With their 87-81 victory over the Utah Jazz, the San Antonio Spurs advanced to the Western Conference semifinals where they will face the winner of the Grizzlies-Clippers series.
It was as one sided as a sweep can be, with the Spurs dominating each game for long stretches and the Jazz looking overmatched. After all the criticism they received last season when they were eliminated by the Grizzlies, I'm sure the Spurs were looking forward to quiet the doubters with a convincing first round win over a team that, on paper, was supposed to be a tough matchup. While not really surprising, the Spurs' victory over the Jazz was impressive and conclusive. If there were still people out there with doubts about the Spurs' chances against big frontlines, this series probably changed that. Some notes on the game and the series after the jump.
It took three games but Ty Corbin made the obvious adjustment and benched Josh Howard, moving Paul Millsap to small forward to make way for Derrick Favors. The move paid off with the second year big man spearheading the Jazz defensive effort in the first half to make it a competitive game. Al Jefferson (26 pts, 10 reb) and Devin Harris (19 pts, 7ast) stepped up their game in the do-or-die situation but, like it has been the case throughout the series, Utah's best was simply not good enough.
The Spurs seemed to have an answer for every Jazz run, with different players taking turns fending off the home team. With their starters unable to outplay the Spurs', the Jazz had to rely on a spark from their bench that came too late in the game from DeMarre Carroll. The Spurs, on the other hand, showed off their much vaunted depth, finishing with 57 points from their reserves, led by Manu Ginobili's 17.
After being down by double digits for most of the 2nd quarter, the Jazz ended the half down 8 following a mini-run led by Harris, Millsap and Jefferson. The trio combined for 18 of the Jazz's 23 for the quarter, proving that they were determined to make it a close game at home.
In the 3rd quarter things got chippy, with the Jazz trying to up the intensity and physicality of the game, pushed by a home crowd that wanted a win, badly. For a while it seemed that the Jazz were finally getting the momentum going into the 4th quarter riding a 10-point run, but Manu Ginobili took over with back-to-back 3s (his first of the series) to get the Spurs' lead back to double digits.
For the first couple of minutes in the 4th quarter neither team could buy a bucket until Ginobili hit a free throw off a Jamaal Tinsley technical. After that, the Spurs went on a 13-2 run led by the bench to get a 21 point lead with 06:17 to go. Gregg Popovich expected Ty Corbin to throw in the towel but the Jazz refused to go down without a fight. Taking advantage of the Spurs' overconfidence they clawed their way back, cut the lead to 4 and managed to put a little suspense to a series that had been anything but suspenseful up to that point. In the end the Spurs suffered more than they should have but close down the series with a commanding point differential, proving once again that they are the team to beat in the West.
Why the Spurs won the series
Our stars are better than theirs. Our role players are better than theirs. Our bench is better than theirs. Our coach is better than theirs. Sometimes it's that simple. The Spurs were clearly the better team and proved it by destroying the Jazz in every game, systematically picking them apart. Corbin failed to adjust early, trusting his veterans too much over the Jazz's young talent even when that trust was undeserved. Tony Parker was clearly the best player of the series, Tim Duncan the best big and the Spurs' bench was too much for a team that relied on young players without playoff experience to relieve their good but flawed stars.
The difference in overall talent shouldn't be quite as big going forward but the Spurs are looking every bit the part of a potential championship team.
What's next for the Jazz?
Utah's front office will have the whole summer to find better guards to complement their impressive front line. With even marginal improvement from Hayward, Favors, Burks and Kanter they should be ready to make another run at the playoffs.
What's next for the Spurs?
Rest and practice time before their next series. The Clippers seem to be on the Spurs' future, but even if the Grizzlies manage to recover I'm not worried. Like I, and every other Spurs fan, have been saying for months, this team is not last season's team. The Spurs are healthier, deeper and better equipped to fight it out with the likes of Gasol and Randolph.
Gary Neal 11 points in 4-6 shooting
The Nail was one of the few Spurs that was actually efficient. It wasn't a pretty game but on a night that everyone seemed to struggle scoring, Neal's offense helped the Spurs hold back the Jazz.
Stephen Jackson 8 points on 2-4 from beyond the arc, 6 rebounds.
Jax did a little bit of everything but what stands out are his team-leading 6 rebounds and 50% from 3. Jackson has been amazing from beyond the arc so far and his off ball defense has been fantastic. It's great to have a guy like Jack on the bench for whenever Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard can't get going.
Manu Ginobili 17 points, 3-6 from 3 and 4 rebounds.
After dismantling the Jazz with his passing the previous game, Manu decided to the damage with his scoring this time around. 17 points in 11 shots, three timely 3-pointers, 4 boards. He only registered 1 assists to his 3 turnovers but his back-to-back 3s were huge. Good bounce back game for Manu.
The Spurs will now wait for the Clippers and the Grizzlies to fight it out before returning to the court. The rest should help the older guys get ready for what is sure to be a much tougher series. As a final note, I'd like to thank the guys over at SLC Dunk for being classy throughout the series, even when things were not going their way. If you guys are interested there's still room in the Spurs' bandwagon...