Spurs fans everywhere should take a moment to celebrate some regular season success. A 2-0 record in games played in Utah, accompanying the league leading 39-7, is worthy of warm and positive feelings, especially for anyone who recalls the 0-4 season sweep suffered at the hands of the Jazz last season. Better yet is that despite the closeness of the final score, the Spurs maintained control and did not trail for the final 42 minutes. Now 2-1 on the thirteen city / twenty-seven day NBA tour, the Spurs will head back to San Antonio for two necessary off-days, and the one home game, before starting the RRT. How have they bounced back so smoothly from the Crescent City debacle? Why should a win over the middling Jazz bare any cause for applause? The answers to these questions, and much more, lie ahead.
My Spurs fandom goes back far enough to recall their inability win a game in Utah, the primary rival for advancement in the former Midwest Division. The long ago days of the early 1990s annually contained two or three guaranteed losses: the games played in Salt Lake City (the official town of SpurredOn) and hosted by the Salt Palace before the Delta Center opened. Two post-seasons came crashing to an end there: 1994 and 1996. As a result, any Spurs game played in Utah causes me a small amount of nervousness, though that has become more a feeling of anticipation since Tim Duncan entered the NBA. Thank you, Big Fundamental, for turning Salt Lake City into a friendly travel venue for the Black & Silver. I enjoy wearing my colors any time I'm able to visit.
Quote of the night #1
"Timmy Duncan is the true professional." - Hubie Brown
It is my sincere hope that nothing of note occurred early in this game, as I arrived home late thanks to being delayed at work, then riding a train that had to be taken out of service. For those who may visit my fair city, our local MUNI is no London Underground. I joined the game with the good guys leading 19-16 and Deron Williams shooting FTs. All that needed to be known was contained in that sequence: Spurs winning; a foul had been whistled; D-Will scoring. The quarter would end with the Spurs leading 29-25, led by Tony's 10-points. Spurs out-shot the Jazz 50%-44%, a game low for Utah, and the rebounds were even. Not much learned (or decided) in the first twelve minutes.
Not having a quality NBA bench is something that sticks out over time. Conversely, having a bench of solid players with diverse skills means that any game could blow open without a huge burden placed on the star players. Last night, Gary "Nails" Neal reminded everyone that at any time he could start a scoring run. After the Jazz tied the game with four quick points, Neal scored Seven of Nine as the Spurs started a scoring a binge. Neal would ultimately score ten points in a 17-0 run that gave the Spurs an early headlock on the game. Knowing that the Spurs lost to this very Jazz team despite a 25-0 in-game run last-season, it was too early to relax.
Though leading at the half 58-49, it was frustrating that the Spurs were not up by double digits. I guess the other way of looking at this was to marvel at how they were up nine on the road despite both teams shooting 56%. Al Jefferson, he-who-always-plays-his-best-when-facing-Tim-Duncan, led everyone with 16-points. The good news was that this Spurs lead was built thanks in part to a bench that allowed both TD and Manu to only play around 15 minutes. And because when Tony was on the court, he treated the Jazz defense as he did that of the Warriors two nights earlier - as if they were hardly there.
Quote of the night #2
"You can not fall asleep with Ginobili on the baseline." - Hubie Brown.
Actually, Hubie, we could all happily fall asleep as you tell us bedtime stories of the times Manu broke hearts in Phoenix, buried souls in Denver, and induced Kobe-tears in LA.
The good news? Pop's guys extended their lead to ten point by quarter's end. Not so good news? That lead had been nineteen points before being nearly chopped in half during two minutes of game time. How the heck did that happen?! I'm not sure if Jeremy Evans was on the scouting report but he should be going forward. He ignited a scary quick 11-0 Jazz run with an alley-oop-and-1. He completed the run with another rim grabber. Before this out-of-nowhere scoring spurt, the Spurs capped their own 10-0 burst with an RJ2.0 corner-3. The home fans were booing. Blowout city was but a few made shots and rebounds away. But the grumbling of angry Jazz fans (music to my ears) was quickly replaced by sounds of optimism that reverberated through the arena at the close of the quarter.
Timmy had to play more minutes in this quarter than we would prefer. Utah still had no answer for any of the San Antonio guards. RJ brought out his Fourth Quarter Hammer, and made back-to-back shots (a jumper followed by a 3-ball) each following a Jazz score. Again, his buckets answer that of an opponent, and I think it no accident that he made his long ball after he made his mid-range shot. You're not Mr. Bowen, Richard, thus you should not fall in love with the 3-pt line.
You had to know the Jazz would play better after hitting rock-bottom the prior night in LA, and would be enthused by their home crowd. Their flaws still showed through, and this game is yet another example why, despite likely heading for a fifth consecutive playoff appearance, they continue to be on the outside looking in at the championship contenders. Their fans are loyal but seemed resigned to take out their anger on the officials. Perhaps someone should tell them that their FT attempts were 29-28 and only in the Spurs' favor because Utah had to foul in the final half-minute.
- Guard play. DW brought it for Utah, but the lack of foot speed by his teammates was repeatedly exposed by all four Spurs guards. 72 combined points, 15 assists, 12 rebounds. Not bad for members of the under 6'5" club.
- A hat-tip to Deron Williams. A great player who showed his determinedness by doing all he could to end his team's five game losing streak. He was up against a superior opponent in this game, but that did not stop him shaking off a sprained wrist in the first half, and posting a 39-9-4 night to keep the outcome somewhat in doubt until the end. Anything less from him and the Spurs stroll out of SLC with a 20 point victory.
- There were not many rebounds available in this game, though the Spurs won that competition 33-31. Utah did out-shoot the Spurs 55%-51% and I'd be interested to know everyone's thoughts as to how much of that was flaws from our defense and how much was good execution and shooting by Utah.
- Spurs have won yet another season series, going 2-0 versus the Jazz with one match-up remaining this season (April 9 in San Antonio). This after going winless (0-4) against Utah last season. Okay Portland, you're next.
Your Three Stars:
3 -- Tony Parker - 23-PTS 3-REB 6-AST. Again set the tempo early, carved up the Jazz defense, made some nice passes in traffic, and even hit a clutch 3-pt shot from the wing.
2 -- Gary Neal - 13-PTS 0-REB 2-AST. Likely would have made #1 had he not been run over by the D-Will train. He was headed for a career high night until that point. His shooting and quickness coming off screens were too much for Utah. His early scoring blew the game open and the Spurs never let it get away from them after that point.
1-- Manu Ginobili - 26-PTS 6-REB 7-AST. His toughness is right up Sloan's alley, which may explain why Jazz fans boo him so much for delivering their own medicine, albeit in a far slicker package. He was again a thorn to Utah on both ends, with an awesomely arched 3-pt make, a key steal late in the game, and a physical style that put Utah in the penalty for almost nine minutes of the third quarter. He also cut down on his forced 3-pt shots, a nice adjustment to his game.
Houston comes to town for the second of our four games against them this season. The previous was also a Saturday night in SA. Division games mean the most, and a weekend win would allow the team to start the RRT with a three game win streak already in progress.