SAN ANTONIO, Texas - By the time Tony Parker started a fastbreak with a bounce pass through Mehmet Okur's legs, the San Antonio Spurs already were starting to do pretty much whatever they wanted against the Utah Jazz. And the first quarter wasn't even over yet.
Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili made a strong statement about their readiness for the Western Conference finals, putting the Spurs out to an early lead and turning it into a 108-100 victory in the series opener yesterday.
San Antonio was supposed to be fatigued playing only 39 hours after the end of a rough-and-tumble series with the Phoenix Suns. Or the Spurs could have lacked focus, either figuring they'd already passed their biggest test by knocking out the Suns or simply taking the fifth-seeded Jazz lightly, especially since they has beaten Utah the last 16 meetings in San Antonio.
Instead, the game turned into an illustration of which team is seeking its third title in five years and which team is back in the conference finals for the first time since 1998 - although Deron Williams led a late Jazz rally that showed this upstart team is for real.
San Antonio led by 18 early in the fourth quarter, but Utah hit 10 straight baskets to get within 95-87 with about two minutes left. The Jazz got within seven points twice more in the final half-minute. San Antonio's inability to put the game away can be traced to nine fourth-quarter misses from the foul line.
Tim Duncan had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, and Ginobili had 23 points and 10 assists. Parker added 21 points and six assists, although he also had six turnovers.
Robert Horry received a long, loud standing ovation when he entered for the first time after being suspended the two previous games because of his hard foul on Phoenix's Steve Nash. He drew another big cheer the first time he went in after halftime, but didn't score - or take a shot - in 15 minutes.
Williams scored 18 of his career-high 34 points in the fourth quarter. He also had seven rebounds and nine assists, but the Jazz will need more dishes to Carlos Boozer if they are to even up the series in Game 2 tomorrow night.
Boozer finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but he had only three baskets through three quarters: two putbacks of ugly misses by Okur and a tip-in of a missed free throw.
Duncan, Oberto and Horry took turns guarding Boozer. The key, though, was extra defenders smothering him in the lane and even more used to cut off Williams' passing lanes to the all-star forward.