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Two quarters into the Western Conference finals, the Utah Jazz were down by 18, earning a blistering halftime speech from coach Jerry Sloan. They answered with a strong third quarter, but again found themselves down by 18 a few minutes into the final period.
Time to quit? Hardly.
While the Jazz failed to pull off the Game — upset, they certainly went down trying. Utah's performance over the final 10 minutes of a 108-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday was a strong indication this upstart team isn't taking the happy-to-be-here approach to its first conference finals appearance since 1998.
"We stayed right in it and didn't give up," forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "Now we just have to have that same intensity for the whole game Tuesday that we had in the second half."
Despite a quick turnaround from the end of its last round, the Spurs showed off their playoff pedigree. Led as usual by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio made 66 percent of its shots in the first half and found a way to protect its lead down the stretch when fatigue &
or the Jazz's improved play &
Whatever changed over the final 10 minutes, the lead didn't. Utah never got any closer than seven and lost in San Antonio for the 17th straight time.
"I think the first game is where you are supposed to send a message. And I don't think we did that, especially in the first half," said point guard Deron Williams, who scored 18 of his career-high 34 points in the fourth quarter. "I think we battled back in the second half and it showed a lot about us."
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."
Utah led 7-0, but wouldn't be ahead again once Ginobili came in and led a 10-0 spurt. San Antonio really cracked things open with a 13-2 run midway through the second quarter that featured an alley-oop pass from backup point guard Jacque Vaughn to backup center Francisco Elson, a textbook spin move by Duncan and a 3-pointer by Ginobili.
But the Spurs' best work was on defense, especially against Carlos Boozer.
Duncan, Horry and Fabricio Oberto took turns keeping Boozer from his favorite spots. Extra defenders helped smother him in the paint 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."
Sloan took it to them first.
"I told them they got to learn to compete. I mean, we were shaking our head at each other," Sloan said. "If one guy made a mistake, you know, it was somebody else's fault. ... 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 deserved credit for making 10 consecutive 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.
"The way they played in the second half, that's what we will see the whole series," Parker said. "We need to make sure we match that."
Notes: San Antonio's 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." ... Utah shot only 29 percent in the first half and scored a playoff-low 36 points by halftime. ... Okur scored 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting, hardly playing the fourth quarter.
Spurs fight off scrappy Jazz to take Game 1 of WCF
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