NBA Playoffs 2012: Jazz Vs. Spurs Series & Game 1 Preview

Apr 8, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Utah Jazz guard Jamaal Tinsley (left) commits a clear path foul on San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (right) during the second half at the AT&T Center. The Spurs won 114-104. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

Round 1: Utah Jazz @ San Antonio Spurs

Game 1: waaaay too early

I still can't believe that our team made the playoffs. It really looked like we would not for most of the season, but no matter if you are a jaded blogger, or the #1 seed in the Western Conference, you have to respect the fact that the Utah Jazz got it done when they had to. And that mentality of "getting it done" is only going to continue to grow as they get more experience. The Jazz finished the season 36-30, while the Spurs somehow still managed to have yet another 50 win season, this time in a 66 game lockout shortened year. Even though I'm not a huge fan of the Spurs on a personal level (sorry, J.R Reid never connected with me as a player), I really respect them for how good they are. And I also respect how long they've been at the top, their first ring came back in the LAST lockout shortened season, 1999. It's very admirable, they've stayed a contender for that long. Which, of course, has little to do with their so called Admiral. He had a history of getting punked by the Jazz until Tim Duncan came along to unbalance the front court equation. (Seriously, we had Felton Spencer and then Greg Ostertag all those years . . . !)

The Jazz and Spurs have faced each other in the playoffs before, and three of the four times the Jazz have not had home court. Which is fine, because three of those four times the Jazz still managed to win the series. Of course, those Jazz teams were headlined by two Hall of Famers, and coached by one too. This Jazz team is a little different. The Spurs are still strong and deep everywhere. And they are hungry to prove that last seasons' first round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was a fluke. Our Utah Jazz, on the other hand, will act as power hungry expansionists -- trying to stake a claim on greater playoff glory. They are too young to know any better.

Age vs. youth.

Experience vs. vigor.

Spurs vs. Jazz.

Playoff Basketball.

The Season Series:

This season the Spurs beat the Jazz three games to one. And in that one game the Jazz got, they got it while the Spurs didn't even send over their best players. Honestly, that game was not a gimmie game, the Jazz still had to work for that win. That shows you the disparity between these two teams. The Spurs are very talented, and everyone knows what they are doing. Our Jazz team was still struggling through line up changes (guys injured, guys healthy, etc), and battles each others' relative inexperience in this system. (Seriously, the only guys who really know our plays are still Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles -- and only Millsap is healthy now)

If you look at the season series, and believe that it does mean something to the playoffs (and I do), then you clearly have to give the advantage to the Spurs here. I'm not going to dig too deeply into the season series as I break down some of the other parts later into this post.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

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The Season, in full:

The Spurs:

San Antonio won 50 games, remember? They are the first in the Western Conference. We? We're 8th. Right off the bat the Spurs have the edge here too. San Antonio's offense is top notch. They are #1 in fg%, points per shot, and points per possession. They don't make mistakes. They always look for the mismatch. They are a balanced line up of guys who can drive, guys who can shoot, and guys who are garbage men. And the refs love them. Oh, and somehow they've gotten Boris Diaw to return to his Phoenix Suns form where he was a dynamic playmaker. Really. The Spurs offense is really good. That's one of the big reasons why they seem to always beat us (13 wins in the last 22 games), especially in their gym. They *are* a good team, it's not just reputation (theirs being good, and ours being that all we do is foul) and flopping.

On defense the Spurs don't scare you. They are not Top 10 in things like blocks, or steals. So you overlook the Spurs defense. Which is just what they want. While they don't headline all the flashy stuff -- they are #9 in defensive rebounds, and #11 in opponents fg%. Those are the things that really matter, not the ESPN Highlights. The Spurs know what they are doing on defense, and improved all through the season; even when they were just playing their no name guys. I don't know what's in the water in San Antonio -- but their players seem to all be very good learners who work as a team.

The most interesting stat I found is that while the Spurs are #17 best in Free Throw Attempts, the teams they play against almost never go to the line. The Spurs still do foul. But the Free Throw Attempts difference is quite high. Only one team sends the other team to the line less than San Antonio does. This contrasts highly with how the Jazz play. The Jazz foul a lot, but they are also used to getting fouls called for them as well. Yes, only one team sent the other team to the line more than the Jazz, the Jazz also went to the line #4th best in the NBA this season. The Spurs are #17th at getting to the line / #2 at not sending to the line. While the Jazz #4 at getting to the line / #29 at not sending to the line. Utah's used to the attrition game. San Antonio is used to the "how dare you call a foul on us" game. When the two play -- it almost always goes in the Spurs favor in this regard; which means that the Jazz are forced to play out of their comfort zone. (I'd like to see a Jazz/Spurs game reffed the way a normal Jazz game is reffed though . . . for once.)

.

The Jazz:

This was a very up and down season for the Jazz, but we are trending upwards. Last year was a disaster, and this year we made the playoffs. I'm not going to go too deeply into the month by month trials of our team. (That's what the off-season is for) Over all our team is a good offensive club, and very bad at defense. First, the good: our offense. The Jazz have a dedicated inside / inside game plan that is a throwback to simpler times before there was a three point line to worry about. The Jazz go inside in a variety of ways:

  • Post ups (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter)
  • Pick and rolls (Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors)
  • Pick and pops (Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson)
  • Face ups and Isolations (Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson)
  • Guys running in transition (Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap)
  • and guys cutting (everyone)

None of those four guys are perfect, but together they cause more head aches for the opposition than they do for Tyrone Corbin. Probably the biggest positive factor they provide is that they are all excellent offensive rebounders. They seem to have a nose for the ball, and use their big bodies to make space and get the rock. This gives the Jazz a lot of extra possessions, and they've needed each one this season (Way more over time periods than blowouts this year). You do wish they were more consistent free throw shooters -- but all of them are 27 and younger. Much younger in the case of Kanter who is 19. (NINETEEN!)

The bad news is that we don't have a very diverse offense, and if you are able to inhibit our inside work (either by blocking our shots, or getting defensive boards) then we are stuck. It's not like we have Kyle Korver and Mehmet Okur on the team anymore.

It of course gets, worse. We're not a very good defensive club. We have a lot of trouble with the pick and roll, with dribble penetration, or anything to do with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Period. We're going to get a lot of them in the next few games. I will get into this later.

The most interesting stat I wanted to point out is that the Jazz *are* very good on the glass overall (#3), and exceptionally so on offensive rebounds (#3). Which goes directly against the Spurs being good over all in rebounds too (#9), and one of the best at defensive rebounds (#5). The Spurs are also #3 in PREVENTING the other team from getting offensive rebounds. And yes, the Jazz are also #10 in PREVENTING the other team from getting defensive rebounds. So this is going to be an interesting battle of strength vs. strength. We already know that the Spurs will win the Free throw battle (despite the entire seasons' worth of evidence that the Jazz get to the line the #4th most in the league). Utah can even the score by winning this rebounding battle.

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Both teams had remarkable seasons, but both teams have different standards for what remarkable means. We're a young club looking to go up in this world. The Spurs are one that's been to the top of the mountain that doesn't want to go down just yet. The Spurs are the #1 seed, and are a more balanced team. And the refs seem to love them.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

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The Players:

Point Guards:

In a battle between two teams -- one that does everyone off the pick and roll, and the other that needs to control the tempo -- the battle starts with the point guards.

The Studs: Tony Parker vs. Devin Harris

Sas_pg_tonyparker_medium Advantage Spurs
Uta_pg_devinharris_medium

The Rest of the Crew:

San Antonio Spurs:

Sas_pg_pattymills_medium

Sas_pg_garyneal_medium

vs.

Utah Jazz:

Uta_pg_jamaaltinsley_medium

Not shown:

I think that the Spurs have the advantage at PGs and there really isn't enough time (it's 11:30 my time right now, game starts at 1!) to go into this into more detail. Sorry guys.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

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Wings:

So much of the Spurs offense and defense relies on their talented wing players. The Jazz usually go PG/PF in terms of talent. But we are not slouches in this department either. Like, we're not the Bobcats, after all. WE did win 36 games this year, and a lot of that happened to be our wings.

The Studs: Manu Ginobili vs. Gordon Hayward

Sas_wings_manuginobili_medium

Advantage Spurs

Uta_wings_gordonhayward_medium


The Rest of the Crew:

San Antonio Spurs:

Sas_wings_kawhileonard_medium

Sas_wings_stephenjackson_medium

Sas_wings_danielgreen_medium

Not Shown:

vs.

Utah Jazz:

Uta_wings_rajabell_medium

Uta_wings_joshhoward_medium

Uta_wings_alecburks_medium

Uta_wings_demarrecarroll_medium

Uta_wings_cjmiles_medium

(CJ is Injured!)

I think that outside of Manu, yes, the Spurs have more quality but we have quantity. If we can get ANYTHING out of either Raja or Josh in this series than this is a push according to over all talent. (Not average talent) How that talented is used, mind you, differs greatly. All the Spurs wings can shoot, and make, threes. We can't say the same. Because of that I am going to have to give them the edge -- and also because Manu is still very very good.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

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Bigmen:

In the playoffs it all starts and ends with bigmen. That's the Jazz main strength, but San Antonio has quite a number of interesting looks they can throw at the Jazz.

The Studs: Tim Duncan vs. Al Jefferson

Sas_bigs_timduncan_medium


Uta_bigs_aljefferson_medium

Advantage Utah

The Rest of the Crew:

San Antonio Spurs:

Sas_bigs_dejuanblair_medium

Sas_bigs_mattbonner_medium

Sas_bigs_borisdiaw_medium

Sas_bigs_tiagosplitter_medium

vs.

Utah Jazz:

Uta_bigs_paulmillsap_medium

Uta_bigs_derrickfavors_medium

Uta_bigs_eneskanter_medium

Not Shown:

  • Jeremy Evans (I tried to put him in photoshop -- but I couldn't zoom out far enough to see him because he jumps so high)

You know how the Spurs have good wings, and we have a bunch of crappy to mediocre ones? This is the reverse situation in terms of bigs. We have better top quality, 3 of the best 4 guys are our guys. That trumps their interesting looks (Diaw can pass and shoot, Bonner is a Jazz killer from deep who helps them space the floor -- and a surprisingly adept post defender).

Edge: Utah Jazz

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Coaching:

Oh look at the time, it's 11:53 am now, and the game starts soon. No time for this section. How convenient.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

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Major Weakness / Fatal Flaw:

The Spurs are a very complete team, and as a result, they aren't deficient really anywhere. They lost last year to a Grizzlies team that was a very good defensive team, particularly on the wings. We are not. If the Spurs had a weakness it would have to be their inside scoring from their bigs. If the Jazz can just stay home on their shooters, and still try to get the ball out of the hands of Paker / Ginobili -- then it should mean their bigs are open. I'd rather foul Splitter and Blair and send them to the line (or not foul them and just challenge their shot), instead of giving up an open three to their stable of three point studs or send Tony to the line. Did you miss it? Vs. the Jazz Parker and Ginobili both shoot in the low 90 ft%!! If the Jazz can force the Spurs to try to prove their bigs can score then it could work in the Jazz favor. I don't think Gregg Popovich would do this though, unless ironically to prove a point. Karl Malone did score 50 in the playoffs at age 36. I checked again, Duncan just turned 36. Sadly, as others have pointed out, on this Spurs team there's no need for Duncan to ever score 50. If would be a serious flaw if he did try. Against the Jazz he hasn't been impressive at all.

The Jazz have two, but seeing how I picked an offensive one for the Spurs, I'll pick one for the Jazz as well. The Jazz can't shoot from deep. They will have to this series if they ever want the Spurs to go into man coverage again. Period.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

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Amar's Gameplan:

If I were the Spurs I would really attack Utah's pick and roll / isolation defense. It has always worked, and until the Jazz prove that it can be stopped -- keep doing it. Utah will over help because they can't keep your guards out of the paint, leaving a lot of guys open, spot up shooters and cutters. It's a simple game plan, but it is one you guys can (and will) use against us with great success. Manu is great at finding passing angles. Tony is too quick to stop and great in the paint. Everyone shoots threes. And guys like Tiago and Blair are there to clean up any messes that happen. And plus you have Boris Diaw -- who lives for an open system where there is space to put the ball on the floor, mismatches happening, and lots and lots of interesting shots to consider (but never take, thanks JR.).

If I were the Jazz you'd have to go with your strength here and force the issue in the paint. If they double or go zone, everyone needs to be working as a unit, guys have to make hard cuts, and you all have to work together. Someone has to drive, and draw in defenders. That's all the Spurs do, and it works. It's not rocket science. If the Jazz can't get a guard to drive then use Big Al as a passer. He gets the ball, guys have to work around him. Get shots inside. Try to get to the foul line (I know, the Spurs never foul though, amirite?). Make this the type of game you can win. Slow it down. Lots of stoppages. Disrupt the flow of the Spurs on court soccer game of constant movement.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

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Overall:

We are the #8 seed for a reason, and they are the #1 seed for a reason. There's no shame in admitting facts. I'm happy we're in the playoffs. It's going to be an interesting series -- particularly as a way to evaluate our current roster. Which guys want to be big time players, and which guys are selfish chuckers. Also, I know the younger guys are the reason why we made the playoffs. But a) you're going to see the vets rewarded with more playing time (life isn't fair), and b) if you are going to only have a brawlers chance in this fist fight, you have to go down swinging. Josh Howard is going to take all the shots he can. And you know what? Let him. More offensive rebound chances gives us a better chance to score than some of our other set plays.

Spurs should win. It will be a nice learning experience for our guys. And I hope that our "future" get some time on the court together.

Edge: San Antonio Spurs

Prediction: Spurs 4 - Jazz 1

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