If Greg Popovich didn't like to win as much as he does, it would be tempting to think that he hates the number twelve. Twice the Spurs have gotten on a roll in this shortened season. Two separate times they reached the number of eleven consecutive wins. And for the second time, the streak was cut short with an intentionally short-handed loss on the road as Pop decided to give his stars a rest and only traveled with the Junior Varsity to battle the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Utah is always a tough place to play. Their crowd, coming off a week of nothing else to do, always provides a playoff atmosphere regardless of the state of their team or season. Buoyed by their raucous crowd, and still stinging from a defeat at the Spurs' hands the night before, the Jazz played tough for four full quarters and the Spurs lost by seven points, 91 to 84.
In a loss in which many excuses can be made, allow this Kool Aid connoisseur to make them.
Tony, Tim and Manu are kind of critical to what the Spurs do. Even though the role players are some of the best in the NBA, without their catalysts, they lose a lot of what makes them able to do what they do. The shots were difficult to come by last night. The passes were not as crisp and the ball movement suffered. The defense greatly stayed at home and dared our guys to beat them one on one. When your best players are not in the game, it's human nature to respond by taking on more responsibilities. The problem occurs when you overstep them, which happened last night. Guys were trying to do too much as individuals, rather than relying on their teammates. The Spurs offense was riddled with broken plays. The few open looks that the Spurs created were just not as open as normal, resulting in a 42.5 FG% and 28.6 3P%.
Stephen Jackson still has not found his shooting touch. He shot 2 of 13 from the field, 1 of 5 from three. He also had 3 turnovers. I honestly thought he looked winded in the fourth, which is probably to be expected. He didn't get much run before being traded to the Spurs. He's still trying to play himself into game shape. Towards the end of the game, he stopped crashing the boards and began settling for outside jumpers. With the Big 3 missing, a lot was asked of Stephen Jackson and he wasn't in the necessary shape to deliver. I'd still take him over RJ, any day.
A lot was also asked of Gary Neal, who shot 6 of 16 from the field and committed 3 turnovers of his own. I thought he played well, though he often found himself in situations in which he had to take the shot, and his shooting percentage suffered. The same thing with Danny Green, who was 3 of 11 from the field. The seams in the defense were just not there for our guys last night.
The game was depressing for me to watch. I kept thinking that if our shooters just had an extra half second, they would make it. But without our creators, that half second was nonexistent and our rushed shots were perpetually missed.
Before the game, I understood that a lot would have to go right in order for the shorthanded Spurs to win in Utah. Many of our players had off games, and that's on them. However, the officials were terrible (especially in the final minutes) and despite our off-game, I'm sure that this would have been a win if the referees had called it fair. The Spurs were hacked the entire game, yet never stopped attacking the rim. The officials chose to call fouls on the Spurs and not on the Jazz. The worst thing officials can do is call an inconsistent game, and this was one of the worst performances I've seen by officials this season. The free throw disparity tells you everything you need to know about last night: 33 to 10 in favor of the home team, which would be completely understandable if only the Jazz had been the agresssors throughout. But it's not like the Spurs pulled a Mavs and settled for a bunch of long, fade-away twos. The Spurs were posting up, slashing, and driving to the basket all game.
In a span of 90 seconds that greatly decided the game, Devin Harris made two low percentage, highly contested three pointers. I can live with that. Sometimes a player gets hot at the worst possible moment. However, he also threw his body into our defenders three times during these 90 seconds late in the fourth, each time receiving a touch foul call from the officials. He didn't drive in and jump into someone. That would be more tolerable. He ran into our guys 30 feet away from the basket and the whistle blew each time. The Jazz were in the bonus, and so he was awarded 4 free throws. That was particularly galling. The best official is one that you never think of, positively or negatively, and I thought a lot of negative things about the refs last night.
Despite all this, the JV had a lead in the fourth quarter. They battled all game and fought hard for their lead. Unfortunately, the Spurs' closers didn't make it to Utah, and so San Antonio failed to execute down the stretch, and the game painfully slipped away from them as time ticked away.
Your Three Stars
3.) Greg Popovich