Spurs fear a lack of fear itself

By Jeff McDonald

SALT LAKE CITY — For two games in their Western Conference first-round series against Utah, the Spurs have successfully guarded against Al Jefferson’s repertoire of herky-jerky post moves.

They have guarded against Devin Harris’ quickness and Paul Millsap’s blue-collar ruggedness.

Tonight, as the series shifts to rowdy EnergySolutions Arena with the top-seeded Spurs up 2-0 and solidly in command, they are poised to come face-to-face with their most formidable foe yet in these playoffs.


“From game to game, there’s always a danger of letdowns,” said Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ 36-year-old captain. “We’re going to fight against that, but there’s no promises in any way.”

In their quest to put a lock on the series, it seems the only thing the Spurs have to fear now is the lack of fear itself.

The Spurs won the first two games by a staggering total of 46 points. Their 106-91 victory in Game 1 looked like a nail-biter compared to the 114-83 ransacking the Spurs delivered in Game 2.

The 31-point margin in Game 2 marked the Spurs’ third-largest win in team playoff history. For Utah, it was the franchise’s second-worst postseason defeat, surpassed in humiliation ?only by a 96-54 loss to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

How each team responds now will determine how much life is left in this series.

“It’s easy to fold your tent,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. “But fight is fight, and competitors compete. Guys who want to quit will quit.”

So far, the Spurs have treated the eighth-seeded Jazz like a D-League team, with All-Star point guard Tony Parker obliterating Utah’s backcourt en route to a combined 46 points and 17 assists. Their Duncan-led frontcourt has outplayed Jefferson and Millsap in helping post a 120-80 edge in paint points.

In Game 2, the Spurs were ahead 20-8 before star sixth man Manu Ginobili had even stripped off his warmups.

It speaks to the Spurs’ sense of professionalism and self-restraint that they haven’t yet begun planning dinner reservations in Memphis or Los Angeles.

“What I see is ultimate focus,” forward Stephen Jackson said. “Nobody is talking about the next series. Everyone is focused about what’s in front of us.”

The Spurs’ battle against overconfidence began before coach Gregg Popovich left the interview podium after Wednesday’s Game 2 romp, when he reminded that the runaway victory was “nothing to be satisfied about.”

In Utah, the Spurs are expecting to find a different Jazz team than the one that presented so little resistance in San Antonio.

“I know Pop’s really antsy about us coming out and getting jumped on,” Duncan said.

If nothing else, the Spurs are anticipating an amped-up performance from the Utah crowd, generally considered one of the NBA’s most rambunctious.

Those who were around in 2007 haven’t forgotten the Spurs’ last trip to Salt Lake for a playoff game, when players and coaches exited the court to a hail of debris after a Game 4 victory in that year’s Western Conference finals.

“They’re going to play even harder, with a great atmosphere,” said Ginobili, one of the few Spurs yet to find his footing. “They’re going to be fired up. Hopefully, we don’t relax and keep fighting.”

Down 2-0 in a series against a Spurs team that hasn’t lost a game since April 11, the Jazz would love to have such worries.

Their mission now, as impossible as anything Tom Cruise ever tried: Win four out of five against a Spurs team that has only lost three times since March 9.

“We’re fighting for our lives,” Utah forward Gordon Hayward said.

To stay alive, the Jazz will make adjustments. They will feed Jefferson in the post. They will rely on Harris’ quickness, and Millsap’s ruggedness.

In the end, however, Utah’s best hope for survival might be out of its hands. Ultimately, Game 3 could come down to how well the Spurs handle their own prosperity.

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN


Game 1:

Game 2:

Game 3 Saturday: Spurs @Jazz, 9 p.m.
TV: FSNSW, TNT Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

Game 4 Monday: Spurs @Jazz, TBD
TV: FSNSW, TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* Game 5 Wednesday: Jazz @Spurs, TBD
TV: FSNSW, TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* Game 6 May 11: Spurs @Jazz, TBD
TV: FSNSW, TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* Game 7 May 13: Jazz @Spurs, TBD
TV: TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* — As needed in best-of-7 series

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