SALT LAKE CITY -- The Western Conference finals finally resumed Saturday night and duly delivered our third successive dose of second-quarter misery.
Jazz silence Duncan for a night
But with a new twist, thankfully.
The same quarter that killed the Jazz in the first two games gave them their first shot of life in this series, dropping Duncan into a hard-to-believe funk and setting Utah up for the dreamiest of second halves.
In spite of all their success at home in these playoffs, even the Jazz seemed a bit surprised by the domination they uncorked after halftime, when they pulled away for a 109-83 Game 3 rout in which the hosts hounded the foul-plagued Duncan into a turnover total -- eight -- that matched his rebound total.
Said Jerry Sloan: "I think Duncan didn't have one of his better games, in all fairness to him."
Utah's hardened coach is too smart to gloat over one success against the most dominant, efficient player of this postseason. Especially when foul trouble clearly sliced into Duncan's aggressiveness and certainly not after Sloan's pregame press briefing, when he gave a glimpse of his admiration for the Spurs' cornerstone in response to a who-would-you-rather-have question: Duncan or Jazz legend Karl Malone.
"That's a tough question for me because I'm prejudiced to start with," Sloan said, recounting his nearly two decades alongside Malone with pride.
"I am also very, very fond of Duncan," Sloan continued, telling the story of the first time he saw Duncan play, as part of a team of top U.S. collegians assigned to give the 1996 Olympic squad a tune-up.
"He was terrific then," Sloan said. "A no-nonsense guy. I always think that's the way it is supposed to be, but we don't always get it that way."
Yet you can be sure that Sloan was thrilled with the show he saw here -- starting in the second quarter -- particularly because he's such a fan of Duncan and the Spurs' efficiency.
The Spurs hushed the rowdy locals by taking a 23-15 lead into the second, which had to concern Utah fans after San Antonio had blitzed the Jazz by a combined 30 points -- 63 to 33 -- in the second quarters of Game 1 and Game 2.
So what happened?
San Antonio went to the heretofore unstoppable Duncan on three successive possessions, all of which found the struggling Mehmet Okur trying to guard him.
In order, Okur (a) blocked Duncan's turnaround jump-hook, (b) combined with Deron Williams on a double-team that caused the first of Duncan's eight turnovers and (c) knocked the ball away from Duncan on the third trip to claim a steal of his own.
That's the same Okur, incidentally, who went scoreless in 21 minutes.
Sixty-seven seconds later, Duncan was whistled for his third foul, arriving late with contact on a Matt Harpring layup. With San Antonio's star forced to sit for the final 5:54 of the half, Utah sliced its early deficit to 47-43 and began to seize control. Then the Jazz forced three more turnovers out of Duncan to start the second half before he picked up his fourth foul. It came at the offensive end, with 5:44 to play in the third quarter, and changed this one for good.
Utah went on a bit of a run from there -- 47-23, to be precise -- to inflict San Antonio's worst loss all season.
"Obviously foul trouble helped us," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, who was outstanding again (27 points, 12 boards) in tandem with the sensational Williams (31 points, eight assists, five steals).
"That helped us a great deal."
Said Duncan, who wound up with just 16 points and eight boards in a mere 26-plus minutes: "Individually? It's tough to get going and stay aggressive when you have fouls on you like that."
The Jazz were indeed much more active and effective defensively, succeeding in making it tougher for Tony Parker to get into the lane when they weren't swiping at Duncan. Yet surely you noted that Boozer echoed Sloan's respectful tone.
Why would Utah's leaders be so cautious? Probably because they know that the blowout ending and the depths of Duncan's unexpected struggles increase the likelihood of a big bounce-back game Monday night from No. 21. They also know that the Spurs are due to win a playoff game in this building, having dropped to 0-9 all-time here as Utah moved to 7-0 at home in the '07 playoffs.
"That's what you guys do," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, asked to size up the "psychology" of the series now that San Antonio's lead has been sliced to 2-1.
"You will decide the momentum has changed now and that sort of thing" he said. "I don't think I have to tell you. You probably already wrote it."
Not quite. The all-knowing media's satisfaction, on this night, was merely having the chance to write about a new ending, after the first two games -- on both sides of the conference divide -- played out so repetitively.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Let it out, Carlos. With 27 points and 12 boards, you earned the right to feel good for a night. Now do it all over again on Monday.
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Jazz stretched out their legs, smiled and made themselves feel right at home at home again Saturday night in a 109-93 Game 3 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
There are numerous intimidating venues in the NBA, but there may be nothing quite like Utah's home court. Denver Nuggets coach George Karl recently said that any team would be lucky to win one road game in a playoff series against Utah.
Nowhere else are fans closer to the floor than in Utah. However nice Utahns are under normal circumstances, they are known to be quite harsh toward opposing players at Jazz games.
At Game 3, Jazz fans tried to motivate their boys by dressing in light blue, clanging cowbells and even booing at Tony Parker's fiance Eva Longoria when she was shown on the arena's Jumbotron.
"We have the crowd behind us," said Jazz guard Deron Williams. "It definitely gives us a lot of confidence. Guys, in general, tend to play better at home. That's just been key for us."
Said Spurs forward Tim Duncan: "They used their crowd. They used their energy in this building."
The Spurs entered Game 3 with a 4-1 road record in the playoffs, which made it especially surprising to see them blown out after dominating the Jazz in the first two games in San Antonio.
But the Jazz better not get too excited. The heat remains on at EnergySolutions Arena. Game 4 on Monday is another must-win, and they'll probably have to win Game 6 (if necessary) at home as well -- and the Jazz would still have to win one in San Antonio to win the series.
So unless the Jazz can keep it going here and learn to feel at home on the road, too, in Game 5 or Game 7 (if necessary), they will have a lot of time to enjoy their beloved Salt Lake City in the near future.
-- Marc Spears at EnergySolutions Arena
David Thorpe looks at how LeBron James can attack the Pistons more productively:
Detroit, in Game 2, showed a soft man-to-man look every time James caught the ball in the half-court. Prince guarded him relatively tightly, and the two closest perimeter defenders shaded toward James.
They know James wants to drive, and their aim is to force him to his midrange game.
James' mind-set is hurting him here -- instead of recognizing the opportunities to get a midrange jumper, he is trying too hard to get closer looks and often taking any shot he can get near the rim, where the Pistons' long defenders appear even longer because of the shallow shooting angle he has so close to the rim.
Or he is taking one-dribble jumpers -- and it is very hard to create enough space after just one dribble when defended by Tayshaun Prince.
AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson
Tim Duncan's hack on Matt Harpring's reverse layup halfway through the second quarter, sent Duncan to the bench with three fouls and helped Utah stay in the game.
Quote of the Day:
-- Royce Webb
An excerpt from Marc Stein's postgame blog:
If you watch Saturday's highlights, you will inevitably focus first on the crossover dribble Deron Williams used to send Jacque Vaughn tumbling to the floor and free himself for an uncontested layup.
But that was merely his flashiest move.
And with his size, strength and better-than-advertised quickness, Williams is convincing Jerry Sloan to let him check Parker at one end ... even when it's Bowen waiting for him at the other end.
He's draining his 3-ball, too. Williams hit four triples in five attempts in racking up 31 more points, to go with 34 in Game 2 and 26 in Game 1.
He's making up for all those times you didn't get to see him play this (breakout) season, because he's so far removed from the NBA mainstream here in Utah, and he's making me think of Hawks general manager Billy Knight every time I watch him play.
They passed up two franchise point guards in a sport where you're always looking for point guards and centers first?
In fact, this kid is making folks ask lots of questions these days.
"I'm having fun right now," said Williams, who also happens to be making the Jazz look increasingly smart -- as he works so well with in tandem with Carlos Boozer -- for picking him ahead of Paul.
"A lot of people haven't seen us play all year. We didn't have that many games on TV. So for them to see us play now and see that we are a real team ... we should be around for a couple years."
News and notes from Game 3:
• Actress Eva Longoria, Tony Parker's fiance, was booed when shown on the overhead monitor during the second quarter.
-- Associated Press
As the Cavs-Pistons series heads to Game 3, it remains in the shadow of the no-call at the end of Game 2.
As Chris Sheridan wrote, the refs swallowed their whistles, and in our poll, 69 percent of SportsNation agreed with Sheridan's contention that Richard Hamilton fouled LeBron James.
But careful diagnosis finds other factors at play as well in Cleveland's loss, as summarized in Sheridan's Friday chat:
Marc (Akron): Didn't my Cavs lose this game because (1) we squandered a 12-point lead by scoring 26 in the second half and (2) Larry Hughes missed a 7-foot jumper?
Chris Sheridan: Well, yes.
And you lost Game 1 in part because Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed a shot he should have hit one possession before The Pass.
They lost both games for a lot of reasons, Marc, and now I'm curious as to how they're going to lose Game 3.
How's this for a dream scenario: Cavs down 77-76 with 10 seconds left, the ball's in LBJ's hands, he drives to the hole and shoots and misses, and this time he gets the foul call.
You think he's making both foul shots for the win?
I would have liked to see if he could have made them last night, but I guess officials Jimmy Clark, Bernie Fryer and Mark Wunderlich had an earlier plane to catch than I did.