In a potential preview of a first round matchup, the Spurs escaped Salt Lake City with a close 88-86 win over the Jazz. Kawhi Leonard, who led the Spurs with 28 points, sank a baseline jumper with four seconds to go to that ended up being the game-winner. Rodney Hood, who led all scorers with 23 points, had the opportunity to win it for Utah but his step back three-pointer didn't go in.
For most of the game the prospect of meeting the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs was anything but appealing. With the two teams starting two traditional big men and playing at a slow pace, the entertainment factor was certainly low. At times in the first half the offenses had to labor to get open looks in a battle of attrition in the half court. Only when the bench checked in did the Spurs finally manage to get some separation in the final moments of the first period.
Kawhi Leonard, who took a back seat to LaMarcus Aldridge in the first quarter, was the focal point of the offense in the second, when he anchored a bench unit. The Jazz didn't have a comparable shot creator on the court and paid for it, as the few open shots they had didn't go in. Suddenly, the lead had grown to 11, which in such a low scoring game was a big buffer.
The Jazz's starters didn't give up, however, and managed cut it to five points before the break, largely thanks to Hood's contributions. That momentum carried over to the second half. Utah's starters were sharper and chipped away at the small lead until it was almost gone.
Once again, the bench came to the rescue for the Spurs when it was most needed.
In the last four minutes of the third period the traces of the Summertime identity that survived the offseason transformation were in full display. With Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and Kyle Anderson moving the ball and thriving in chaos on both ends, the Spurs went on a 14-4 run. The opportunity to put the Jazz away early in the fourth quarter was there for the taking.
Unfortunately, the shots that hadn't fallen for Utah all game long started to go in. Joe Ingles had three three-pointers in the first two and a half minutes of the final period. The Jazz were 0-for-11 from beyond the arc before that. Hood and Shelvin Mack poured in one each shortly after. The game was destined to go down to the wire, with Hood tying it on a dunk with under three minutes to go.
The two teams traded buckets, so the game was decided in the last minute. Hood hit a floater to get Utah up one. The offense didn't get a good look on the next trip down the court but Parker bailed it out with a three-pointer over Rudy Gobert from the left corner. Hayward tied it up with a shot in the paint and Gobert swatted away a Parker layup attempt. The Spurs had the ball with 6.7 seconds to go but only three in the shot clock. They needed a bucket. Kawhi made sure they got it.
That ended up being the game-winner, as Hood couldn't respond for the Jazz.
It was not the most inspiring win or the most entertaining game but the Spurs emerged victorious and, more importantly, no one got hurt. At this point in the season, that's all that matters.
- Tim Duncan became the third player in NBA history to reach 1,000 wins for his career. Unfortunately, he couldn't put together a good performance for the special occasion. He was largely ineffective in the 24 minutes he was on the court and was on the bench in crunch time. It's alright. The more rest he can get, the better. At least he had a couple of nice blocks.
- It's been a while since the offense devolved into Aldridge, Leonard and Parker taking turns, but that's what happened against the Jazz. All three scored in double digits and had solid individual games but there was no flow to what the Spurs were doing on that end. Utah is a very good defensive team and the other two starters did not have good games, so we'll chalk up the offensive regression to that. Hopefully things develop more organically next time.
- Kawhi did this to poor Raul Neto.
- Kyle Anderson had his best game as a Spur, in my estimation. Slowmo had 11 points in five attempts, three rebounds and four assists. He played small forward and power forward equally well and hit a big three-pointer late when his defender left him open to pack the paint. Just a great all-around performance.
- The rest of the bench was good too. Manu Ginobili had 14, two and two in just 18 minutes. Mills and West were solid. The only sub that wasn't good was Matt Bonner, who on his birthday struggled in six minutes in the third quarter. With Boris Diaw not making the trip, Matty will probably get another shot to make a contribution. Hopefully he does better next time.
- I don't want the Spurs to play the Jazz in the first round. In theory, the Mavericks and the Rockets are more dangerous. Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki always manage to make things difficult for San Antonio and Houston can get hot at any time. Yet a matchup against Utah would be more physically draining for the bigs and wouldn't really prepare the Spurs to face the Thunder in the second round.
- Speaking of the Jazz, there's so much talent on that roster. Hood has been a revelation, Hayward and Favors are two great young veterans and Gobert can change games. Next year they will have Alec Burks and Dante Exum available as well and Trey Lyles will have a year of experience under his belt. Hopefully the front office will give this core a shot to figure out its identity before pulling the trigger on a trade.
The Spurs will travel to the Bay Area to face the Warriors. The last time the two teams met in Oracle Arena things didn't go well. It remains to be seen whether Gregg Popovich plays his normal rotation but if he does, that's a must-watch game.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at the always fantastic SLC Dunk.