Wednesday night, the Spurs hosted the Utah Jazz at the AT&T Center. The Spurs entered the game first place in the West while the Jazz came in at the bottom of the standings. However, records can be deceiving. The Jazz had won seven of their last 12 games coming into tonight. They'd recently beaten Oklahoma City and Denver. They began the season horribly, winning just one of their first 14 games. But once rookie sensation Trey Burke got healthy, they turned into a respectable team. The Spurs, meanwhile, limped into this game. Still without Tiago Splitter and having recently lost Danny Green for a month due to a fractured finger, San Antonio has continued to stockpile wins, but it's been shaky.
The NBA's ridiculously lop-sided season
It's been an awfully lop-sided NBA season. Does that make it an awful season? Where does it stand historically, and how does it affect the Spurs' chances this year?
The Spurs began the game well, shooting 53% in the first quarter, but the Jazz kept it close by snaring five offensive rebounds in the opening frame. Derrick Favors used his athleticism to beat the Spurs up in the paint for nine early points. The Spurs answered with their own young presence as Jeff Ayres had three dunks in the first quarter. After one, the Spurs led, 28-25.
The second quarter was a forgettable one. With all the lineup shuffling due to injuries, the second unit hasn't been as potent as it used to be. Manu Ginobili once again started the game in an attempt to keep his injured hamstring warm. Pop brought Marco off the bench, but the lineup consisting of Patty Mills, Cory Joseph, Belinelli and two bigs just isn't getting it done. The second unit is not consistent and whereas the ball used to fly around the court, the offense generally seems lost now. I found myself wondering if they were going to be able to beat the shot clock each offensive possession. It was that shaky. Even so, the Jazz weren't able to do much better and the Spurs found themselves up five at halftime.
As has become his habit, Tony Parker took over the third quarter. Parker relentlessly probed the defense for driving lanes. He scored 12 points in the quarter and dished three assists. The Spurs didn't miss a shot in the third until the 5:16 mark, at which point they had amassed a 16 point lead, 68-52. Their largest lead would come a few minutes later at 18, but it was not to last. The Jazz did not give in, unfortunately. They regained their composure and fought back to cut the lead to 12 at the end of three.
In the fourth, Pop made this a game. I'm sure you'll read other recaps that explain how the Spurs let the Jazz back into this one and how it was reminiscent of the near Memphis disaster, but I don't think that's fair. Pop was greedy and tried to win the game without playing Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili in the fourth. Look, with all the injuries occurring throughout the NBA, I completely understand and even agree with what Pop did. But at the same time, I don't think you can put the blame on the Spurs' players.
With 12 minutes still remaining in the game, Pop had Manu join Tim on the bench with a 13 point lead and neither would return. Now, the Spurs didn't just let the Jazz right back into the game. With two minutes remaining, the Spurs were still up eight points thanks to great performances by Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. However, you could just feel the momentum slipping to the Jazz. It was a race against time. Luckily for the Spurs, the clock ran out before the Jazz could fully make their move.
Down just five points with 38 seconds remaining, Alec Burks missed a wide-open layup and Jeff Ayres came up with a huge defensive rebound that greatly secured the win. If Burks had converted that easy layup, the outcome may have been different. With the Jazz forced to foul to stop the clock, the Spurs were able to finish Utah off at the line.
Tony Parker made one of his two free throws to put the Spurs up six. Trey Burk then hit a 3-pointer, because he was on fire. Marco made both his free throws to extend the lead to five. Trey Burk hit another ridiculous 3-pointer, because he was on fire. Marco then made two last free throws to put the Spurs up four points, 109-105. Ball game.
- Coach Popovich gambled and won, but just barely. Already without Tiago and Danny Green, sitting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in the fourth was extremely risky. Those are four of the Spurs best players. I don't care who the opponent is, playing the fourth without four of your key guys is a pretty crazy risk with just a 12 point lead.
- My main man Jeff Ayres didn't make me look ridiculous after the praise I heaped upon him. He finished with a season-high 10 points, eight of which came from vicious throw-downs. He also grabbed four rebounds, the last being the biggest rebound of the game. It should be noted that Enes Kanter absolutely destroyed him throughout the game. Kanter finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes. To be fair, he also had his way with Boris. The Spurs only real hope of stopping him would have been Tim, but Pop didn't play Duncan the entire fourth quarter, as you may have heard by now.UPDATE! My main man Jeff Ayres:
- Burks, Burke and Favors all looked good in this one. Burke finished with 17 points and 11 dimes, Burks with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists and Favors with 19 points and 12 rebounds. The Jazz have a lot of good, young players on their roster. I bet they'll be in the hunt for a playoff spot at this time next year.
- FirstName LastName, tiny ears had a respectable 15 points, but it wasn't anything special. He had a few dunks, made a few threes and if you weren't familiar with him, I don't think you would have even noticed his presence. Same old FirstName LastName, tiny ears.
- For the Spurs, Tony Parker led the way with 25 points and nine assists. He was tonight's clear MVP. In the third, Tony put the Spurs on his back and built the 18 point lead that won the game.
- Kawhi Leonard played well and filled up the stat sheet, as he does: 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. He took six 3-pointers, which was a little weird. He made two of them. He was wide-open for about three of them, but the others were almost heat-checks, except he wasn't hot. I don't know what was going on with that.
- Tim Duncan played great, he just didn't get much playing time tonight. In 24 minutes, he scored 15 points on seven of 10 shooting, grabbed eight boards, had four dimes and three blocks. The Jazz scored a whopping 70 points in the paint. Kanter should send Pop a bottle of red wine for not playing Tim more.
- Marco missed several shots that he normally converts, but still scored 15 points on 12 shots and grabbed a solid seven rebounds in the game.
- Manu still looked a little rusty, but he made two of his four 3-pointers, which was nice to see. Manu also didn't play much, only logging 21 minutes in the game. In the locker-room after the game, I thought he summed up the fourth quarter nicely. "We were up 12 points with two minutes remaining and so [Pop] thought it was already over. Tim was already stiff and once you sit for so long, especially at 36 and 37, it gets a little harder to get back in. The last two minutes were a kinda weird. They hit a few threes, very far. I don't think it was a terrible job but of course we could have done better." Translation: "Pop screwed up. He thought the game was over and sat us too long. Then it got close and he couldn't put us back in. We would have won easily if Tim and I were in the game." (Okay, I'm probably making most of that up.)