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Slow-starting Spurs have no problems closing games

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San Antonio hasn't been running away from teams early, but their finishing kick is leaving teams in the dust.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

"Life's a marathon, not a sprint."

Thursday's first quarter was ugly for San Antonio. There were miscues in the low post for the Spurs that allowed successful penetrations for Utah. The starting five toed the starting line, stumbling at the beginning of the race, lactic acid buildup stiffening their muscles.

San Antonio averages 25.2 points in the first (16th in the NBA), ranking sixth amongst the eight teams with current playoff seeding in the Western Conference. The second through fourth periods has the Spurs increase their offensive output, consistently landing in the top five ranking of points in the quarter; their highest offensive tally is in the third quarter after intermission. Even Coach Pop applauded their tenacity after halftime in the win against Utah.

"This is the best game since we came back from break. We had been really spotty and undisciplined, but what really helped us is that they are so good at execution. It actually helped us tonight because they used the whole clock and we had to play (defense) over and over.

"The first quarter we were awful. We got better and better defensively because we had to guard their execution, which is excellent."

The Utah Jazz are a probable first round matchup for the San Antonio Spurs. On the surface, the teams are similar to each other; they emphasize side-to-side ball movement, orchestrate comparable tempos, and possess depth at the front-court. Utah entered the arena of their home game Thursday night against San Antonio bolstered by the confidence of a seven game home winning streak and scoring 111+ points in their last three games.

However, the Spurs continued to spell doomsday for the opposition on their rodeo road trip, improving to 6-1 on the trip, and 12-0 when playing back-to-backs. San Antonio's stifling pressure on the defensive end limited the Jazz to their lowest point total of the season. For three quarters, the number one ranked defense suffocated Utah from all angles. The Spurs 98.0 defensive rating per 100 possessions is the lowest since 2003-2004, and lower than four of their five Finals Championship teams.

Following the first quarter sprint of course.

MVP

Kawhi Leonard

I love Kawhi's intensity since returning from a calf injury. Instead of easing back into activity, Leonard continues to aggressively prove he should be mentioned in MVP talks. In the second quarter, he contributed to a 9-0 run to take a lead the Spurs would never relinquished. Leonard finished with 29 points, five rebounds, and three steals. I love that he does all this completely emotionless, an utter contrast from Stephen Curry. Even Tony Parker spoke fondly of passing the torch to the fifth year Spur.

Media Notes

  • After speculating that The Big Fundamental was planning on retiring to the Virgin Islands after his poor showing against Sacramento, Duncan made me eat my words, finishing with 14 points (six points in the first) and 11 rebounds. The Big Fundamental is now one swat shy from reaching 3,000 career blocks.

  • In an effort to free up cap-space, the Brooklyn Nets waived former All-Star Joe Johnson Thursday afternoon. Johnson clears the waivers Saturday, and plans on signing with a contender. Could the veteran be a wing threat for San Antonio?

  • Patty Mills continues to make a claim for Sixth Man of the Year. Is there a better backup PG in the league right now? Mills had 11 points on 3/4 3-pm.

  • Seems like you can't play teams these days without facing a coach produced from the Spurs system. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder presided over the Austin Toros for three seasons.

By the Numbers

50: the amount of dollars the Mountain America Credit Union donates to cancer research per Utah Jazz 3-pointers made. I think it's a pretty classy act other franchises and local businesses should implement.

12.5: the point differential by the Spurs this season. The mark is the highest in the league, more than a point over the Warriors +11.4. Additionally, the Spurs hold the highest field goal percentage (.491).

9: the number of games Manu Ginobili has missed. Here, he's seen watching the game from his house, his cat snuggling him as he recovers from surgery.

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