- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

SALT LAKE CITY - Back in the comfort of home, the Utah Jazz found what they were lacking in the first two games of the Western Conference finals: Confidence, defense and scorers other than Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams.

Williams and Boozer still led the way, but it was the play of their teammates that carried Utah past San Antonio 109-83 last night, and cut the Spurs lead in the series to 2-1.

“This does a world of good for our confidence,” said Williams, who had 31 points and eight assists.

Boozer had 27 points and 12 rebounds and Utah’s supporting cast came to life during a game-changing 12-3 spurt in the second quarter, keeping the Jazz perfect at home this postseason 7-0 and making them 3-0 against the Spurs in Salt Lake City this season.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan got in foul trouble early and never recovered. Although he didn’t foul out, he played tentatively and wound up with 16 points and eight rebounds. He also had eight turnovers as his run of 20-point, 10-rebound games ended at 11 in a row.

“It’s tough to get going and to stay aggressive when you have fouls like that,” Duncan said. “They just played a better game than us for a long time. They were aggressive, they were physical, their guys shot well. They had a lot of things happening for them.”

Utah’s win means there will be no sweep, and this may yet turn into a competitive series after two lopsided games in San Antonio. The loud Jazz fans in their “Think Blue” T-shirts can now start dreaming of their team being the first to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the Western Conference finals. Why not? They’ve already dug out of such a hole once this postseason, against Houston in the first round.

And they get to play another game in Salt Lake City tomorrow night. This victory by Utah guarantees there will be a Game 5 in San Antonio on Wednesday night.

“Despite all the odds, we’re still here playing,” said Williams, showing no effects of a hard foul that sent him to the bench for good with 3:50 left and the outcome decided.

Andrei Kirilenko, Jarron Collins, Gordon Giricek, Derek Fisher and Matt Harpring all pitched in for the Jazz in Game 3, providing the help Boozer and Williams needed back in San Antonio.

The Spurs came out of a choppy first half ahead by four, but Williams wasted no time showing his aggressiveness. In the first minute of the second half, he darted down court with a different energy level than he’d had all series, missing a layup but seeing Boozer tip it in.

San Antonio kept things close as long as it could, holding its final lead at 60-59. Then Fisher hit a 3-pointer and the Jazz became a different team.

It was his first basket of the game, the first points by a starter other than Williams or Boozer. More rare contributions followed from Kirilenko (his first point of the game), Collins (who hadn’t scored in 11 games) and Giricek.

Ahead only by six early in the fourth quarter, Paul Millsap joined the list of new contributors with a dunk that bumped the lead into double digits for the first time. He scored a layup the next time down, making it 83-71, and San Antonio was never closer than 11 the rest of the game.

Spurs forward Bruce Bowen got a technical foul with 5:17 left and the Spurs were pretty much done after that. Little-used Beno Udrih played the last 4:54 and Duncan was out the final 4:11.

“The score of the game is not really all that important,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “How we play is what matters and we didn’t play very well. They played better than we did in a lot of areas.”

Tony Parker led San Antonio with 25 points and seven assists. Manu Ginobili was the only other double-digit scorer with 14 as the Spurs went from shooting 55 percent the first two games to making only 44 percent this time.

Fisher and Giricek finished with 11 points each. Millsap and Harpring each scored eight and Collins had seven. Mehmet Okur was scoreless in 21:05, but it didn’t matter. Besides, he contributed by helping draw some of the fouls on Duncan and forcing some turnovers.

“Mehmet did an excellent job,” Duncan said.

Notes Actress Eva Longoria, Parker’s fiancee, was booed when showed on the overhead monitor during the second quarter.

This was Duncan’s 132nd career playoff game, passing Kobe Bryant for sixth on the career list.

San Antonio’s Robert Horry hit his first 3-pointer of the series.

Utah improved to 9-0 all-time against San Antonio in home playoff games.

A Duncan-led Spurs team has blown a 2-0 lead before in the second round in 2004, when Fisher was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and memorably changed the series with a long 3-pointer at the buzzer of Game 5.

The New York Knicks are the only team to have blown a 2-0 lead in a conference finals, doing it in 1971 against Baltimore and 1993 against Chicago. Dallas did it in the NBA Finals last year.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan moved back ahead of Popovich for sole possession of fifth on the postseason wins list. This was his 87th.

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