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FANS CAME FOR A FIGHT BUT HAD TO SETTLE FOR BASKETBALL

SHARE FANS CAME FOR A FIGHT BUT HAD TO SETTLE FOR BASKETBALL

After all the fighting, woofing, confrontations, fines, suspensions, ejections, technicals, flagrant fouls, accusations and just plain feuding of the previous two games, Game 3 of the Utah Jazz-San Antonio Spurs playoff series promised to be either a war or a future episode of Geraldo.

So what happens? The teams moved their jaw-in from San Antonio to Salt Lake City Tuesday night and . . . nothing. It was a love fest. Hockey fans went home disappointed. They went to see a fight - and a basketball game broke out. There were no flagrant fouls, no ejections, no flying elbows and knees, no Rodmans, no undercuts - and absolutely no suspense.The only thing this game had in common with the previous two was that it was a rout (final score: 105-72). For the third time in as many playoff games, Jack Haley, San Antonio's white flag, got a little PT. So did the end of the Jazz's bench, again. John Crotty, Stephen Howard, Walter Bond and Bryon Russell have been getting a little exercise in this series.

As usual, the Spurs and Jazz sent fans racing for the exits early. With still a few minutes left in the game, it looked like the Fire Marshall had cleared the Delta Center. Which is what blowouts will do to a crowd.

The Jazz trailed by as many as 27 points and were never close in Game 1. The Spurs trailed by as many as 30 and were never close in Game 2. The Spurs trailed by as many as 37 in Game 3.

The series has been short on suspense but long on hockey-like behavior. Game 1 featured three technicals, one flagrant foul, one ejection and two major confrontations. Game 2 was worse. It featured eight technicals, two flagrant fouls, two ejections and one suspension.

But Game 3 had almost none of the above. Late in the game, Sleepy Floyd, apparently grumpy about having to leave a comfortable seat on the bench, shoved John Stockton out of bounds, but that merited nothing more than a foul. And Spurs coach John Lucas was hit with a technical for complaining about a foul, but you'd be frustrated too if your players were shooting like, say, Angela Lansbury, on a bad night.

But that was all for the extracurricular activities. The NBA front office won't be reviewing video from this game. "They (the Spurs) were real calm, and we were too," said Jazz center Felton Spencer. "Tonight we were more interested in playing basketball than beating up each other."

Perhaps it was because the players feared losing their pocket change to fines from the NBA office, which hit up Dennis Rodman for $10,000 for his rough play in Game 2. Speaking of whom, was it only a coincidence that peace broke out on the same night that Madonna's pal was elsewhere. Rodman was suspended from Game 3, which freed him up to pal around town with the Material Girl (this is a match made in . . . uh, well, surely not there). Rodman, everyone must know by now, was involved in several confrontations in Games 1 and 2, collecting three flagrant fouls and an ejection and putting two Jazz players on the bench.

"It's hard to say if it might have been different if Rodman had been here tonight," Spencer said after Game 3. "He might have been in a mood where he didn't want to hit anyone."

Then again, maybe the hostile and circus-like atmosphere of the Delta Center might have set him off again. As usual, the Jazz made the first home playoff game a Big Deal. "We like to have the playoffs take on a festive atmosphere," said Jazz official Dave Allred. "We want it to be different from the regular season."

The Jazz began the night by shooting fireworks into the rafters of the DC, continuing a playoff tradition they began in 1984 and nearly ended right there with a fire that delayed the start of the game 30 minutes. They also gave fans worm-shaped balloons at the gate in (dis)honor of Rodman (nickname: The Worm) and flew in the Chicago-based Blues Brothers, a roving NBA act that sings (acutally lip syncs) and dances (presumably for real) during breaks in the action.

Considering the lopsided score and the absence of Rodman and controversy, the extra entertainment was probably a good idea. All that was left was to count the celebs who turned out for opening night. Let's see, there was Steve Young and date, sitting just in front of Mr. and Mrs. Shawn Bradley, who were sitting in Row 2 but blocking the view of Row 9. There was Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Malone and Wilford Brimley, but no Madonna. As celebrity sightings go, this was about as good as it gets in Utah, unless you can squeeze in Mrs. Fields.

Still, this wasn't enough to keep fans in their seats. The night ended with streamers falling from the rafters, but by then few people were around to see them. "The Spurs have been de-Wormed," said one sign. On Thursday, de Worm will return for Game 4, but will the peace?