Salt Lake City, UT – There will be no embarrassing first- round exit for the Western Conference's top-seeded team this year.
A year after a spectacular collapse to the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs completed a first-round sweep of the Utah Jazz with an 87-81 victory at EnergySolutions Arena Monday.
Manu Ginobili led the way with 17 points off the bench while Tony Parker and Tim Duncan contributed 11 apiece for the Spurs in an effort that was not efficient, but nonetheless was effective.
Neither team shot over 38 percent from the field, but San Antonio connected on 10-of-22 three-point tries, while Utah missed all 13 of its attempts from beyond the arc.
The victorious Spurs may have a shot at avenging their 2011 defeat, as they advance to face the winner of the Memphis/Los Angeles Clippers series. LA holds a 3-1 series lead after winning, 101-97, in overtime later Monday.
Utah's Al Jefferson paced all scorers with 26 points and 10 boards, Derrick Favors -- who replaced Josh Howard in the starting lineup for Game 4 -- finished with 16 and 10, and Paul Millsap donated 10 and 19 in the Jazz's final game of the season.
San Antonio ripped off a 12-2 run early in the fourth quarter to take its largest lead of the night at 81-60 with 6:17 to play, brining the conference semifinals within reach.
But things got ugly from there. The Spurs' reserves -- so critical to their success throughout the series -- went cold from the floor, missing their next five shots and a pair of free throws, at the same time they got sloppy, committing three turnovers and a goaltend.
The hosts took advantage, to the tune of a 19-2 run that pulled them within four at 83-79 with under a minute remaining.
But the Jazz's momentum stalled when Millsap could not handle a pass, leading to a turnover and an easy layup for Ginobili, and San Antonio survived to join Oklahoma City in the second round.
"We didn't lose our composure. That was great. We used the clock when we could. We took advantage of plays when we had to and found a way to close it out," Duncan said.
Meanwhile, the door closes on Utah's season. A year removed from missing the playoffs for the first time in five years and without legandary coach Jerry Sloan at the helm for the first time since 1989, Tyrone Corbin's team exceeded expectations in what many assumed would be a rebuilding year.
The Jazz managed to make the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference despite a young team featuring seven players under 26 years of age, including four who were NBA lottery picks within the last two seasons.
But they hit a confident and experienced Spurs team buoyed by their meteoric rise up the Western Conference standings in the final two months. San Antonio won 21 of its last 23 regular-season contests, including its final 10, as it displaced the Thunder for the West's No. 1 seed.
"I think it was a good learning experience for us, but it's tough to say after a loss," said Gordon Hayward, one of those lottery picks.
Asked about his first playoff experience, Favors added, "It was a good experience, going out there, playing against the Spurs. It was a challenge. I thought I stepped up to the plate. I had fun and overall, it was just a good experience."
San Antonio built a lead as large as 14 in the second quarter before settling on a 50-42 edge at halftime, supported by a 4-of-9 mark from beyond the arc. They scored seven unanswered points to close the third and brought a 68-58 lead into the final stanza.
San Antonio's bench outscored Utah's reserves 57-10...Tim Duncan's three blocks gave him 450 postseason blocks in his career, the most among active players and in franchise history...No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit...Utah is 22-25 all-time in elimination games, and was swept for the second time in a first-round playoff series...The Jazz won the battle on the boards, 57-43.