Given Utah's buzzer-beater against San Antonio earlier this season and their most recent game which Utah forced into overtime in San Antonio, I wonder if there's enough evidence there to suggest that there could be the outside chance Utah is turning the tide slightly against their most dominating foe in recent years. Looking at the last 3 regular season games Utah has played against the Spurs, I compare those games to the previous 9, 4 of them including the playoff sweep last season.
First of all, Utah is 2-10 against the Spurs under Corbin. One of those wins was won at the end of last season, when Popovich decided to not send his big three (Parker, Duncan, Ginobili) to SLC and rest them instead. It's hard to throw out all the data encapsulated in that game, but it isn't worth considering a worthy win against the same but really different team against all the other 11 games.
One of the biggest differences this season? Utah is shooting 42.86% from the 3-point line against San Antonio this season (3 games) as compared to 25.21% in their previous 9 meetings (playoffs included). While SA is shooting better as well (Utah's weaker backcourt?), their improvement from the arc is half of Utah's improvement from that region. San Antonio FG% remains around 48% for the last 3 games and the previous 9, so no real change there (hard to say anything about shot selection clusterings). As far as considering how some of our 3-pointers shoot during the regular season compared to playoffs
Marvin Williams: In his 2 previous seasons, he improved upon his regular season 3-point shooting % (33.6-38.9%) to 50% in the playoffs in the most recent playoff season. Last year, he made 12-24 3-pointers for the Hawks in 6 playoff games.
Randy Foye: Last season, Randy Foye went from shooting 38.6% from the arc during the regular season to 43.8% in the playoffs for the Clippers. Last year was his first year in the playoffs. Randy Foye could turn out to be a playoff killer for other teams with his streaky hot shooting.
Gordon Hayward: Last season, Hayward shot 34.5% from the arc and the shot a measly 8.3% in the playoffs. However, Hayward did go 16-16 from the free-throw line, which is somewhere Utah can still make some gains (FTA's).
Mo Williams: Mo shot 38.9% during the regular season for the Clippers last year, and then dropped to 36.4% in the playoffs. However, that was as a backup PG. As a starting PG, Mo shot around 43% during the regular season the years he went to the playoffs for Cleveland, but then shot between 32% - 37% in the playoffs at the end of those seasons.
On an added note to Utah's improved 3-point shooting (Hayward and Foye over 40% and Mo close at 38%), last season in the playoffs Utah shot 20% from 3-point range, and in their previous 5 regular season games under Corbin leading up to those playoffs Utah shot 28.8% from the 3 -point line. This season, Utah is shooting 42.85% from the 3-point line against San Antonio. Hopefully that trend will continue.
In the last 3 games against San Antonio, Utah has only given them 21.67 FTA per game as compared to 26 FTA per game in the previous 9 games, even though Utah's PF stand about the same for the two periods (21.55 PF per game compared to 21.66 PF per game). Utah's averaged 2 more FTA per game against San Antonio this season compared to the previous 9 (Favors and Hayward could have the most to do with that).
FTA's per 36 minutes comparing regular season numbers to playoff numbers against the Spurs last season with their regular season mpg compared to their playoff mpg in parenthesis:
Gordon Hayward : 4.1 - 4.0 (30.5 - 30.8 mpg)
Derrick Favors : 5.1 - 9.0 (21.2 - 29.0 mpg)
Paul Millsap : 5.7 - 4.1 (32.8 - 34.8 mpg)
Al Jefferson : 3.1 - 1.0 (34.0 - 35.3 mpg)
Alec Burks : 2.4 - 3.5 (18.0 - 15.8 mpg)
No one else seems to be capable of getting to the free-throw line as or more frequently, let alone get there at will. Mo Williams is only averaging 1.7 FTA per game this season, which is crazy, because he shoots 88.9% from the charity stripe. He has averaged 4.67 FTA in his last 3 games, a lot of those coming at the end of the recent Brooklyn game where he confidently went 6-6.
Utah is also forcing San Antonio to make more turnovers in 3 games this season compared to the previous 9 games (15.67 - 13.33 TO per game).
This season, Utah is also averaging 4 more assists per game compared to their 9 previous games against the Spurs (22.33 - 18.11 APG). This could be due to the increased 3-point shooting %, but regardless hopefully is the result of an extra key pass made to the right spot within the right time window. San Antonio's APG are also up this season as compared to their 9 previous games against Utah, but again, Utah's improvement in the APG category is almost twice San Antonio's improvement, so maybe it is mostly due to the improved 3P shooting.
There are probably a lot of more or less important details to look at, like how Utah does on defense against the Spurs, or pace, or the fact that Utah's not exactly the same team it was last playoff season for the simple reason that a lot of guys are playing in new roles (Foye, Mo, Marvin, DMC?).
Speaking of DeMarre Carroll, he grabbed 2 more rebounds per 36 minutes in the playoffs compared to the regular season, and he shot 10% better from FG range in getting about 1 more minute per game.
If the playoffs were to start tomorrow, I would give Utah a 20% chance of knocking off the Spurs, because Utah has the ability to improve getting to the free throw line with Hayward, Favors, and Millsap all very capable of that. Mo Williams has also demonstrated he can get to the FT line if he attacks the rim (or at least gets guys open in the process). Utah has also shown more willingness to rely on Favors for defensive and sometimes offensive support. Biggest of all has been Utah's improvement in shooting from the arc, and if there's one way Marvin Williams knows how to sting the Spurs with a dose of their own medicine, it's from the corner 3.
This data is simply to suggest that the tide could be slowly changing between Utah and the Spurs (hopefully Dennis Lindsey is a sign and or part of that). Utah beat them last time in SLC and pushed them into OT in San Antonio, and Utah seems to be getting more competitive against them as games come and go. If Corbin can figure out some ways to get some more gains out of our rotations (assuming Kanter is out the rest of the season), and maybe we'll see a more Favors-dominated/influenced playoff series against the Spurs, maybe DMC, Marvin Williams, Pasty Gangster, and Burks can up the defense even more between now and the playoffs to be slightly better than bad on defense. If recent games are any indication, Utah has shown glimpses and signs of defense-ability.