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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Jazz

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Sometimes finding the silver lining proves to be to much of a challenge.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs were pummeled last night, beaten soundly and methodically by the Utah Jazz in a game that somehow still managed to appear closer than it actually was. The Silver and Black fell behind from the opening tip-off, briefly regained their footing, and then never really challenged from midway through the second quarter onward as the Jazz carried the contest from wire-to-wire.

Solid performances from DeMar DeRozan (22pts/6asts/3stl) and Dejounte Murray (15pts/6rebs/5asts) weren’t enough in this one as Utah exploited a tired San Antonio defense, out-shooting them everywhere but at the line. And while the bench largely managed to avoid being a net negative, the starting until was so solidly outplayed (-47 as a whole) that there proved to be little-to-no opportunity to dig their way out.

However, as luck would have it, both the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies also found ways to lose last night (the Grizzlies in spectacular fashion, with multiple technical fouls and ejections at the end of the fourth quarter), keeping the Spurs in position for the postseason play-in tournament.

With 8 games left and an absolutely brutal ending stretch of schedule, every win or loss could determine whether the Silver and Black clinch a spot in the play-in or visit the lottery for a second consecutive year, though a berth looks increasingly likely. But with as unpredictable as San Antonio has been all year, a series of losses are all that stand between these tired Spurs and a unique end-of-the-season collapse.

Observations

  • As bad a loss as this was, it should have been much worse. Normally the 4th best NBA team from long-distance, the Jazz missed open look after open look for most of the 1st half, ending the night only 11-36 (30.6%) from three. That proved to be more than enough however as the Spurs failed to convert a single shot from beyond the arc in the same span, in what must have surely been the most fruitless stretch of long-distance shooting in franchise history. After years of maintaining their spot as one of the NBA’s most efficient three-point shooting teams, San Antonio has fallen all the way to 20th in the league this year, an issue made even more problematic by a refusal to match the rest of the league’s volume in the area. It’s an issue that will definitely need to be addressed in the off-season as the team’s offensive spacing has suffered majorly as a result.
  • There’s no real answer for Rudy Gobert and the pressure he single-handedly allows the Jazz to create in the post against most teams, but not having to put Drew Eubanks at his mercy would have been helpful in this one, as the officials continued their trend of calling fouls early and often on Jakob Poeltl, putting him in foul trouble most of the game. Thankfully Gorgui Dieng was available to help stem the tide, but Poeltl getting some semblance of equitable foul calling would be something nice to look forward to, particularly against teams with a front-court as lengthy as the Jazz’s.
  • Outside of DeRozan and Murray’s typically solid performances, Devin Vassell proved to be one of the bright spots on a night in which most of the team struggles. Displaying efficient shooting and a helping out on the glass on a night it was desperately needed, Vassell was perhaps the best defender on the court not named Poeltl, disrupting the Jazz’s offense a great deal more than his his steal total suggests. I’m not certain that Vassell will ever amass gaudy counting stats on the defensive end, but his ability to rotate shrewdly and improvise without gambling have already made him a vital contributor on that end.
  • In spite of his standard contributions, Rudy Gay has become a major liability on the defensive end. I’m not certain whether it’s age or motivation related (or perhaps a combination of both), but his rotations on that end seem to come later and later as the season goes on, and even his attempts at anticipation often create gaping and untimely holes in other areas, which is starting to undermine San Antonio’s late-game execution. I don’t want to accuse Gay of being the sole culprit of so many of San Antonio’s problems, because that would be as unfair as it is inaccurate, but sadly he has become a player who should warrants a certain degree of caution when it comes time to access his position in the off-season. Sad as it may be to say, considering Rudy’s relentlessly positive demeanor in his time here, it may be time to opt for a younger option.

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