On one of the hottest nights of the year here in Rosario, I settled in to watch the Spurs battle the worst team in the West. Since the game was starting at 11 PM here, I was hoping for a decisive rout that would make the recap short and sweet. The stubborn Jazz denied me that, but I can't complain about an easy win.
As they are wont to do, the Spurs started the game going to Duncan early and often. But Duncan struggled to get going initially and the Spurs spent almost three minutes without a bucket. The Jazz only scored six points of their own during the span but, at the time, I took the early struggles as a sign the Spurs could be tired and this could turn into a long night. Fortunately, after Duncan scored his first bucket, the Spurs' offense returned to normal. Parker started using his wiliness to get past rookie Trey Burke and get to the rim and the starters kept it close, which is not ideal but has been enough all season long.
The bench came in and had a hard time opening the lead, as the Jazz starters were still in the game. But as soon as Ty Corbin went deeper into his bench, the talent difference became apparent. Bili MiNelli scored nine points and a Baynes tip-in crowned an 11-4 run to end the first quarter that would carry over into the second.
After Belinelli and Ginobili continued to wreak havoc in the first couple of minutes of the new quarter, Pop subbed in Leonard for Marco and subsequently Green for Ginobili. The idea surely was to get the sometimes passive Leonard a few plays called for him and it worked. Kawhi got a couple of buckets and the defense tightened up with the starters on the court. When Duncan and Bonner checked in for Baynes and Diaw, the lead was already up to 11.
Then in a flurry of Red Rocket and Icy Hot three pointers, it climbed to 19 points. As the Jazz defense was left scrambling again and again, baffled by the Spurs' ball movement, it seemed we were in for another game that was going to be decided in the first half. I was ecstatic! But some sloppy offense by the Spurs and a few transition buckets for the Jazz helped them get the deficit to a reasonable 15 going into the break, 40-55.
Five of those 15 points evaporated immediately in the third quarter and I started to hate the Jazz a little for refusing to go away. The teams traded buckets for a while, with Parker and Leonard stopping the hemorrhage for the Spurs. The Jazz missed some good shots that could have gotten them in the game for good and hovered instead at the nine points mark. And that's when Tim Duncan said "enough of this." Timmy scored seven third quarter points and dominated the younger Favors on both ends, holding him to zero points. After that formidable three-minute stretch, the lead was back to double digits and going into the fourth quarter, it stood at 14.
The bench unit that finished the third and started the fourth quarter did a great job of maintaining the lead but couldn't really put the game out of reach. The result wasn't really in question at any point in the final frame but to make extra sure nothing strange happened, Pop sent his starters back in at around the six minute mark. They kept the Jazz at bay and the Spurs got their 19th win of the season and their fourth in five nights.
- The Jazz were the holders of the Championship Belt and the Spurs took it away from them. San Antonio had it earlier in the season and successfully defended it eight times before losing it to the Thunder. Let's hope for at least eight more defenses.
- Tim Duncan is an ageless wonder. Timmy took one of the league's most promising bigs to school today, scoring in the post, on jumpers and out of the pick-and-roll en route to a 22-12-3 performance. Don't feel bad, Derrick Favors. Timmy has been doing that to people for a long time and hopefully will continue to for at least a couple more years.
- Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard were the perfect complement for an inspired Timmy. Leonard scored an efficient 13 points in eight shots while Tony contributed 15 and seven assists. Both helped on the glass as well and were generally solid.
- The starters needed those good games by Tony, Tim and Kawhi because Jeff Ayres and Danny Green continued to struggle. Green is not moving as well as he was last season without the ball and is contributing next to nothing on offense. Ayres will always look out of place as a starter because he is at best a fourth big on a good team. Ayres should continue to start for the injured Splitter for defensive purposes (short, simplified version: the Spurs want their PF to be able to show on P&Rs and Baynes can't), but I wouldn't be surprised if his playing time decreased after Tiago returns.
- The reason for that is the play of Aron Baynes. I'm still not sure about Baynes on the defensive end. He is a bit slow and mistake-prone for my liking. But on offense he is a significant upgrade over Ayres simply because he can catch a pass out of the pick-and-roll and convert it. The difference between him and Ayres (or Bonner, for that matter) is not as big as some might think but the Aussie big man has earned an extended look with his play.
- Speaking of Bonner, these games are why he is valuable. Bonner cracked it open with two quick, demoralizing threes. The same applies to Patty Mills, who annoys the heck out of opposing point guards with his pesky defense and can get hot in a hurry from outside. I'm not sure if either can contribute greatly in the playoffs but the regular season is long and guys like these help a team weather it better.
- Diaw, Ginobili and Belinelli didn't have eye-popping stat lines but mostly played well. Manu's shot was off from outside but I wouldn't worry about it. Boris and Marco scored efficiently and did a little bit of everything. It wasn't the bench's best game of the season but it was still enough to outscore the Jazz's by 25 points.
- This is the first time I've watched Trey Burke for a full game and he impressed me. He obviously has no idea how to defend on pick-and-rolls yet but he is slippery when driving and a better shooter and distributor than he looked tonight. There's a cohesive roster starting to take shape in Utah, with Burke, the underrated Hayward, and Derrick Favors as cornerstones. The Jazz will need to figure out what to do with Kanter if Favors stays at center, but with a high pick coming and a lot of flexibility on the horizon, they are definitely a team to keep and eye on.
The Spurs will visit the Clippers on Monday, looking for another quality win after their victory over the Wolves.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the great SLC Dunk