SAN ANTONIO &
Robert Horry is headed to the NBA finals for the seventh time, Tim Duncan for the fourth and Michael Finley for the first.
Doesn't matter. Now that they have helped the San Antonio Spurs get there again, they are all thrilled just the same.
"It never gets old," Horry said following a 109-84 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday night.
"It feels great to be back," Duncan said.
"It's very gratifying," Finley said.
There were cheers, high-fives and hugs when time ran out on a game that essentially was over following a 14-0 spurt in the first quarter, but, overall, the celebration was muted. In San Antonio, confetti and champagne only come out for championships &
and, this being an odd-numbered year, the organization might want to stock up on both.
Since Duncan arrived in 1997-98, the Spurs have been an every-other-year sensation. They won it all in 1999, 2003 and '05, and came close in the lone exception, losing the 2001 conference finals to the eventual champs, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The finals begin a week from Thursday in San Antonio, regardless of whether Detroit or Cleveland comes out of the East. The Pistons-Cavaliers series is tied 2-2, with Game 5 on Thursday night in Detroit.
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 Jazz never made a game of it.
"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 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 the previous game. "Point-blank. On vacation. A long time ago."
Fisher said his daughter is doing well, but has a lifelong 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."
The Jazz were overmatched this series. 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.
San Antonio played this game like a veteran team &
the oldest in the league, in fact &
motivated by the chance to have eight days off. The Spurs also were well aware of 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. then, 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.
Andrei Kirilenko led Utah with 13 points. Williams and Matt Harpring each scored 11. Carlos Boozer had nine on 3-of-10 shooting and Fisher had only two free throws in 15 minutes.
"I'm really hurt right now," Boozer said. "I feel like we had more basketball to be played."
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.
Spurs make quick work of Jazz, earn another trip to NBA Finals
SAN ANTONIO &