SAN ANTONIO (AP)—Tim Duncan headed to the bench for a well-deserved break. Only nine minutes into Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, he already had the San Antonio Spurs well on their way to another NBA finals berth.
“Good job,” coach Gregg Popovich said blandly, not even making eye contact.
Duncan nodded slightly and took his seat.
The Spurs aren’t flashy and don’t brag. They just win, especially in odd-numbered years, and the display they put on at the start of their 109-84 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night should serve as a warning to Detroit and Cleveland what one of them will be facing when the championship round begins next week.
Duncan and Tony Parker led a 14-0 surge over a 2:13 span late in the first quarter, and San Antonio had a 23-point lead early in the second quarter. Although Utah got an emotional lift at halftime when Derek Fisher arrived from New York, where his infant daughter was getting medical care for a rare eye condition, the only thing in doubt by then was whether the Pistons or Cavaliers would be the Spurs’ next foe in their bid for a third title in five years.
“Our first quarter was unbelievable,” said Parker, who scored nine points during the game-breaking flurry and threw a lob that Duncan slammed about as hard as he ever does. “I can’t remember, since I’ve been with the Spurs, shooting the ball like that. Our offense was great, our defense was great. … You can’t ask for a better start.”
The finals begin a week from Thursday in San Antonio, regardless of who comes out of the East. The Pistons-Cavaliers series is tied 2-2, with Game 5 on Thursday night in Detroit.
Although Dallas and Phoenix had more wins in the regular season, it shouldn’t be surprising that San Antonio wound up being the best in the West. After all, this is 2007, and the Spurs have dominated in odd-numbered years since Duncan arrived for the 1997-98 season. San Antonio won it all in 1999, 2003 and ’05, and even came close in the lone exception, losing the 2001 conference finals to the eventual champs, the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It always feels good to be here,” Spurs owner Peter Holt said upon receiving the Western Conference trophy, a sparkling silver basketball, during an on-court presentation. “This is wonderful.”
“It never gets old,” said Robert Horry, who is headed to his seventh finals.
Duncan has been the MVP of all three finals San Antonio has played. The way he’s dominated in the playoffs so far—against Denver, Phoenix and Utah—he could be headed toward a fourth trophy, individually and for the team.
“It’s great, it’s about the journey,” Duncan said. “Last year we had a tough finish. This year to come back, put the team together and to go through three really, really good teams to get here, it’s tremendous.”
The looks on the faces of Utah players throughout the game showed their disappointment. After missing the playoffs last year, and nearly going out in the first round this year, the Jazz were fortunate to have gotten this far—but the way things ended left a bitter taste for emerging star Deron Williams.
“There were some guys that were already on vacation,” said Williams, who played through a sprained right foot two days after playing through a stomach ailment. “Point-blank. On vacation. A long time ago.”
Fisher said his daughter is doing well, but has a life-long battle ahead. As for his team, he had mixed emotions. He believes the future is bright, but he’s been around long enough to know chances like this don’t come around often.
“We got this close without really having a team that understands what it takes to get there,” Fisher said. “But it is very obvious we have some very good pieces and a team that can be good for a long time.”
After taking a seven-point lead in the first quarter of the first game, Utah didn’t lead during any of the other 11 quarters played in San Antonio and has now lost 19 straight games on the Spurs’ home court.
The Jazz were buried this time by a veteran team motivated by the chance to have eight days off, as well as all the other benefits of ending the series early, like not giving the underdogs any hope and avoiding another trip to Salt Lake City.
San Antonio led 16-11 when the game-breaking stretch began with Parker cutting through several big guys and making a tough layup. It ended with Bruce Bowen hitting a 3-pointer from the left corner that put the Spurs up 30-11. They’d made eight straight shots, were 12-of-16 for the game, and were outrebounding the Jazz 13-4.
“They came at us really hard,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “They destroyed our will to want to play. That was the whole thing. We abandoned our offense right away. And we never could get back into it the rest of the night. They put us where they wanted us all night long.”
Duncan and Parker each finished with 21 points and Manu Ginobili scored only 12. None of them played in the fourth quarter—it was that much of a blowout.
“We feel good about having beaten them now,” Popovich said. “It’s just going to get more difficult for everybody as they spend more time together.”
The strong start began for San Antonio with two baskets from Michael Finley, the team’s most-tenured player without a finals appearance. Now in his 12th year, Finley played most of his career for Dallas before joining the Spurs last season—only to get knocked out of the playoffs by the Mavericks on their way to the finals.
“With the remainder of the team coming back and feeling that bitterness of losing to Dallas, I think that kind of helped us coming into the season,” Finley said. “Early in the year I knew at some point we would hit a groove. It didn’t come as quickly as I wished it would have, but it came just in time.”
Ever heard of a “correctable error?” The officials called one on themselves midway through the second quarter, realizing they’d called an offensive foul against Utah but not given San Antonio the free throws it was entitled to because the Jazz were over the limit. The Spurs had finished another possession when things were sorted out. … The fourth quarter was such a joke that fans did the wave to entertain themselves. Former Spurs star David Robinson was among those getting up on cue. … There are good storylines regardless of who San Antonio faces in the finals. Detroit would be a rematch of a tight 2005 finals, while Cleveland’s coach (Mike Brown) and GM (Danny Ferry) came out of the Spurs’ organization. … Utah had been 2-0 when facing elimination this postseason, winning Games 6 and 7 of the Houston series. … The Spurs improved to 13-4 in close-out games since 2003. Over the same span, they are now 7-2 in playoff series that feature a loss by at least 12 points. … San Antonio won 58 regular-season games, more than Detroit (53) or Cleveland (50). That’s why the finals will start in the Alamo City.