If the Jazz are dreaming, don't wake them up.
Two days after pounding the Portland Trail Blazers senseless in the deciding game of their first-round playoff series, the Utah Jazz demolished David Robinson and his San Antonio Spurs, 95-75, Tuesday night in the first game of their Western Conference semi-final series.Not even dreams get this wild. Keep in mind that the Jazz accomplished this feat against a well-rested Spurs team, on a night when the referees awarded San Antonio 36 free throws to Utah's 10. And that Bryon Russell went three for three from the 3-point line, while Chris Morris stayed under control (mostly), played defense and scored 13 points.
If there hadn't been witnesses, you wouldn't believe it.
"Tonight was a plain old-fashioned whupping," said Spurs coach Bob Hill. "We have a lot of work to do."
"We didn't come out prepared to match their intensity," Robinson conceded. "I don't know how we couldn't be ready for a very good team like Utah."
It's possible that the Spurs' 3-1 regular-season record against Utah put them at ease, or that the three-day layoff after a first-round victory over Phoenix took some of the edge off their game. Whatever the reason, they were clearly outmatched by a Utah team that has now played its best back-to-back games of the season.
"We put our game together tonight," Morris said.
"Defensively, you give up 64 (vs. Portland) and 75 points, that's not a bad two games," Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek said. "Hopefully we can bottle that up and continue."
From the opening tip, the Jazz made it evident they were ready to play. Leading 7-6 three minutes into the game, Utah went on an 18-1 run, powered by eight points from the Mailman. When Hill called timeout with 3:11 left and his team down by 18, the fans - a mere 15,112, leaving many empty seats in the cavernous Alamodome - booed.
"The key thing is we kept the crowd out of the game," said Hornacek.
The Spurs came back to within 11 at the end of the quarter, and by halftime had pared the Jazz lead to just five. San Antonio had enjoyed an 18-6 free-throw advantage to that point, largely thanks to Robinson, who could draw a foul in an empty room. In fact, eight of the first nine Jazz fouls were committed on the Admiral. Despite the disparity in foul shots, the Jazz might have staved off the Spurs comeback by making more than seven of 22 shots in the period.
In the third quarter, the Jazz jumped all over the Spurs again. Robinson opened the half with a layup to cut the lead to three, but over the next five minutes Utah went on a 17-5 run to lead by 15. Over the final eight minutes of the period, the only thing that kept the Spurs moderately close was free throws - they attempted 11 in that span, while making just two field goals.
"It was only their free throws that kept them as close as they were," Malone noted.
San Antonio never mounted a serious threat in the final period, and with 4:58 left Hill surprised most people in the rapidly emptying arena by removing Robinson and point guard Avery Johnson, followed soon after by Sean Elliott and Chuck Person.
Now, by NBA standards, five minutes is an eternity. If Person and Elliott hit some threes, the Spurs might have made a comeback - doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility. So why would Hill bench his stars?
"I think he saw the way it was going," Hornacek said. "Maybe he wanted us to build it (the lead) up to 30 so he could get all over his guys."
For the Jazz, the key was probably the play of the bench, which should include Morris, who started only because David Benoit sat out with a bruised left knee. Utah's reserves only made 15 of 37 shots, but they helped maintain the defensive intensity and were a big reason the Jazz outrebounded San Antonio 45-30, including a massive 18-7 edge on the offensive glass.
"The loose balls, the rebounds, the effort plays are where we got beat," said Spurs guard Vinny Del Negro, who suffered through a 1-for-11 shooting night.
Robinson promised a better effort in Game 2 on Thursday.
"It's no question this was an embarrassment," he said. "We need to use this as a positive, get fired up and get mad. We should have a better presence next game, by the looks on all the guys' faces in the locker room."
Five Jazzmen scored in double figures - Malone leading the way with 23. Stockton had 19 assists.
Robinson made nine of 12 field goals and 11 of 18 free throws for a game-high 29 points. The Spurs established new team playoff lows for field-goal attempts in a half and quarter (10, third), and offensive rebounds in a quarter
GAME NOTES: The official word from the Jazz is that it will be a game-time decision whether Benoit plays Thursday, though Benoit says it more likely will be Game 3 before he's ready . . . Malone got a technical foul 1:19 into the game for not giving the ball to referee Derrick Stafford, an offense that typically elicits only a delay-of-game warning . . . Sloan got a technical in the third quarter after screaming for a three-second call on Robinson - and the call had already had been made.