- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

SAN ANTONIO.

The oppressive, stifling defense of the Spurs subdued the Jazz 108-100 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at the AT&T; Center yesterday.

The Spurs claimed this proceeding in the first half, when they surged to an 18-point lead and reduced the Jazz to a mass of confusion.

The Jazz shot only 29.3 percent in the first half, had seven turnovers and appeared hopelessly overmatched against the playoff-tested graybeards of the Spurs.

The Jazz waged a more spirited effort in the second half, if only because the Spurs had completed the hard part of their work and appeared content to trade baskets.

The Jazz drew no closer than seven points in the final seconds, their comeback so much bookkeeping that made for a misleading final score.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said he saw a dreamy-eyed look in his players because of the big stage.

He said he told his players at halftime to stay in the locker room if they were going to remain intimidated and unwilling to compete.

“If you are going to be intimidated, don’t show up,” Sloan said. “That’s the only thing I know to tell the players. I was disappointed with the way we competed. I didn’t like what I saw, with the guys shaking their heads at each other.”

Sloan found little sustenance in the play of his players in the second half, when the Spurs were content to shift into cruise after having only 39 hours to recover from closing out the Suns Friday night.

“We know who we are playing against — a great, great team, a smart and intelligent team,” Sloan said. “A lot of things can be determined in this situation about who you want to be now and in the future. You don’t find out anything about yourself if you don’t compete. This is the last time I talk about us being a young team because we’ve played two series now and I don’t want to hear anything more about being young. You either grow up and become a better player, or you take the easy route out.”

The scrambling defense of the Spurs resulted in so many shots of the Jazz being contested before the exercise deteriorated into an AAU-style, timeout-marred affair in the fourth quarter.

The Spurs were textbook-like at times on both ends of the floor, starting with forward Tim Duncan, who finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in his typically understated manner.

His postgame commentary was equally efficient after hearing a dissection of the two halves from the ink-stained horde.

“We played good enough, by the way,” Duncan said of the eight-point outcome that lacked even a tiny scare from the visitors.

Andrei Kirilenko acknowledged the elementary beauty of the Spurs. He has seen it too many times, this being the Jazz’s 17th consecutive loss here, going back to the days of the Alamodome.

“There was no surprise defensively from them,” the Jazz forward said. “We knew they were a great defensive team coming into it. They always force you to settle for outside shots and low-percentage shots. We just can’t settle for those uncomfortable shots.”

Adjustments are ahead. More film sessions, too.

The Jazz’s wonderful postseason run is up against the raw power of a champion.

Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been where Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Kirilenko only can imagine.

That was the difference.

Or perhaps the Jazz gulped in the vicinity of the Spurs, as Sloan suggested.

“We are not a young team anymore,” Williams said, reciting the postgame message of the coach. “There is no excuse. We have gotten this far, so obviously, we can compete.”

The Jazz outscored the Spurs 38-30 in the fourth quarter.

Substance or fluff, the players could not say with certainty.

It gave the Jazz hope and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich a bout of late-onset consternation.

“We had enough of a lead to hang in there,” Popovich said, with his teeth almost clinched.

The Spurs appear to have too much of everything on the Jazz.

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