Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
By JAIME ARON AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The fans will be wearing "True Blue" shirts, cheering at the right times and groaning when officials make calls against their team, all the things that have helped the Utah Jazz win every home game this postseason.
But can the crowd fix a leaky defense? Or get struggling shooters to find their touch?
If not, this may be the final weekend of cheering for several months.
Utah is down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs going into Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night. While the Jazz overcame that deficit in the first round against Houston, starting their rally with two home wins, they know they likely need to take both these games to pull it off again. Game 3 is the biggie, because no NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit.
"We can't just bank on the fact that we're going to be at home to win it for us," forward Carlos Boozer said Friday. "We've got to show up."
The Jazz haven't done that so far. Both games in San Antonio were decided by halftime, with Utah not even holding the lead since the first quarter of the first game. It's quite a contrast to Cleveland, which is down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, but at least had a chance to win both games in the final minute.
The Spurs deserve much of the credit for this throttling.
Tim Duncan has been efficient as ever and Tony Parker has been a blur, zipping into the lane at will. Add in Manu Ginobili's scoring as a reserve and some timely shots by other role players, and it seems the only thing San Antonio has to worry about is boredom.
"We're playing as well as we have all year long," said Duncan, who is averaging 26.5 points, 12 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 blocks this series. "But we go and we look at some film and we still see some little things that we're doing wrong. And that's a great feeling to have, to be able to improve on some stuff even in a series up 2-0 in the Western Conference finals."
Utah has the horrible feeling of trying to decide which is the bigger problem, its offense or its defense.
Take away the combined 44-of-82 from Boozer and Williams and the rest of the Jazz are 28-of-86, an ugly 33 percent. The worst offenders are Derek Fisher (2-16) and Mehmet Okur (7-28). Worse yet, those two are supposed to be steadying influences. Both have championship rings and were the only guys who'd been past the first round of the playoffs when this postseason began.
Sloan is bothered most by the lack of defense. He sees players lingering on the offensive end after missed shots and they're repeatedly getting caught in the wrong place when they do set up their defense.
"I don't know if I've ever seen us be so totally lost just changing ends," he said.
The Spurs have capitalized, making 55 percent of their shots. Four starters are doing even better than that, with the center duo of Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson a combined 16-of-19, mostly on layups and dunks.
"They're just picking us apart," Sloan said. "If you want to compete, you've got to compete on the defensive end. Then your offense will come around. We can't just think, `I've got to get me some points and we'll be better.' We've got to stop some people. You've got to play defense in this league in the playoffs. You're not going to outscore people every night."
Another Sloan gripe: "We don't have anybody fouling out."
"If I had guys fouling out, I'd know they were at least close enough to touch somebody," he said. "I don't want any nasty basketball, that 'We got to take somebody out' kind of stuff. I just want to see us play hard."
He'd like his players to get physical on offense, too, setting more hard screens -- like the Spurs have done.
"It looks like we're playing an exhibition game the way we're running the floor," Sloan said. "I think we have to be held accountable for that."
Boozer has more of a glass half full outlook on what's happened so far. He keeps saying the difference in the series is only two bad quarters (the second in both games).
"Sometimes, you play good D and it's better O. A guy makes a great shot or a great pass. It happens," Boozer said. "I'm sure we could've beat some teams that we played in the playoffs with how we've played."
The Spurs lost both regular-season games in Salt Lake City, so they know the Jazz are a tougher team at home. Several San Antonio players also know what to expect from the Utah crowd because they've seen it before. Duncan, Robert Horry, Michael Finley and Brent Barry played postseason series against Karl Malone, John Stockton and that crew in the 1990s and early 2000s, plus Jacque Vaughn was on some of those Jazz teams.
"The fans are great," Horry said. "They whoop and holler. They know if they can get up it gives their team energy."
Finley is wary that being home could cure all that ails the Jazz.
"I think those other guys who haven't been having a spectacular offensive performance have been looking forward to these home games to get in stride, so to speak," he said. "We're expecting one of their better games come Game 3 and Game 4."
That may have to be the case both times if Utah fans are going to get to see a Game 6.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-05-25-07 1707MDT