SAN ANTONIO (AP)—With three NBA championship flags high above the court, and many of the key players from those title teams in the lineup, the San Antonio Spurs opened the Western Conference finals like a team ready to add to their collection.
Well, for most of Game 1.
Playing only 39 hours after ending a rough and tumble series with Phoenix and facing a team they could’ve taken lightly, the Spurs zoomed to a 19-point lead before halftime and were still ahead by 18 early in the fourth quarter. Then a combination of fatigue and Utah’s Deron Williams turned things interesting in the final minutes.
Although the Jazz never got closer than seven points, and lost for the 17th straight time in San Antonio, Utah’s late rally certainly got the Spurs’ attention, as did Williams’ career-high 34 points.
“In Game 2, they’re going to be ready,” Parker said. “The way they played in the second half, that’s what we will see the whole series. We need to make sure we match that.”
Duncan had 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Ginobili had 23 points and 10 assists. Parker added 21 points and six assists, including one through the legs of Utah’s Mehmet Okur that started a fast break.
“They’ve been named the ‘Big Three’ for a reason,” said teammate Michael Finley, who scored 14 points. “When they come out and offensively put up numbers like that, we’re a pretty tough team to beat.”
Robert Horry received a long, loud standing ovation when he entered for the first time after being suspended the two previous games because of his hard foul on Phoenix’s Steve Nash. He drew another big cheer the first time he went in after halftime, but didn’t score—or take a shot—in 15 minutes.
“I’m happy the fans accepted me back,” Horry said. “It was very funny.”
San Antonio started slowly, then Ginobili came off the bench and the energy level went up. Using a variety of layups and long jumpers, he led spurts of 10-0 and 13-2, and the Spurs wound up making 66 percent of their shots in the first half. Their best work, though, was on defense, especially against Carlos Boozer.
Duncan, Horry and Fabricio Oberto took turns guarding Boozer, keeping him away from his favorite spots. Extra defenders helped smother him in the lane and others cut off Williams’ passing lanes to the All-Star forward.
Boozer had only one basket at halftime and three after three quarters, all of them on slop: two putbacks of bad misses by Okur and a tip-in of a missed free throw. He finished 7-of-17 for 20 points with 12 rebounds.
“My first half was terrible,” Boozer said. “They did a great job taking me out a little bit. Got a couple fouls and the second quarter, they really took it to us.”
Williams had 16 points through three quarters, then scored 18 in the final period, something the Jazz certainly hope to build on in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Actually, the main thing coach Jerry Sloan will be looking for is effort. He didn’t see enough the first half and he made sure they knew it at the break, telling them, “If you are intimidated and you don’t want to go out there and compete, then stay in the locker room.”
“I didn’t like what I saw out there with the guys shaking their heads at each other,” Sloan said. “We’ve got to stay together. We were looking for excuses.”
The Jazz were better in the third quarter, but with 10:15 left the Spurs still had the same size lead as they had at halftime. Then came Utah’s big finish, getting within 95-87 with 2:43 left and making it a seven-point game twice in the final half-minute. San Antonio’s biggest mistake might have been missing nine free throws in the quarter.
Still, Utah deserves credit for 10 straight shots during one stretch and for scoring 24 points in the paint, six more than the first three quarters combined. The Jazz had 38 fourth-quarter points, matching the most San Antonio allowed in any quarter all season.
Alas, it couldn’t erase the damage done when Utah shot only 29 percent in the first half and scored a playoff-low 36 points by halftime.
“We have to keep battling for a full 48 minutes,” Williams said.
Okur scored 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting, hardly playing the fourth quarter. Andrei Kirilenko was a disappointment, too, with his usually varied stat line filled this time with turnovers, travels, fouls and goaltendings.
“If we want to be a better team,” Sloan said, “we have to play smarter.”
San Antonio had as many baskets in the second quarter (12) as the Jazz had through two quarters. … Utah made its first 12 free throws, then Jarron Collins missed a pair. … The Spurs missed their first five shots, then finally got a basket on a goaltending. They didn’t actually put the ball through the hoop until a basket by Duncan more than 5 minutes into the game. …This was postseason win No. 85 for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, leaving him one behind fifth place in the NBA record book. Currently in fifth: Sloan.