Utah coach Jerry Sloan showed more emotion at halftime than he thought his team had in the first half.

"I told them they got to learn to compete. I mean, we were shaking our head at each other," Sloan said after the Jazz lost, 108-100, yesterday in Game 1 of their Western Conference finals with the host San Antonio Spurs. "If one guy made a mistake, you know, it was somebody else's fault."

The Jazz have lost 17 straight games in San Antonio, going back to 1999.

"[The Spurs] scored 54 points in the first half, and they could get any shot they wanted," Sloan said. "And our guys really didn't lay it out there."

Deron Williams' fourth-quarter efforts and career-high 34 points weren't enough for the Jazz. Williams scored 18 points in the fourth to get the Jazz close in what looked early on like a blowout.

"That's what you are looking to see from players," Sloan said of Williams. "Who will step up and put their hearts out there on the floor?"

The Jazz made 10 straight shots and got within seven points late in the fourth quarter.

"I think the first game is where you are supposed to send a message. And I don't think we did that, especially in the first half," said Williams, who also had nine assists. "I think we battled back in the second half and it showed a lot about us."

But the Jazz never led after the Spurs went up 14-13 with 5:17 left in the first quarter.

"We were looking for excuses," Sloan said. "Well, you know, that's a definite reason why you don't have a chance to win when you play that way. It takes five people out there and they all have to play together."

Carlos Boozer was largely ineffective for Utah early, scoring just 10 points heading into the fourth quarter. But despite picking up his fifth foul with less than 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, he stayed in the game and delivered.

Boozer finished with 20 points, 10 in the fourth quarter, and 12 rebounds.

"And the second half things opened up a little bit, we were a little bit more aggressive," Boozer said. "[Williams] got us going and we tried to follow him."

Boozer came into yesterday's game averaging more than 24 points during the playoffs.

The Jazz, well-rested after not having played since last Tuesday when they closed out the Golden State Warriors in Game 5, didn't appear lethargic. And the Spurs didn't appear fatigued after their quick turnaround from Friday's Game 6 win over the Phoenix Suns.

Utah's Mehmet Okur had all of his 10 points in the first half. He and Derek Fisher combined to hit just 4-for-22 from the field for 16 points. Matt Harpring added 10 points for Utah.

As for the losing streak, Fisher said it was inconsequential.

"I don't think any of us have been here long enough to claim most of them," Fisher said. "I just think it's about now. Hopefully, we'll come back and get off to a good start."

The Jazz, in their first Western Conference finals since 1998, play Game 2 in San Antonio tomorrow before before going home for Games 3 and 4 in the best-of-seven series.

"You either grow up and become a better player, or you take the easy route out," Sloan said. "We will see who we are and go from there."

Noteworthy

NBA union chief Billy Hunter said that the players would support the reinstatement of referee Joey Crawford, who was suspended after he was accused of trying to pick a fight with Tim Duncan during a game.

"We hated to see Joey get canned," Hunter told a sports lawyers' convention on Saturday. "I think in all probability Joey will be back. We've expressed our willingness to work with him."

Crawford ejected Duncan from a game last month after calling a second technical foul on the Spurs star while he was laughing on the bench. Duncan said Crawford looked at him and said, "Do you want to fight?"

NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Crawford, who has worked more postseason games than any active ref. *