5-30-07 - Tim Duncan and Tony Parker wasted no time showing how serious the San Antonio Spurs were about getting back into the NBA finals -- immediately.
Duncan and Parker powered an early 14-0 spurt that featured perhaps the most dominant stretch the Spurs have played all postseason and the Utah Jazz never recovered, letting San Antonio cruise to a 109-84 victory Wednesday night and into the championship round for the third time in five years.
The Spurs took all the suspense out of it by taking 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 San Antonio will play Detroit or Cleveland in the finals.
The title series begins 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.
"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."
Having a nine-day layoff before the next round was part of the motivation behind San Antonio's get-it-over-with approach to Game 5. After all, the Spurs have the oldest roster in the league, so they're both wise enough to value not giving the underdogs any hope and eager to avoid playing another trip to Salt Lake City.
San Antonio led only 16-11 when the game-breaking stretch began with Parker cutting through several big guys and making a tough layup. Over the next 2:13, Parker had seven more points, plus a perfect lob that Duncan slammed with as much authority as he ever does.
Then Bruce Bowen capped the blitz with 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. With Fisher missing and starting point guard Deron Williams slowed by a sprained right foot, Utah never recovered.
"Our first quarter was unbelievable," Parker said. "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."
Utah coach Jerry Sloan agreed.
"They came at us really hard," 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.
By getting to the finals, San Antonio continues its bizarre trend of dominating the league in odd-numbered years since Duncan arrived for the 1997-98 season. The Spurs 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," team owner Peter Holt said upon receiving the Western Conference trophy, a sparkling silver basketball, during an on-court presentation. "This is wonderful."
"This is just part of the process," Bowen added, drawing a loud ovation.
The looks on the faces of the Jazz players throughout the game showed their disappointment. However, star Carlos Boozer admitted Wednesday morning, "We're not even supposed to be here."
Utah won 51 games and its division this season, but opened the playoffs on the road and lost the first two games. The Jazz rallied to beat Houston and got past eighth-seeded Golden State to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1998, yet were no match for the Spurs, especially in San Antonio.
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 here and has now lost 19 straight games on the Spurs' home court.
"We feel good about having beaten them now," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's just going to get more difficult for everybody as they spend more time together."
Sloan may already have been looking ahead when he sent in Ronnie Brewer during the first half, figuring the experience would do the rookie some good in the long run. Brewer had played only two minutes this series and 24 all postseason. Late in the second quarter, Sloan used a lineup featuring deep reserves Brewer, Dee Brown and Rafael Araujo.
Another rookie, Paul Millsap, joined that trio during the third quarter. Things were so out of hand by then that Fabricio Oberto took -- and made -- a 17-footer and 7-foot center Francisco Elson took -- and missed -- a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Utah's early game plan was to get shooters Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur out of their funks. Kirilenko took the Jazz's first two shots, making a dunk, and Okur took five in a row, making only one when the Spurs had their big run. It was their best stretch since Game 6 of the second round against Phoenix, when they turned a 63-61 lead with 5:23 left in the third quarter into a 20-point lead with nine minutes to play.
Duncan actually went to the bench before the rally ended. Popovich told him, "Good job," and Duncan walked by as if he'd done nothing special. All he got was a light pat on the rear when he left the game for good with a few minutes left in the third quarter.
Kirilenko ended up leading Utah with 13 points. Williams and Matt Harpring each scored 11. Boozer had nine on 3-of-10 shooting and Fisher had only two free throws in 15 minutes.
San Antonio's Jacque Vaughn dribbled out the clock to end the game -- sort of. There was still 0.3 seconds left on the clock, but Popovich shrugged and went to shake hands with Sloan and people began filling the floor. Officials scurried to get the Jazz to inbound the ball so time could run out.
While the postgame ceremony was being set up, Utah players and coaches lined up to shake hands and hug the Spurs.