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Brad Rock: Spurs keep their cool, take control of series

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 6:16 a.m. MDT

The San Antonio Spurs were coming off a 26-point loss. They were playing a road game in Salt Lake, where they had never won a playoff game. A place where the Jazz were undefeated in this year's postseason.
Momentum, a k a Big Mo, had changed seats.
Did the Spurs look panicked?
Not even remotely.
They didn't get to this place by wringing their hands.
Conversely, the Jazz ended up with their coach and one of their starters ejected on technical fouls. The end result was that the Spurs fashioned a 91-79 win Monday at EnergySolutions Arena to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Is it impossible to overcome such a deficit? Not entirely. It has happened eight times in league history. Is it likely?
About as likely as time travel.
So the Spurs squelched the Jazz's brief period of optimism that lasted two days. The series now goes back to Texas on Wednesday. If the Jazz are to win the series, they would need to win twice in San Antonio, where they haven't won in the last 16 games.
The Spurs used a mixture of playoff experience and — if you ask the angry Jazz crowd — three guys with whistles, to take a commanding series lead.
Was it a surprise? Probably not to anyone, even the Jazz. That's what good organizations in any endeavor do when they're challenged. They get focused. And if need be, they get downright offended.
If anyone actually thought the Spurs might go gooey and become intimidated just because the Jazz waxed them on Saturday, well, that didn't happen. In some ways you wouldn't have known they were coming off a loss. They were determined but not scared. At Sunday's media interview session, Spurs' forward Tim Duncan appeared with a black eye, compliments of a Jazz elbow the previous night. He joked that he asked for the cut because, as he described it, he liked the one teammate Manu Ginobili had over his own eye earlier in the playoffs. Duncan went on to say, "I think it's a sexy look."
Yeah, well, if you're Rocky Balboa.
Meanwhile, coach Gregg Popovich declined to make his team watch film of the Saturday debacle, joking that it would have been "cruel and unusual punishment."
It certainly didn't sound like a worried team.
It didn't sound like an inexperienced team, either. When someone asked about the "funk" the Spurs had been in, Popovich replied before Monday's game, "I wouldn't call it a funk."
That's the thing about great teams. They have nerves like James Bond.
And like Bond, they like to ruin the plans of those with ideas to conquer the world.
Consequently, down the stretch Monday, it was the Jazz who came unraveled. Key shots went awry. Questionable calls got them upset. Coach Jerry Sloan got his second technical of the game and was ejected with 2:34 remaining after complaining too strongly. Guard Derek Fisher picked up a "T" at the same time. Fisher earned his second technical and ejection nearly two minutes later.
It was the culmination of a night of frustration in which the Jazz felt they got the short shrift on fouls. Judging strictly by the numbers, they did. The Spurs shot 41, the Jazz 20.
"We just couldn't keep them off the free throw line," said Sloan.
"We felt we got hit a little bit," said Jazz guard Deron Williams, whose 27 points and 10 assists were his team's high point. "You know, we went to the basket — we felt there were a couple of things that were questionable ... but they won the game. They did a good job. They made plays. They kept their heads. We were the ones getting the techs (technical fouls), not them. And that's why they prevailed."
In fact, that's why they're the Spurs.
Said San Antonio forward Robert Horry, ""We've been in a lot of situations throughout our careers. We can handle it very well.
"That's the good thing about this team. We don't get rattled when fans get hot and the team makes a run. Utah made a run and cut it to three, but we stayed calm and cool like a veteran team."


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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