Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
By JAIME ARON AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Before Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talked about how his team has learned over the years to be even-tempered in the playoffs, treating wins as a relief and losses as learning opportunities.
Then came a 26-point loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night -- and a confession Sunday afternoon.
"I lied," Popovich said, laughing.
Popovich was angry when the game ended and disgusted hours later when he and his assistant coaches watched replays. They saw Tim Duncan get into foul trouble and unable to deal with it, Utah's Deron Williams go wherever he wanted whenever he wanted and, worst of all, their veteran team pretty much give up once the Jazz got rolling in the second half.
San Antonio players showed up for a team meeting Sunday morning bracing for a brutal film session. Popovich is the kind of coach who uses lots of slow motion and freeze frames to pinpoint mistakes and not-so-politely ask what they were thinking, and they'd given him plenty of material.
But Popovich decided making them watch the film would be "cruel and unusual punishment," so he only gave them a verbal lashing about all the things he expects them to do better in Game 4 Monday night.
"It's tough to watch a massacre, especially when you're the one being decapitated," said Michael Finley, in his second season with the Spurs but already appreciative of Popovich's mercy. "It would've been long because he stops on every play. Why continue to beat a dead horse?"
It probably has more to do with what Popovich was saying before Saturday's game, about his team knowing what it's doing this time of year. Recent history proves it.
Since Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became a trio in 2002-03, the Spurs have lost nine other playoff games by at least 12 points. They are 5-4 in the following game, including a bounceback win last round against Phoenix.
More importantly, the lopsided losses have come in eight different series -- and San Antonio has recovered to win six of them.
It's also worth noting that the Spurs were leading every series at the time of their meltdowns, which hints a lack of focus was as much to blame as whatever their opponents did.
"We have a lot of areas that we can clean up very easily," Duncan said. "If we do those things, I think we'll be in the right position."
Utah's Derek Fisher knows the deal. And as the wise veteran in the Jazz locker room, he'll make sure his young teammates, most of whom had never been past the first round until this postseason, don't get carried away with this one win, no matter how impressive it was.
"I just don't see it carrying over much," Fisher said. "I think it almost works against you. It's almost embarrassing when you're at that level that they've reached, in terms of how they probably feel. So I think tomorrow they come back with some pretty serious intensity and pretty serious focus. That's what we have to expect."
The game is in Salt Lake City, which bodes well for the Jazz. They are 7-0 at home this postseason and 3-0 against the Spurs there counting the regular season.
San Antonio is 0-9 in road playoff games against Utah, going all the way back to the days of David Robinson and Dennis Rodman in 1994.
Playing in front of their fans certainly made a difference for the Jazz on Saturday night.
They had their worst first quarter of the series, but followed it with their best second quarter to go into halftime down only four. They came out for the third quarter determined to play even better and the Spurs couldn't match their effort, especially with Duncan struggling. Once Utah got ahead by more than a basket, San Antonio kept falling further and further behind.
Williams led the Jazz with 31 points, but may have worn himself out in the process. He showed up for practice Sunday with a stomach illness, was given medicine and sent home without working out. He's listed as probable for Game 4.
Williams is averaging over 30 points this series and fellow Team USA pick Carlos Boozer is averaging 26.7. In Game 3, Fisher, Gordan Giricek, Jarron Collins and Paul Millsap helped with some timely contributions on offense and Mehmet Okur made up for a scoreless game by constantly pestering Duncan.
"It was great to see our team step up like that," Boozer said. "That's what we have to do if we're going to have a chance against them."
Boozer insisted after each of the first two games Utah was oh-so-close to a breakthrough. It seemed like wishful thinking considering the Jazz's best spurts came after San Antonio was far ahead, but that's no longer the case now that they've pulled off a convincing victory.
Now they are thinking back to the first round, when they overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Houston. No team has ever dug out of such a hole twice in the same postseason -- at least, not yet.
"We're just trying to get the second one so we can tie the series up," Boozer said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-05-27-07 1624MDT