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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Greg Ostertag reacts after losing the ball out of bounds against the Spurs late in the fourth quarter on Monday.

They are the defending NBA champs. They have beaten the Jazz 20 times now in their last 22 meetings. And, especially late in games, they play the way Utah can hope it some day will.

The Jazz were reminded of all that and more Monday night, when the San Antonio Spurs beat Utah 79-70 in front of an announced crowd of 19,384 at the Delta Center.

"Down the stretch, I didn't see that fire in our eyes. And they had it," Jazz point guard Milt Palacio said. "They came down and executed their offense, and shot the shots they wanted to shoot.

"I mean, they still were shooting 3s down the stretch. And you don't want to shoot 3s down the stretch — but that's just the confidence they have (that), 'You know what? I'm gonna step up and make this shot.' And that's the confidence and the killer instinct we've got to get."

The Jazz did hang with the 35-10 Spurs for a while, and headed into the fourth quarter down by just four.

But while Utah's scorers were in the midst of a disappearing act — season-leader Mehmet Okur had just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting in 35 minutes; Andrei Kirilenko was held to 10, more than five below his average; and starting shooting guard Gordan Giricek had just four points on 1-of-10 from the field in an abbreviated 17-minute showing — San Antonio big man Tim Duncan was up to his usual tricks.

Duncan scored six of his 19 points in the fourth, and Spurs sharpshooter Bruce Bowen had six of his 13, including a couple of treys, in the final period as well. That combined was more than enough to do in the Jazz, who fell to 21-24 while losing for the fifth time in their last six outings and the seventh in their last nine.

"That's a really difficult team to play against," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, "because they're hard to contain, and if you try to give any kind of help inside they got guys that make shots out on the perimeter, plus they got guys that go after the ball in crucial situations."

The Jazz?

Not so much.

Utah got just one point — a Jarron Collins free throw, one of a team-high 15 from the starting center who averages only 6.2 points per game — out of its final seven possessions before a meaningless Matt Harpring layup at the end.

The real dagger from the Spurs, though, came earlier in the fourth.

Down seven at 74-67 with less than three minutes to go after a Duncan miss, Okur rimmed out a 3-point attempt. Bowen did the same on the other end, and the Jazz again failed to capitalize, as this time Nazr Mohammed blocked Harpring down low.

Harpring fouled Mohammed as the Spurs big man converted a Tony Parker-fed layup on San Antonio's next trip down the floor, and Mohammed made the free throw that followed to complete a three-point play the old-fashioned way.

Even with 1:51 still to go, that sent the masses scurrying up the Delta Center aisles to the exits.

"Those guys know when it comes time to lock up it's time to lock up," said Devin Brown, the ex-Spurs swingman now with Utah. "And that's what they did.

"We were getting wide-open looks . . . and we just weren't putting them in the basket," added Brown, who had just two points in his first game against the Spurs since winning an NBA title ring with them last season. "Against a team like that, you're not going to get much as far as calls, or breaks, or loose balls, so any little thing you can do you have to take advantage of — and we didn't do that."

Whether or not Utah will take advantage of the lesson learned remains to be seen.

Indications, though, are dubious at best.

Asked if it's doom-and-gloom time for the Jazz, who face Denver on Wednesday at the Delta Center in a rematch with the Northwest Division leader that embarrassed them badly just five games ago, Kirilenko did not deny.

"I would say . . . it's kind of hard to predict," he said, recalling a time not long ago when the Jazz had won eight of nine.

"Right now," Kirilenko added, "we are losing lots of basketball games — and we just need to get back and get a win, and start feeling like we can play the same basketball we did a couple of weeks ago."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com