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SPURS DIG IN, WIN AT HOME

If the San Antonio Spurs were looking for just any old victory, they got it.

If it was a "message" victory they sought, an opportunity to put the Utah Jazz in their place, well, that might be another matter.The Spurs stayed alive in this best-of-seven series with a 98-87 win Tuesday, leaving the Jazz ahead 3-2 in games.

It was easily the Spurs' best game of the series.

"We've been stinking up the gym in this series," Spurs guard Avery Johnson said. "We wanted to win in a big way tonight to make a statement."

How much of a statement it was remains to be seen. The Jazz regarded this as their worst effort of the series and feel they can - and will - do better Thursday night in Salt Lake. So though they were far from jubilant in the locker room, neither were they in mourning.

"We're in the position we wanted to be in," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek. "We had to win one on the road . . . and take care of our homecourt."

"We'll have the homecourt advantage," said Utah's Antoine Carr. "We'll be ready. Our sixth man (the crowd) will be there waiting for them."

Considering the way they pulled out all the stops for this game, the Spurs may be thinking they should have won by more. After playing in front of a lot of empty chairs in Games 1 and 2 here, they filled the place this time by selling upper-level seats for $5, an unheard-of ticket price in the NBA. That ploy resulted in a crowd of 34,512. They played excerpts from the movies "Rocky" and "Animal House" on the Jumbotron. Earlier in the day, Spurs coach Bob Hill quoted Shakespeare to his team and showed them excerpts from the movie "Hoosiers." He may even have mentioned the Gipper at some point.

Anyway, it was obvious early that the Spurs did not intend to end their season in the cozy Alamodome. They fell behind 7-3 in the first three minutes, then they ripped off 13 straight points as the Jazz threw the ball all over the court. At that point Karl Malone had missed all four of his shots from the field, all jumpers, at least one an airball. Spurs guard Vinny Del Negro, who came into the game with a series shooting percentage in the 30s, was knocking down jumpers; his backcourt mate, Avery Johnson, who has looked reluctant to shoot from the perimeter, hit a couple of outside shots; and center David Robinson was working the offensive boards.

The Spurs cooled off some late in the first quarter but still led 26-16 at the buzzer. They maintained a double-digit advantage for most of the second quarter, even while the Jazz found their shooting touch and managed to keep the turnovers down.

By halftime, the Jazz bench had contributed two points and three rebounds in a combined 33 minutes, Malone had scored all of eight points, and still they trailed the Spurs by just 10, 45-35.

At the start of the third quarter, it appeared the Jazz were ready to make a move. They opened the period with a 10-2 run and had a chance to tie at 47-45, but Stockton got trapped on the baseline by Johnson and Robinson and threw the ball away. On the other end Johnson nailed a jumper, the first of 14 straight Spurs points. Utah went nearly six minutes without scoring, more than eight minutes without a field goal. The Jazz made five of seven shots in the third quarter and committed seven turnovers.

"They pretty much handled us," said Jazz guard John Stockton. "We didn't get any easy shots."

Utah never mounted a serious threat in the final period. The closest it got was 11, which it did several times, including at the buzzer.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said his guys settled for too many jump shots and were too generous on the boards.

"We were playing pretty much into their hands," he said. "You give up 17 offensive rebounds, you don't have a chance."

The Jazz were asked all the usual questions: Did San Antonio do anything different? Have the Spurs finally figured out the Jazz defense? Did the huge crowd bother you? Their answers made it clear they felt it was more a case of Utah playing bad than any of the above.

"I don't know if they solved our defense, but we did slack off on rebounds," said Jazz forward Bryon Russell.

"I didn't think this had anything to do with the extra fans or the officials," said Adam Keefe. "It was just an old-fashioned butt-kicking."

"If we can't go home and take care of business on Thursday . . . maybe we don't deserve to win this series," Malone said.

Malone recovered from his slow start to lead the team in scoring and rebounds , though he made just eight of 21 shots. Chris Morris also had a poor shooting night, making three of 11, but he did grab 11 boards. Hornacek scored 16 and Stockton 14.

Among the missing in action for Utah were Antoine Carr, who totaled one point, one rebound in 18 minutes; Howard Eisley, one point (0-for--3) in 12 minutes; and Keefe, who played just four minutes.

The Spurs were led by Robinson, who after back-to-back 11-point outings responded with 24 points, 15 rebounds, though he made just seven of 21 shots. Del Negro and Johnson each made eight of 14 shots for 21 points.

"We've still got two games to go, so everything's still up in the air right now," Robinson said. "We believe we can do it. The last two games were not indicative at all of the team that we have."

GAME NOTES: Stockton went to the locker room with 1:21 left to play after tweaking a hamstring, the one he pulled during the Portland series.