So much for those high-flying, run-and-gun, scoreboard-busting Western Conference teams. This matchup is more like the NBA of a few years back, featuring two well-coached, hard-nosed, physical teams that can score inside, defend and rebound. Look for a lot of hard fouls and chippy play as both sides feature their share of pests and instigators.
The Jazz come in as the clear underdogs, but they are riding a wave of confidence after having dispatched the Rockets and Warriors, respectively, so far in the postseason. Led by Carlos Boozer (pictured) and Deron Williams, the Jazz have shown an ability to play different styles while coming up big in the fourth quarter. Utah also is younger, quicker and deeper than the Spurs, with Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Derek Fisher, Gordan Giricek and rookie Paul Millsap able to come in and make big plays.
But if the Jazz hope to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1998 they are going to have to overcome their recent history against the Spurs. Utah has dropped 24 of its last 28 games against the Spurs, including 16 straight at San Antonio. The Jazz believe they can reverse those fortunes based on their success against the Rockets, a team that like San Antonio featured a dominant big man and a stifling defense. But the Spurs are a much better club than Houston. San Antonio has Tim Duncan to slow down Boozer, and All-Star point guard Tony Parker to offset Williams. They also have a proven third scorer in Manu Ginobili, who seems to be heating up, and a defensive ace in Bruce Bowen to help defend Williams and keep him out of the paint.
Coming off a six-game series win over the Suns, which followed a five-game thumping of the Nuggets in the first round, the experienced and battle-tested Spurs have taken care of business so far. Throw in home-court advantage, and San Antonio looks to be holding the cards in this matchup. Unless the Spurs have an emotional letdown after that hard-fought series with the Suns, they should advance to their fourth NBA Finals appearance in nine years.
Carlos Boozer vs. Tim Duncan These two All-Star power forwards are the go-to guys for their respective teams. Boozer has emerged as a force in his fifth NBA season, averaging 20.9 points (on 56.1 percent shooting) and 11.7 boards during the regular season. Though undersized at 6-foot-8, the former Duke star has the quickness and toughness to match up with anybody underneath. Boozer has shown his versatility in this year's playoffs, using his fast feet to go around Houston's 7-foot-5 Yao Ming in the first round and then turning to his power game to annihilate the Small Ball Warriors in the second round.
Against Duncan, however, it won't be nearly as easy. The 10-year veteran -- and two-time MVP -- averaged 20.0 points (on 55 percent shooting), 10.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks during the regular season, and has picked it up in the playoffs. At 7-foot and 260 pounds, Duncan has the bulk and length to slow Boozer inside, but also the quickness to get out and defend pick and rolls. Boozer won't be able to drive around Duncan the way he did against Yao. On the other end, Duncan's size will probably force the Jazz to use 6-foot-11 center Okur (see below) as his primary defender. Plus, they won't want Boozer to get in foul trouble. It will be a heavy load for Duncan, but the two-time former MVP figures to be up to it.
Spurs: Michael Finley The 12-year veteran signed with the Spurs two years ago as a free agent hoping to reach his first Finals. Now four games away, he surely will be primed to play his best. So far in the playoffs Finley is averaging 14.5 points while shooting 45.9 percent from downtown. If he stays hot, Kirilenko will have to pay close attention and might not be able to play as much help defense on Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
Jazz: Mehmet Okur The five-year veteran has been an unsung hero for the Jazz all season, hitting big three-point shots and doing the dirty work under the boards. In this series the Jazz need him to get physical with Duncan while avoiding fouls, so that Boozer can focus on offense. At the other end, Okur must hit his outside shot to spread the floor and create spacing for Boozer and the Jazz cutters against the long Spurs defense.
Spurs in six
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