in the West.
"Before the game, our three leaders spoke up and tried to say that everyone needs to hold themselves accountable," said Hill, referring to the championship core of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. "It's not about one person on this team, it's about the whole team."
The win moved the Spurs 2½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, who lost at home to the Nuggets on Sunday. Three of San Antonio's final five games are against teams out of the playoff race -- including Phoenix again -- but one of the other two is April 12 at the Lakers.
Thanks to San Antonio's untimely faltering, that game could decide who gets home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
"Nobody will turn down momentum going into the playoffs," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Aaron Brooks and Channing Frye had 14 points apiece for the Suns. The loss guaranteed that Phoenix, which swept the Spurs out of the playoffs last year to reach the Western Conference finals, will miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Suns guard Steve Nash stayed in Phoenix because of the flu. Between the Suns missing their leading scorer and the Spurs desperate for a win, Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry had a bad feeling about this blowout even before it started.
"We knew they were going to have a reaction, obviously they lost six straight games," Gentry said. "They're fighting like crazy to stay ahead of the Lakers, and the Bulls. Obviously, it becomes really important to them, and they played that way."
Matt Bonner added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs (58-19), who are the NBA's winningest team but they have lost an air of dominance during the longest slide of Duncan's 14-year career.
San Antonio led the Lakers by seven games following its previous win on March 21. What followed was Duncan missing four games with an ankle injury, the Spurs choking away games late and jeopardizing the top seed that had looked all but certain.
"We've got a lot of confidence, and hopefully we can finish in first place," Parker said.
The Suns trailed by as many as 31 points, and San Antonio's 70 first-half points were two shy of its most in a half this season. Hill scored 24, tying the most points in a half for a Spurs player all season.
Richard Jefferson added 12 points and was the only Spurs starter in double-figures.
Although the Suns were officially eliminated on Sunday, they essentially saw their postseason hopes vanish during a miserable March. Phoenix went 5-11 last month and has lost 10 of 14.
It's been a steep fall for the team that took the Lakers to six games last year in the West finals. But an overhauled roster never made a late, long winning surge as Suns teams had in previous years.
Suns center Marcin Gortat didn't want to talk about whether finding the motivation is getting harder.
"I don't want to answer that question, but I'll just tell you one thing, I'm embarrassed," Gortat said. "I'm glad in the second half we stepped up a little bit and didn't get blown out by 40 or 50, but it's embarrassing."
Gentry said Nash could play in Phoenix's next game at Chicago on Tuesday. ... The Spurs' previous longest skid in the Duncan era was four games. ... The Spurs will try to sweep the season series against the Suns on April 13 in the finale.