The Spurs offense hit a wall tonight, and it was a combination of running out of gas like a marathon runner and the elite interior defense of the Utah Jazz, led by Rudy Gobert’s long arms as he blocked a lot of shots and intimidated many more. Perhaps the best counter to the paint protection would have been shooting a boatload of three-point shots, but the Spurs couldn’t hit shots outside either tonight, and it turned into a solid win for the Jazz, although the end of the bench group with Cacok, Wieskamp and Primo made the final score look a little closer that it had a right to be with a 10-2 closing run. The Spurs played well enough on defense tonight to win the game, but their inability to get scores against the stout Jazz defenders kept the game out of reach.
- It’s Star Wars night at the AT&T Center, and PTR writer Jeph Duarte is in the crowd as Chewbacca (which is pretty much how he always looks). Aaaaaaargh ghhhhhrn gaaaaaar, Jeph. [That’s ‘may the fourth be with you’ in Shriiwook, the Wookiee language.]
- Keita Bates-Diop in the starting lineup is a good stabilizing influence. He’s a very steady player.
- This team needs to get better at hitting free throws. Against a good team, leaving those easy points uncashed is a killer. It’s very costly to not get those points, but for some reason, the Jazz were also bad from the free throw line tonight.
- Every team could use a Jordan Clarkson. If your offense isn’t working, just put him into the game and let him create.
- The offense stalled for much of the game, and really could have used Dejounte Murray to create some ball movement. Derrick White doesn’t have the speed and midrange game to make the halfcourt offense work as well as Murray can.
- The paint protection by the Jazz is insanely good. Even if you get the ball past the perimeter defenders, they are no easy shots. It really destroyed the Spurs interior offense.
- Quin Snyder always looks like he’s filled with rage. I think he’s still thinking about that Lonnie Walker shot at the end of the last game against the Spurs.
Both teams swapped turnovers to start the game, and Bogdanovich opened up the scoring with 1 of 2 from the free throw line. The teams played in very small range for the first half of the first quarter, with Utah reaping the benefits of a friendly whistle to get to the line. Jordan Clarkson’s entry into the game helped the Jazz take a lead with his ability to create offense from thin air, while the Spurs bench kept them in the game with creative ball movement leading to open looks and layups. The Jazz led 34-27 at the end of one.
The Spurs started the second quarter colder than the infrared image sensor on the James Webb Space Telescope, but their defense kept the Jazz from extending the lead into double digits, and elite basket protection kept them into the game and they even closed the lead to 4 points until a 11-0 Jazz spurt put them up 50-35. The Spurs recovered a bit and outscored the Jazz 8-3 to end the quarter and trailed 53-43 at the half.
The second half started on a promising note, with Doug McDermott sinking an open triple from the top of the key, but the Spurs offense quickly devolved into a chaotic mess, with the ball bouncing every way but into the basket, as the Jazz, not exactly red hot themselves, took advantage and stretched their lead back to 16. The Spurs came to life a bit late in the quarter, but trailed 70-82 going into the final 12 minutes.
Jordan Clarkson, a little upset that he didn’t get a foul call at the end of the third, coolly sunk a triple to start off the final quarter for the Jazz, and they were hot to start the final frame to stretch the lead to 18, their highest of the game. The Spurs offense was starting to come alive, but without being able to get some stops, it would be impossible to cut into the lead. Doug McDermott and Devin Vassell finally started to hit some shots, and the Spurs turned up the defense, but with the 4 minutes left and a 14 point Jazz lead, Pop was considering waving the white flag, until a Utah turnover changed his mind. After two minutes where the starters couldn’t make any further dents, Pop send in a deep bench group including DeVonte Cacok, Joe Wieskamp, and Josh Primo, who made a bit of a run in the last two minutes to make Quin Snyder put his starters back into the game. Despite a 10-2 run by the energy pack, the Jazz won 110-104.
What’s Next . . .
For the Jazz fan’s perspective, please visit SLC Dunk.
The Spurs record is now 14-19, and even with the loss tonight, they are on an 10-6 hot streak since Thanksgiving, when they were 4-13. Although their three-game winning streak is over after tonight’s loss, they can start a new one on Wednesday night at 7:30 with a win against the Miami Heat. After that, the Silver and Black go on a 7 game road trip starting on New Year’s Eve in Memphis. Road games in the NBA are always tough, so we’ll find out if the young squad is a legitimate entry in the west playoff ranks in the next couple of weeks.