Spurs' playoff savvy paying off vs. Utah's conference-finals newcomers

Spurs' playoff savvy paying off vs. Utah's conference-finals newcomers

Spurs' playoff savvy paying off vs. Utah's conference-finals newcomers
Wed, May 23, 2007
By Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO -- Back when the Utah Jazz had Karl Malone, John Stockton and other playoff-tested veterans, they had a simple way of dealing with postseason newcomers: Patience.

''Let the other team make a mistake. That's what you do when you have guys who know how to play and how to play with each other,'' coach Jerry Sloan said. ''The other team will screw it up.''

Two games into the Western Conference finals, Sloan is seeing it happen again - only this time, it's his club lacking the know-how, and the championship-savvy San Antonio Spurs taking advantage.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the Spurs easily won the first two games of the series, taking over both on second-quarter meltdowns by the Jazz that smacked of exactly what Sloan was talking about: badly missed shots that shouldn't have been taken, sloppy turnovers, blown defensive assignments and silly things like failing to box out on free throws.

Utah has trailed since there was 5:17 left in the first quarter of the opener, a span of 90 minutes, 43 seconds that's about as lopsided as the difference in playoff experience between these teams. The Jazz have eight players in their first postseason, while San Antonio has six guys left from its 2005 title team.

''We are going to play the game and take the shots that are there and make the plays that are there,'' Duncan said following a 105-96 victory Tuesday night. ''Those are the times we have made our runs. It is not by design. It is not by anything else other than we are playing possession to possession.''

Both teams were off Wednesday as the series began a midweek break. The scene shifts to Salt Lake City for the next two games, but not until Saturday night.

Utah is 6-0 at home in the playoffs and beat San Antonio in both regular-season home games, giving the Jazz hope of making it a series again, or at least regaining some respect.

''We proved we can score against this team, we haven't proved we can stop them yet,'' All-Star forward Carlos Boozer said. ''We know if we tighten up our defense a little bit more in Salt Lake, we should have a much better chance.''

As Utah reviews what's happened so far, coaches and players may be frustrated to discover that San Antonio has dominated without doing anything spectacular. Even in Game 2, when the Spurs set a franchise playoff record with 13 3-pointers and Parker had a career playoff-best 14 assists, those were simply byproducts of what the defense gave them.

With guards Deron Williams and Derek Fisher unable to stay in front of the speedy Parker, the Jazz overcompensated by packing the lane once he got there. That left shooters wide open on the perimeter and Parker had no trouble finding them. They then had no problem finding the bottom of the net. Brent Barry went 3-for-3 on 3s in the breakout second quarter and Bruce Bowen 3-for-3 in the fourth quarter, when the Spurs pushed away Utah's final challenge.

Sloan can deal with a strategy that backfires. What he's tired of seeing is how his team responds to it, saying they have a tendency to hang their heads and take bad shots.

''They think, 'I haven't touched the ball in a little bit and I will fire one up there,' and it doesn't go in,'' he said. ''I'd rather the guy drive the ball to the basket and come up with something there rather than pulling up on some of those shots we took.''

Even when the Jazz rallied, they couldn't come all the way back.

''We would shoot ourselves in the foot,'' Sloan said. ''We would give them an easy basket, a layup or a wide-open shot. They just took advantage of our inability to be able to see what's going on.''

It's worth noting that Utah has done an admirable job just getting this far.

The Jazz overcame a home-court disadvantage - despite having a higher seed - to beat Houston in the first round, winning Game 7 on the road after getting in the same 0-2 hole they're in now. Good fortune, including the NBA not reseeding between rounds like the NHL does, earned a second-round matchup with bottom-seeded Golden State instead of top-seeded Dallas and Utah took care of the Warriors in five games.

Now the Jazz are facing a San Antonio team that's not only more experienced, but also more talented.

Boozer and Williams admit they hope to one day be as good as Duncan and Parker, with Sloan calling Duncan ''probably the best player that's ever played the position, the way he plays it.''

Manu Ginobili has been a dominant force off the bench and the Spurs' role players have filled their roles well. Besides the Game 2 success of the outside shooters, starting center Fabricio Oberto has gone 12-of-15 this series, scoring 14 points in each game.

''Those guys are going to get their points regardless,'' Williams said. ''They've shown they can do that all playoffs. ... They know how to get it done.''

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