Game 26 Vs. Utah: Spurs 118, Jazz 81 Rec: 21-5 1st in Southwest, 2nd in West Streak: W-3
During his post-shoot-around scrum with reporters, Manu Ginobili sheepishly admitted that he couldn't remember the last time the Spurs held a formal practice.
"Not really, and I probably skipped it," he said with a laugh, before citing the various aches and pains that get 38-year-old veterans excused from such chores. "But really I don't remember the last taped practice, it's probably been more than a couple of weeks ago."
The Spurs have had a dense glut of games of late, like most teams typically do this time of year and practices are rare, especially for squads with veteran-laden rosters who don't have to be brow-beaten into learning the plays. The "mental reps" they get from film sessions and shoot-arounds are usually enough to get coaching points across for this crew.
The Argentine sixth-man did go on to express his desire for wanting to get a couple of real practices in at some point during this home stand, but the truth is there is no need. That's all the regular season is anyway for teams such as San Antonio, Golden State, Cleveland and perhaps a few select others: One long glorified sixth-month practice session for the real games that matter.
The Jazz were the sparring partners on Monday night, and as with most opponents who've rolled into the AT&T Center, they were ready to wave the towel well before half. Utah may have the more youthful, energetic team under normal circumstances, but they had just lost in overtime at Oklahoma City the night before, having blown a 16-point lead, and the Spurs represented their fifth game in a week.
"We had no juice," lamented coach Quin Snyder afterward. "That's the wrong team to play when you're out of gas. Their defense is terrific and they're a championship level program. We weren't very good tonight. We were tired and we weren't very good."
Not only were the Jazz not very good but they were also sorely missing the services of rim-eclipsing behemoth Rudy Gobert who, with all due respect to Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, is probably the best French baller in the league now. Gobert is out with a sprained knee and the Jazz have no one nearly at his level to protect the paint, though backup Jeff Withey was impressive against the Spurs and gave the Jazz a solid 20 minutes, snuffing Jonathon Simmons twice at the rim.
This probably wouldn't have worked as well on Gobert as it did with Trey Lyles, for example.
Tim Duncan. #Forever #Spurs pic.twitter.com/KXuGR8RnKc— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 15, 2015
Basically what the game boiled down to was that the Jazz were both shorthanded and exhausted while the Spurs starting unit played almost as well as they can possibly play, with the possible nitpicking that Danny Green was 0-of-3 from downtown. He still finished with seven rebounds and five assists in 20:28 and was a game-best plus-42.
The Spurs jumped out in front practically from the opening tip and led by as much as 17 in the first quarter, even though they couldn't hit at all from outside. They bullied their way inside the paint with 14 points on 7-of-9 and made 12-of-15 of their twos overall while dominating the boards. Parker had all five of his helpers in the first period and found Aldridge for a pick-and-pop and a pick-and-roll, and also fed Tim Duncan for an and-1 inside. Before that, Duncan found Green for a backdoor reverse layup. The Jazz couldn't make much of anything, especially with Kawhi Leonard hounding Gordon Hayward, and the Spurs led 29-15 after one.
All that, and Leonard hadn't even gotten going yet. He went to work in the second quarter and led the Spurs with 10 points, while Parker chipped in six and David West mucked around for seven off the bench. The Spurs had eight fast break points in that quarter alone, which is more than manage in most games. And because the Jazz do enjoy fouling, a franchise-defining trait going back to the Jerry Sloan days, the Spurs went to the line 13 times in the quarter.
But mostly the quarter was just Kawhi doing Kawhi things and ruining Hayward's life.
Kawhi with the block and the slam. #KawhiLeonard #Spurs pic.twitter.com/6vtzFeFnMO— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 15, 2015
Kawhi fakes Hayward out of his equipment and scores. #KawhiLeonard #Spurs pic.twitter.com/UNerJTGnJ0— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 15, 2015
Kawhi with the steal and the ... assist? Oh, well. Gotta keep it interesting, I suppose. #KawhiLeonard #Spurs pic.twitter.com/OALLQ9dmAq— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 15, 2015
The Spurs led by as much as 29 in the second but were up "only" 59-36 after the bench sagged a bit at the end.
Then, in the second half, Utah quit playing hard and the Spurs decided to start making threes for fun. Leonard and Parker combined for 22 of the home side's first 27 points in the opening 7:26 of the third and then we had extended garbage time. The Spurs got 11 more fast break points in the third quarter alone, had a 40-19 edge in rebounds through three periods and the lead was so lopsided that Ginobili never subbed in for the second half.
Parker was decidedly unimpressed with the defensive work of one Raul Neto (who, to be fair, was one of the few Jazz-men to shoot well on the other end).
Tony Parker and the Spurs are rolling pic.twitter.com/VPV3wMZtfS— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 15, 2015
Then Leonard just casually started dominating, first with a ho-hum tomahawk and then like the most blase, half-hearted alley-oop pass ever.
Okay, Spurs are in full-on jerk mode now. pic.twitter.com/v6Rbofu6zt— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 15, 2015
Spurs have broken the Jazz. They are not even playing basketball at this point. pic.twitter.com/9qWoBYz129— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 15, 2015
The Spurs led by 40 after three.
I don't remember much of the fourth, I was too busy booing Pop for not having Boban dressed for the game (well, in uniform I mean), but maybe he just had a feeling that Rocket's biorhythms were aligned for him to dominate. They do some amazing things with those body sensor technology these days you know.
Matt Bonner nailed two threes and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter in all, but his piece de resistance was this beauty.
This is the greatest thing I have ever seen. #RedMambaPostWork pic.twitter.com/hAcCFxkGD8— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 15, 2015
"I caught the ball, I was kind of stuck, no one was open, so I decided to improvise," Bonner explained. "My And-1 Mix-tape skills came out."
Popovich's most significant moment came before the game, when he was asked if he was surprised that Rajon Rondo of the Sacramento Kings had directed a homophobic slur at referee Bill Kennedy during the Kings Dec. 3 loss to the Celtics in Mexico City. The league announced that Rondo was suspended for a game and Monday morning Kennedy came out publicly via a statement to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
"Why would I be surprised?" Popovich asked, before making his feelings on the matter perfectly clear. "You see it all the time. It's unfortunate, it's disgusting. Billy's a great guy and been a class act on and off the court. As far as anybody's sexual orientation... it's nobody's business. It just shows ignorance to act in a derogatory way toward anybody in the LGBT community, it just doesn't make sense. But surprised? Of course not. He (Kennedy) showed a lot of courage."
Incidentally, Kennedy's first game after coming out just happened to be this one. Neither side seemed to have any issue with the officiating and the only technical came for a defensive three seconds infraction on the Jazz.
Another blowout win for the Spurs paled to that as an overall basketball story, but for what it's worth San Antonio has now edged ahead of the Warriors in scoring differential, with a 13.15 margin to Golden State's 13.08. It seems unthinkable considering that one team is 24-1 while the other is 21-4, yet here we are. These two teams seem destined to meet late in the playoffs, but there's a long way to go.
And many practices both of the official and unofficial kind in between.
Your Three Stars:
1. Kawhi Leonard
2. LaMarcus Aldridge
3. Tony Parker
Up Next: Vs. Washington Wizards (10-13)
The Wiz, losers of six of their past ten, have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league if not the most disappointing. The Wizards are in last place in the Southeast division and would be on outside looking in if the playoffs started today. Coach Randy Wittman pledged to have them play a more open, small-ball pace-and-space game using Kris Humphries and Otto Porter. It hasn't really worked out. John Wall is having a miserable season and Bradley Beal, who had a huge hand in beating the Spurs in their first meeting up in DC on Nov. 4, is hurt. They got waxed 112-95 at Memphis on Monday with former Spur Gary Neal leading them with 24 points off the bench, but the good news for Washington is at least they won't have a SEGABABA at San Antonio like most teams have had to deal with.