From AP REPORTS
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - After an inconsistent start to the season and watching other clubs go on lengthy winning streaks, the San Antonio Spurs knew it was time to make their run at the playoffs.
The Spurs showed that form on Wednesday as they closed out their series with the Utah Jazz in five games and advanced to the NBA finals for a chance at their fourth NBA title in nine seasons.
"At some point around the All-Star break, Coach just pretty much told us, 'It's time. We can't wait for the playoffs to turn it around. That type of attitude seems to backfire,'" said Michael Finley, who is making his first trip to the NBA finals. "From that point on we just started really buckling down."
Finley, a 12-year veteran in his second season with the Spurs, watched last season as his former team, the Dallas Mavericks, beat San Antonio in the second round of the playoffs on their way to the NBA finals.
"Last year, I thought we had a great chance and unfortunately we came up short," Finley said after Wednesday's win. "With the remainder of the team coming back and feeling that bitterness of losing to Dallas, I think that kind of helped us coming into the season."
For Tim Duncan, he'll not only have a chance at a fourth championship, but also an opportunity for a fourth NBA finals MVP, which he also won in 1999, 2003 and 2005. Getting that honor again would put Duncan behind only Michael Jordan, who won the award six times.
Duncan has averaged a team-best 23.2 points and 11.4 rebounds during the playoffs. Tony Parker is close behind with nearly 20 points per game, and 6.4 assists. Rounding out the Spurs' top-scoring trio is Manu Ginobili with more than 16 points a game. Finley has averaged more than 13.
The Spurs showed they are worthy Western Conference champions with the way they handled the Utah Jazz in the series, but especially the finale. Before facing the Jazz, the Spurs opened the playoffs by eliminating the Denver Nuggets in five games, then the Phoenix Suns in a physical, testy six-game series.
"If we don't finish it in the next series, no one is going to remember how we did against Denver, Phoenix or Utah," Ginobili said.
The Spurs' playoff pedigree is deep, with Duncan playing for San Antonio for all three of the team's titles and Parker and Ginobili around for the past two. Veteran Robert Horry has six championship rings, one with the Spurs, three with the Los Angeles Lakers and two with the Houston Rockets.
"It never gets old," Horry said. "It's a wonderful feeling. You can't wait to get there."
On the other end of the spectrum are players such as Finley and Fabricio Oberto, in his second season, with no titles or NBA finals experience.
"During the game I was happy for all the new guys," Parker said. "It is an unbelievable experience and it is going to be 50 times better if we do go all the way. So we have to stay focused."
The Spurs will meet either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Detroit Pistons in the NBA finals, which start June 7.
They'll have to wait until at least Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, scheduled for Saturday, to find out who they'll face.