On a night when the Jazz officially announced plans to retire Karl Malone's jersey, San Antonio's Tim Duncan delivered like a Mailman.
Playing with icy efficiency and making game-turning plays precisely when the Spurs needed them - like Malone did so many times during his career in Utah -- Duncan led San Antonio to a grind-it-out 79-70 victory at the Delta Center.
"When it's all said and done," the Jazz's Jarron Collins said, "[Duncan] will be competing with Karl for best power forward of all time."
Duncan finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists against the Jazz, who have lost 20 of their last 22 meetings with San Antonio.
In a two-minute span in the fourth quarter, Duncan scored six points to help the Spurs bump a four-point lead to 70-61.
Although the Jazz didn't go away until the final two minutes, they played from behind the rest of the night against the air-tight Spurs, who held Utah to only four field goals in the final 12:55.
"They're just a great team," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "They execute, they've got the big guy inside who can really draw attention and they've got perfect players to complement him on the perimeter."
They mostly looked out of sync.
Utah committed 16 turnovers and shot only 32 percent - its third-worst marksmanship of the season.
Collins led the Jazz with 15 points and Matt Harpring, returning after a three-game absence because of a sore knee, added 12.
But Memo Okur, Andrei Kirilenko and Gordan Giricek combined for only 23 points on 6-for-33 shooting,
meaning an early eight-point Jazz lead had little chance of holding up.
"I thought our guys played hard, I thought they tried hard," Sloan said. "They just made some mistakes."
Was Utah's trouble on offense caused by the Spurs' ferocious defense, or was it a lack of execution?
"Probably a little bit of both," said point guard Keith McLeod. "They collapsed pretty good when we got in the lane. But sometimes we passed up good shots to get better shots and ended up with tougher shots."
By the Utah coaching staff's count, the Jazz missed 16 of 27 layups. Kirilenko and Giricek, in particular, had difficulty finishing on trips to the basket.
"It's not like diving, when you get points for difficulty," said Sloan, dusting off one of former coach Frank Layden's favorite lines. "[But] that's the way we shot some. They looked good to start with, but we didn't finish them."
Most critically, the Jazz malfunctioned in the fourth quarter, when they scored only 15 points, missed nine of their 13 shots, went 6-for-10 from the foul line and committed five turnovers.
Still, the Jazz trailed only 74-67 with 4:34 to play. They had four chances to get closer, but misfired every time.
Milt Palacio threw the ball away, Okur missed a tough baseline jump-hook over Duncan, Okur's open three-pointer spun out and Harpring's layup was blocked by Nazr Mohammed.
When Mohammed finally ended an eight-possession drought by the Spurs with a three-point play, San Antonio owned a 77-67 lead with 1:51 remaining.
"If you play passive, you are going to make mistakes," Palacio said. "If you play aggressive, you won't."
The Jazz, apparently, weren't aggressive enough.
"The big thing we've got to work on is, when it's a six- or eight-point game, you are still in the ball game," Palacio said. "Down the stretch, I didn't see that fire in our eyes. They had it. . . . That's the confidence we've got to have."
For the Spurs, Tony Parker finished with 17 points and six assists, including one on Mohammed's game-clinching three-point play.
Bruce Bowen contributed 13 points, including a pair of three-point shots in the fourth quarter when the Jazz defense committed to Duncan and left him open.
"It was a good win for us," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "On the road against a very physical team - a team that still executes, probably better than anyone in the league. So coming away with a win here, it feels great."
Spurs 79, Jazz 70
IN SHORT - Tim Duncan scored 19 points, including six during an 11-4 run in the fourth quarter, to lead San Antonio over the Jazz, who lost for the fifth time in the last six games.
KEY STAT - Utah shot 32.4 percent from the floor, its third-worst field-goal percentage this season.
KEY MOMENT - The Jazz were still in the game with three minutes remaining. But Okur's open three-pointer that would have trimmed the Spurs' lead to 74-70 spun around and out. Moments later, San Antonio's Nazr Mohammed iced the victory with a three-point play.