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Kragthorpe: Spurs introduce defense to Jazz playoffs
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

SAN ANTONIO - Is it too late for the Jazz to order up Phoenix as their Western Conference finals opponent?

How about another round with Golden State?

The realization struck the Jazz sometime during the first half of Sunday's opening game against the San Antonio Spurs: Those guys actually play defense.

By the time the Jazz recovered from that shock to their system, they were hopelessly behind in an eventual 108-100 loss at the AT&T Center.

The Jazz's trouble was not so much being overwhelmed about playing at this stage of the postseason, it was running into this kind of opposition. Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Derek Fisher, everybody: Meet the Spurs.

"Obviously," Boozer said, "they're one of the best defensive teams in the NBA."

The question, going forward in this best-of-seven series, is whether the Jazz have successfully adjusted to how San Antonio is defending them

or if the Spurs simply eased up in the second half.

Coach Jerry Sloan expanded the discussion, making an issue of the Jazz's lack of effort and eagerness to blame one another after making mistakes.

As disturbing and difficult to explain as those things may be, they're fixable.

What's not going to change is the way the Spurs battle defensively, contesting every shot and generally making opponents uncomfortable.

"We will try to make things as difficult as possible," said forward Tim Duncan.

Golden State presented its own set of problems to the Jazz, forcing 20-plus turnovers in every game with quickness and athletic ability. But as long as the Jazz held onto the basketball, scoring was relatively easy for Boozer and others.

Different story Sunday, even if Boozer and guard Deron Williams (34 points) came to life in the second half - which was too late for Sloan, who told his players at halftime that they appeared "intimidated" and needed to stick together, instead of crumbling from within.

"Our guys didn't really lay it out there," he said.

The Spurs helped create that impression, buckling down defensively and taking advantage of holes in the Jazz's coverage with crisp passing and fundamental execution. If it all looks familiar, it should.

In so many ways, the Spurs play like the Jazz of the 1990s, and that's no coincidence. Coach Gregg Popovich has said the Stockton/Malone Jazz were the "blueprint" for how he wanted to build his franchise, and the Spurs have only improved on that model, winning three NBA championships.

So nine years since their last Western Conference finals appearance, the Jazz have run into the team they beat three times in preceding rounds of the playoffs in the '90s. While it is a compliment to Sloan and the organization that the Spurs have implemented their style by playing solid defense and working for good shots, that doesn't make it any easier to play against them.

Because scoring is so difficult, Williams said, being 20 points down to the Spurs is like being down 40. I was thinking 10 is like 20, but the percentages are the same.

"We knew they were a great defensive team coming in," said Andrei Kirilenko. "It just makes our game more interesting."

That's one way of looking at it. The other sobering thought coming out of Game 1 is it could be a struggle for the Jazz, just to make this series interesting.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

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