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What we learned from the Spurs’ win over the Jazz

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A much-needed victory comes with a conspicuous asterisk.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio put an end to their two-game losing streak with a win over the sorely shorthanded Jazz on Friday afternoon. While it wasn’t the prettiest performance from the good guys, they picked up a dub on DeMar DeRozan’s birthday and took care of business in their first contest as favorites in the bubble.

The Silver and Black continued to limit their turnovers despite substantial coinciding minutes from their inexperienced young core, and their established vets provided a necessary scoring punch off the pine. As for their defense, it could have been better, but it was admittedly solid for most of the outing as San Antonio held Utah to 41.8% from the field.

Although the Spurs kept themselves within striking distance of the Grizzlies and Blazers, not all victories are created equal, and San Antonio raised a few red flags. We knew this team was flawed coming into the league restart, but letting a Jordan Clarkson-led squad hang around for 48 minutes is concerning, even if you’re a bit undermanned yourself.

Observations

  • I’ll start with the negatives so we can end on a positive note. Yes, as I mentioned above, the Spurs beat the Jazz, and a win is a win. However, San Antonio should have put this team away early. Considering Utah was without the services of Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale, and Bojan Bogdanovic, it is worrying they were able to keep pace with the Spurs. Even with LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles, Patty Mills, and Bryn Forbes unavailable, the Jazz had no business making this a competitive contest. Although it was refreshing to see the Silver and Black gain a lead and hold onto it for an entire game, it would have been nice to see that lead swell to 20 or 30 points so we could get a good look at Luka Samanic, Chimezie Metu, and Quinndary Weatherspoon. Every version of this squad has shown an unfavorable propensity for playing up and down to the level of their competition. And while that isn’t so much an issue when they give contenders a run for their money, it is unbearably frustrating when the Spurs struggle to handle the league’s bottom feeders. The Pelicans, Rockets, and Jazz round out San Antonio’s seeding schedule, so your guess at what to expect in the upcoming matchups is as good as mine.
  • While they’ve dropped a few winnable games, the Silver and Black have performed admirably in the bubble. Qualifying for the play-in series was always going to be a near-impossible task, and their fate largely rests in the hands of the Western Conference organizations who’ve already punched their ticket into the 2020 postseason. Unfortunately for San Antonio, they’ve received little to no help from the surefire playoff teams, and though the Spurs are a game behind the Blazers, the Suns and Pelicans are breathing down their necks for a shot at clinching the ninth seed. Their win against the Jazz was monumental to keeping their playoff hopes alive, but the good guys are running out of time. Without a miracle, San Antonio is headed for a trip to the lottery for the first time since they selected Tim Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. Despite a franchise savior almost certainly being outside of their reach, there are plenty of building blocks who could help San Antonio return to postseason contention.

  • Jakob Poeltl fouled out of two of the Spurs’ first four games back from the pandemic-provoked pause, and while he committed just one foul in the previous contest, Nikola Jokic had his way with the Austrian center on the way to a Denver victory. Thankfully, Poeltl recovered from his short-lived slump and torched Utah for a season-high 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Though fans were beginning to question his soft play on the offensive end, Jakob put those complaints to rest when he stuffed home a slam over the top of two Jazz defenders. Granted, it was probably easier to rock the rim without the added worry of Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint. Poeltl also proved effective in the pick-and-roll, and if he can maintain a semblance of this sort of production down the road, San Antonio may continue to look his way for a reliable source of points in the paint.
  • Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson are two of the most promising prospects the San Antonio Spurs have had in the last decade, and though that designation comes with plenty of hype, it also comes with an abundance of criticism when they fail to perform. Critics have been rightfully easier on Johnson in his rookie season, but seem to forget Lonnie is a likewise unfinished project at age 21. Though Walker broke into the rotation in year two, neither player had a consistent role in the offense. Keldon has put himself on the map with a string of spectacular showings in Orlando but was relatively quiet against the Jazz. And while Lonnie was primarily an afterthought in the first couple of contests back from the extended break, the explosive two-guard reminded everyone of. his tantalizing talent on Friday. The 2018 first-rounder threw down a pair of emphatic jams and backpedaled into a corner three that head coach Gregg Popovich praised as reminiscent of Steph Curry. Patience is difficult to find when in the process of enduring a losing season, but rough patches are an unavoidable byproduct of a team stuck somewhere between rebuilding and competing. The young guys are gaining loads of experience, and regardless of the final score, extensive run in this setting only bodes well for their future development.
  • Derrick White has been a revelation since seeding games began, and the third-year combo guard is putting up nearly 22-5-5 over his last five appearances, including shooting 45.2% from long-range on a staggering 8.4 three-point attempts per game. His newfound assertiveness and willingness to let it fly from beyond the arc is a welcome sight for. San Antonio and the Colorado alum is making the most of his longer leash in Orlando. Starting alongside DeJounte Murray was one of the many requests from the Spurs faithful this season, and now that we’re finally witnessing the duo work in tandem, it makes you wonder why this didn’t happen earlier in the season. It also begs the question as to why Bryn Forbes played the third-most minutes before the hiatus when White brings more to the table on both ends. We may never get the answer to that question, and White may never get the recognition he deserves from major media outlets, so I took upon myself to venture into photoshop and show Derrick some appreciation.