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Spurs get bounce-back games from Duncan, Leonard in win at Utah

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If we can just convince the Warriors to play the Western Conference Finals on seven successive nights...

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Game 58 @Utah: Spurs 96, Jazz 78   Rec: 49-9  Rodeo Road Trip Rec: 6-1  Streak: W-4

Well, this was certainly a pleasant surprise. When Jolly Roger Wilco asked me to recap this game a few days ago, I thought it would offer me a chance to stretch my calcified "losing game story" muscles. It's sort of been a while. As most of you are aware, I usually just recap the home games, and the Spurs have been pretty stubborn about sending the fans home happy, so my summations have been getting a bit stale. There's only so many different ways you can dress up yet another 18-point win. Finally, I thought, the Jazz, with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors back, would get the better of a tired Spurs club. I figured it'd be a scheduled loss, with Tim Duncan and possibly Tony Parker getting the night off.

But Duncan had other ideas, so here I am chronicling yet another 18-point win.

Not that I mind, much. I was thrilled to see Duncan look like TIM DUNCAN again after a few games there where he appeared to be losing some ground in the ol' Tug-of-War with Father Time. The Golden God was an uncoordinated, bumble-fingered mess on offense and glacial on defense these past couple of months. It was as if the Monstars sucked all the basketball life out of him. There's something about that Jazz jersey, I guess. The last time Duncan was this effective on both ends was on January 7, which was also against Utah.

Duncan only played 11 minutes at Sacramento on Wednesday, and he and Kawhi Leonard were all the Spurs had going for them in the first quarter on Thursday night. The rest of the team looked very much like they were on a SEGABABA. The offense was in mid-range hell, not spacing the floor well enough for any three-point attempts or drives to the rim and not getting that many clean looks from anywhere, really. LaMarcus Aldridge started 0-for-5, the bench had no juice, and the Spurs finished the period with one assist (to five turnovers) on eight baskets, down just 23-18 thanks to a half-dozen each from Duncan and Leonard.

The team-wide offensive malaise continued for most of the second quarter, as the Spurs tallied just three helpers in ten buckets, didn't get to the line at all and still had just one three to their credit, a lucky 27-footer at the end of the shot clock by Leonard, who had nine in the period with three other tough contested shots. David West also gave them a lift off the bench with a couple of inside hoops and a jumper.

But it was on defense where the visitors turned the screws, taking advantage of Alec Burks being out for Utah and the unimposing back court of Shelvin Mack and Rodney Hood. Leonard stymied Gordon Hayward whenever he was matched up on him and the Jazz got nothing from their bench. So they didn't have much going for them except for Favors, who had 10 at half. The bigs not only negated Gobert, but they dominated the boards and prevented Utah from getting second chance opportunities. The Jazz couldn't hit any threes either and the Spurs went ahead for good with an 11-0 run midway through the quarter and led 39-35 at half.

The entire third quarter was back-and-forth, with the Spurs lead vacillating between two and seven points the whole way. The ball movement was much better --I'm guessing Pop gave the fellas a talking to about that at half-- and Aldridge got himself going with three buckets. Leonard got to the line some, and had a pick-six in there...

while Duncan had three scores inside and both Parker and Patty Mills hit threes.

The real story though, was the bet I had with Chris Itz at half. The Spurs had but four assists and Chris told me his over/under for the game would be 17 1/2. I took the over, figuring that an emphasis on passing would be made and that the guys were due to make some shots. The Spurs average 25 dimes per game, so they just need a couple more than the 12.5 they get in a typical half. I figured they would regress to the mean in my favor. I needed 14 assists. They only had five in the third quarter though, so I still needed nine more. It wasn't looking good for me.

Mills offered hope. He had been pretty quiet up to then, but knocked down two quick threes off passes from Duncan and Parker, the second of which he swished despite being absolutely clobbered.

Seven more.

Leonard threw one in from Provo after a Parker kick-out to give the Spurs their first double-digit lead of the game with 7:48 to go and then on the next trip down Parker converted a backdoor alley-oop layup on a feed from Duncan.

Five more.

Another deep Leonard three, with Aldridge passing out of an unwise double-team.

Four more.

I told Chris in the previous time-out that I felt that Danny Green was going to make me or break me and sure enough he fumbled away a would-be layup after Parker had passed it ahead to him. Just a crusher. But then Parker made one from... I don't know, Boise. I don't know any other cities in Utah.

Three more.

With 2:56 to go Aldridge got an and-1 layup that Chris alleged shouldn't have counted as an assist because he dribbled once and turned around before shooting. Whatever.

Two more. (Oh, and by the way, it was 90-74 by this point, because Spurs.)

I was really liking my chances with 2:22 left when Leonard found Mills on the curl for a driving floater he got to roll in. I needed just one more assist to win the bet.

And then, controversy. The scorekeeper didn't credit Leonard with an assist on the play. What? How? I was incensed.

As you can imagine, Chris was less than sympathetic, offering, "Yeah but the one they gave after LMA dribbled and did a little dance was iffy."

Oh give me a break these people gave John Stockton five thousand shady assists.

Jonathon Simmons hit a corner three with 47 seconds left just to twist the knife. Too little, too late. Even six threes in the fourth quarter weren't enough to get me nine assists. I lost the bet by one thanks to terrible score-keeping. Such is the tragic life of a Spurs fan watcher. Gotta keep these games interesting somehow.

Anyway, San Antonio is now a perfect 12-0 on SEGABABAs on the year and they set all kinds of other franchise milestones with the win.

Uh, never mind, it's actually 17 now.

Oh, and there was one other bit of news today...

Well, that's a timetable at least. Three weeks from Thursday puts us at March 17 against Portland, one game before a home showdown against the Warriors. It sure would be swell --no pun intended-- if Manu could be cleared a few days ahead of schedule with the Clips scheduled to visit on the 15th and the Thunder before them on the 12th, but given the way PATFO operate, I'm guessing that's a long shot.

Sorry for this crummy recap. I'm rusty, with them being on the road a month and all. Imagine what it'd have been like if they had lost.

Your Three Stars:

1) Kawhi Leonard

2) Tim Duncan

3) Patty Mills

Up Next: At Houston Rockets (29-29)

What a day for the Rox. First this story from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com comes out alleging that James Harden told Rockets management to fire Kevin McHale and trade Dwight Howard, but then they come back from a 21-point deficit at home to the upstart Portland Trail Blazers, winners of six in a row, and blitz them with a 44-16 run over the final 14 minutes. Harden was okay, with 46 points and 8 assists, no big deal. They'll play host to a tired Spurs team finishing up a successful RRT and so far the home team has won all three meetings between these two, with the Rockets holding the Spurs to just 84 in a narrow Christmas win and then the Spurs scoring like a million points in a pair of blowouts at the AT&T Center on Jan. 2. and Jan 27, with Aldridge playing very well in both. I feel like the result will have less to do with how the Spurs play and more with which Houston team decides to show up, but we'll have to see.