We can build on this.
A loss is a loss but not all losses are the same. This is a loss where you can be angry at other things rather than just screaming at the players for lack of effort and energy. There's still a lot to work on, but you could see it from the beginning of the game - the Jazz were here to compete.
First, the positives:
- This is the Deron we've missed the past couple of weeks. It's not just the season high of 39 points. It was the way he was attacking and running the offense. He was 0-5 from the arc but still had 16-24 from the field (16-19 on twos) to go along with 9 assists and 4 boards.
The biggest thing for me was that we didn't see whiny Deron out there. Sure, he still pleaded with the refs for calls, but it wasn't the sulky, emo DWill. It's been as bad as Peter Parker's emo phase in Spiderman 3. His attitude change was a big difference in the game.
- Earl Watson played better than his stat line would let on. 1 point and 3 assists makes it look like he was ineffective on the night. He was going full speed in his 13 minutes on the floor. It might not have been wise to go 1 on 5 on a fast break, but he was pushing and being aggressive when he was out there. He had oops again to Jeremy Evans and to Deron. All of the units where Watson and Williams are paired together have yielded positive results.
Only 1 of the 6 units where Bell and Deron are together have good numbers.
- Jeremy Evans deserves more playing time. He made a definite impact on the floor and was part of the 11-0 run late in the third when the Jazz were able to cut the Spurs lead to 9. They chipped away in the fourth and got it down to just a 6-point deficit with a little over 5 minutes left.
Then he was subbed out for AK. More on AK in a bit, but I thought he should have been left in. He was guarding Richard Jefferson and doing a pretty solid job. His D caused Jefferson to turn the ball over on a travel. After Watson's made free-throw made it 91-97 Spurs, Jefferson hit a three on the next possession. Would things be different had Evans stayed in? Who knows at that point but I would like to think that he would have kept on holding Jefferson in check.
I thought he should have stayed in there until he started becoming a liability. 9 minutes is nothing for a guy his age. At the very least now, he deserves not to get many more DNPs. Though that means Hayward or someone else would have to be deactivated.
So instead of just a 6-point deficit, it was back up to 9 and not get close again until CJ's late layup got the score to 103-107. It was free throws from there for the Spurs and they were able to hang on for the win.
Al Jefferson's 16 points in the first half is what kept this from being another embarrassing half-time deficit. Without him or Deron, we have another fourth quarter free of starters. 22 & 9 on an impressive night for him. He took it right at Duncan most of the night and got almost anything he wanted. The offense does stop moving though when he has the ball. It seems as if the Jazz just have an Al post play where they just let him go. I also thought he was solid on Duncan.
Also, his dunk over Duncan was amazing. We've been waiting for that kind of ferociousness all year.
- CJ had another good outing. At first I was upset that Sloan took him out late in the fourth. Looking at the game log though, he had played 17 straight minutes over the third and fourth quarters. He got a two-minute break and then came back in to finish out the last three minutes of the game.
Miles had 13 points on 8 shots. His driving reverse layup in the fourth was beautiful. When he drives, he's getting a lot of calls. He's also been on a tear from deep in January. He's shooting 39.6% from the arc and 45% overall.
- The crowd at the ESA was the best I've seen it all year. It was great at the New York game, but given the team's recent play, I thought it was a break-out effort by the fans. Truthfully, it's been down all year. There were still boos tonight, but when it was time to get the team fired up, they were ready to go.
- The Jazz clamped down again in the fourth on defense. The Spurs shot just 8/21 (38%).
- After having 10 turnovers in the first half, the Jazz had just three in the second.
- Here's the lineup in the fourth that we saw, DWill/Watson/CJ/Evans/Memo. Memo didn't do much tonight (except pass on an open three) but they played well on the court together.
Now on to the bad...
- Not a good night for Raja. 0-3 (no three-point attempts) in 36 minutes with just 1 assist and 1 rebound. That's normally not a big deal because he does things for you on defense. Tonight though, he was horrid. It didn't matter if it was Neal, Manu, Hill, or Parker, he couldn't keep any of them in front of him. There was a sequence late in the game where Hill drove by him first and on he next possession Manu burned him after Bell went to help. That second one might not have been his fault as there wasn't any rotation, but for the most part he was eaten up.
As far as I know he's note injured or have anything else that would slow him down. According to the media guys, Raja left before reporters got done interviewing Jerry Sloan.
He didn't have the best of luck with officials. He was called for a couple of questionable fouls. Both he and Manu almost made the universe collapse on itself when Manu drove into Bell and both pulled off epic floppage. Bell ended up getting called for the foul only because one of them had to be penalized for that. it should have been a no-call.
And if he wasn't getting beat to the hole, he was giving Manu space to shoot open threes. I'm not trying to make Bell the scapegoat for this game but this was one of his worst nights back with the Jazz.
- Bell wasn't the only one with perimeter D problems. Deron had problems guarding Parker. A lot of that came as Deron was being sent through screens and double screens and not getting any help slowing down the former Mr. Longoria. One time though, Deron was caught looking around at the defensive setup for the Jazz and Parker went right by him.
Whether it was Neal, Manu, Hill, or Parker, nobody offered up any resistance. They either were able to finish at the rim or dish to an open man for a layup. A lot of that penetration came off the pick and roll. Every team knows that now and they're going to keep running it over and over.
- Take +/- for what it's worth, but AK was -19 on the night. He had quite a few deflections and steals but I thought he hurt the team with poor shot selection. He was at his best though when he was driving to the basket where he was able to get 9 FTAs.
He did put up good rebounding and assist numbers but I thought his shot select hurt the team.
- Manu. I loathe Manu as a player. He's effective to be sure but he just kills us. He does that to a lot of teams. Remember when there was talk a couple of years ago that he might not re-sign with the Spurs? That would have been heaven for me. Unfortunately, he re-signed and came back from some lingering injuries and is having an MVP-type year. He just kills you in so many ways.
He had one sequence late where he stripped CJ on a fast break, goes the other way, drives, starting losing it out of bounds under the basket, and then saves it to one of his own guys. Whether it's on D, making unbelievable drives with finishes that have no business being near the rim, or flopping on every play, he just gets it done.
- The 17-0 run to start the second was the biggest killer of all though. The Jazz had just tied the game at 29 before going on a 4 1/2 minute scoring drought. To give you and idea of what 17 points in 4.5 minutes is like, if you scored at that pace for an entire game, you would have 181 points.
The group on the floor at the time was AK, CJ, Elson, Watson, and Memo. The Spurs had Manu, Splitter, Hill, Neal, and McDyess. That unit has only played 2 minutes together before tonight, but it wasn't good. This lineup should never hit the floor again.
- After the Jazz got a rebound late when they needed to make up 6 points, they drove the ball up the court and got two. I don't know why Sloan didn't call a TO to one, advance the ball and save time and two, to get Memo in for Jefferson. Twos did us no good.
And as stated above, I thought Evans should have finished out the game.
- Where was Millsap? I know he had 4 fouls early in the third, but we didn't see him the rest of the game.
- You know I never complain about the refs but there was some atrocious calls. The Spurs were granted a timeout when nobody had possession for crying out loud. They're not going to get every foul call right but the Jazz were called for quite a few that were clean blocks/picks. The double flop foul was terrible.
AK had a pretty slick play where he tapped the ball away after a missed Spurs shot, went out of bounds, established himself back on the court, and got called for stepping on the line when he recovered the ball. The ref that made that call had absolutely no view of the baseline.
I'm glad that I can get mad at these things though rather than the team's lack of energy.
This almost sounds like a winning recap. It almost was. Regardless of the outcome, you have to like how the Jazz came out and played. It seems like they're just a few lineup and rotation tweeks from getting things going.
What we saw tonight was that the Jazz, and maybe more importantly Deron, haven't given up. People will say that Sloan will never let a team quote. That's true but the players still have to go out and show that. I was afraid that they weren't going to be able to get going again.
Even though this is a loss, this is a game where you want to move on to the next as quickly as possible because you know what can be done.