The San Antonio Spurs (59-17) defeated the Utah Jazz (47-30) by the small-ish margin of 109-103. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich elected to rest “injured” starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green; and reserves Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, and David Lee. Actually injured player Dejounte Murray did not play while David Lee and Joel Anthony received DNP-CDs. As a direct result, this was at times a close game.
Utah rarely wins in San Antonio, but they did earlier this season. Tonight the natural order was restored even if the Spurs weren’t at full strength. Utah once again played without starters George Hill and Derrick Favors, while Raul Neto was also an injured inactive. I have no doubt that if the games were Playoff Games, each of the five starters that did not play tonight would have. Quin Snyder continues to tighten up his rotation, as Alec Burks, Trey Lyles, and Joel Bolomboy continue to rack-up DNP-CDs.
Because both teams only played nine players we got to see some things. Good things and bad things. Things under a microscope and focused on ESPN for all to see on a Sunday afternoon. Tonight was Boris Diaw’s best, most confident game of the season on offense. He routinely took control of some plays, a continuation of what we’ve seen him do over the last week or so with Favors out. He made the right play, moved the ball off the bounce, and was opportunistic. Playing against rookie Latvian import, Davis Bertans, he was aggressive. Diaw would finish the game with 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists off of 9/9 shooting (including splashing a three).
It’s obvious that he has great chemistry with Rudy Gobert - who led this team with 19 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, and 6 blocks.
Both of those players work well in tandem or in substitution for one another with Joe Johnson. Joe came off the bench to drop 13 points, 3 threes, 3 dimes, and 3 rebounds.
Finding a forward rotation is going to be critical for Snyder. On this afternoon “under the microscope” game things look good on offense for this crew. Defensively? Things were not great.
It started off like this early, and played out this way all night long. The Jazz were moving the ball around, working for good shots. And they had good chances to score. The Spurs were moving the ball around and getting excellent shots. And they made them, off the curl, passing to the open man who was set, getting layups and dunks in transition, and guys just flat out taking threes off the dribble and nailing them.
San Antonio shot with great confidence in this game, and Utah’s vaunted defense couldn’t do much about it. There were a lot of breakdowns where Jazz players were just running into one another trying to chase their men though screens. This allowed for the Spurs to just get open shots. Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate. You can’t leave him open. Guys like Bertrans, Jonathan Simmons, and Bryn Forbes? I guess you can’t leave these guys open either, they combined to shoot 6/13 from outside.
Utah did keep it close in the first, only a quarter ending breakdown allowed the lead to balloon up to 5. Things got remarkably worse in the second quarter when the Spurs lead bleed to 17 points. A 23-8 run on the other end allowed the Jazz to stay in it. Thankfully. Gordon Hayward’s shot wasn’t falling, but Dante Exum was playing good defense, and the team was being unselfish with the ball.
The good guys would tie it up 52-52 with seconds to go. Gobert missed against Pau Gasol. Gasol scored on Gobert. And Gobert missed a floater as the 2 for 1 went. Spurs led 54-52 at the half. Not bad, Jazz.
Bad was Kawhi Leonard scoring 19 of his 25 points in the third. Gordon Hayward could not answer, and the Spurs went into the 4th quarter at home up by ten points, 88-78. They do not usually lose games in that situation. And as you noticed, they did not lose tonight.
Tony Parker and company kept the foot on the pedal, and extended the lead to 100-86, 14 points, with about 5 minutes to go. The Jazz did not quit, though. Joe Johnson did make it a 4 point lead a few times: at 102-98, and again 106-102. Utah couldn’t get over the hump, fighting off a 17 point deficit and a 15 point defect, unable to get over the 14 point one completely.
Both teams were without key starters and rotation players. Both teams weren’t tired for this one. Both teams were making the extra pass all night long. And both teams were contesting shots well. San Antonio shot .519 .526 .864, while Utah shot .483 .375 .615. Defending the three and making free throws. Or alternatively, having the concentration to make open shots from deep and at the line.
One of these teams has that, the other did not.
Oh well, the Jazz lose. That sucks. But on paper back when the schedule was released I don’t think any of us expected to win this game. They did lose, so I don’t think any of us are surprised. It was a good game where both teams showed something. Under the microscope the Spurs are very polished, even when having to plug in lesser used players to fill roles. The Jazz have a monster in the middle with Gobert, and a nice offense. But in order for it to be better than nice guys like Hayward and Rodney Hood both can’t shoot poorly in the same game.
Utah’s got 5 more games left this regular season with Los Angeles’ less glamorous team breathing down their collective necks. Thankfully tonight is the Wolves / Blazers make-up game. Utah has three more games against MIN and POR. Hope their game goes to 9 OT. (97 more years of Rick and Morty!)