Spurs smash Jazz, await Pistons-Cavs winner for Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan headed to the bench for a
well-deserved break. Only nine minutes into Game 5 of the Western
Conference finals, he already had the San Antonio Spurs well on
their way to another NBA Finals berth.

"Good job," coach Gregg Popovich said blandly, not even making
eye contact.

Duncan nodded slightly and took his seat.

The Spurs aren't flashy and don't brag. They just win,
especially in odd-numbered years, and the display they put on at
the start of their 109-84 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday
night should serve as a warning to Detroit and Cleveland what one
of them will be facing when the championship round begins next

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 only thing
in doubt by then was whether the Pistons or Cavaliers would be the
Spurs' next foe in their bid for a third title in five years.

"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 Finals begin 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.

Although Dallas and Phoenix had more wins in the regular season,
it shouldn't be surprising that San Antonio wound up being the best
in the West. After all, this is 2007, and the Spurs have dominated
in odd-numbered years since Duncan arrived for the 1997-98 season.
San Antonio 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," Spurs owner Peter Holt said
upon receiving the Western Conference trophy, a sparkling silver
basketball, during an on-court presentation. "This is wonderful."

"It never gets old," said Robert Horry, who is headed to his
seventh Finals.

Duncan has been the MVP of all three Finals San Antonio has
played. The way he's dominated in the playoffs so far -- against
Denver, Phoenix and Utah -- he could be headed toward a fourth
trophy, individually and for the team.

"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."

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. "Point-blank. On vacation. A
long time ago."

Fisher said his daughter is doing well, but has a life-long
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."

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.

The Jazz were buried this time by a veteran team motivated by
the chance to have eight days off, as well as 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. 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.

"We feel good about having beaten them now," Popovich said.
"It's just going to get more difficult for everybody as they spend
more time together."

The strong start began for San Antonio with two baskets from
Michael Finley, the team's most-tenured player without a Finals
appearance. Now in his 12th year, Finley played most of his career
for Dallas before joining the Spurs last season -- only to get
knocked out of the playoffs by the Mavericks on their way to the

"With the remainder of the team coming back and feeling that
bitterness of losing to Dallas, I think that kind of helped us
coming into the season," Finley said. "Early in the year I knew
at some point we would hit a groove. It didn't come as quickly as I
wished it would have, but it came just in time."

Ever heard of a "correctable error?" The officials called
one on themselves midway through the second quarter, realizing
they'd called an offensive foul against Utah but not given San
Antonio the free throws it was entitled to because the Jazz were
over the limit. The Spurs had finished another possession when
things were sorted out. ... The fourth quarter was such a joke that
fans did the wave to entertain themselves. Former Spurs star David
Robinson was among those getting up on cue. ... 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.