Even with the return of a handful of important players to the line-up, San Antonio’s loss to Utah on Monday night was, in the eyes of many a Twitter fan, a foregone conclusion. A short-handed, yet hard-fought OT loss the night before to the Philadelphia 76ers, only to hop on a flight immediately after for a match-up with an equally dominant Utah Jazz team? Factor in heavy legs and the Salt Lake City altitude and even with Utah All Star Donovan Mitchell still out nursing an ankle injury, one could practically see the writing on the wall.
With their playoff dreams far from assured and a perilous gauntlet of opponents the rest of the way, the playoffs have essentially begun for head coach Gregg Popovich and his squad. Even though the final margin of victory for the Jazz was double-digits, the fight that will be necessary to pull this club back into the playoffs after missing last season was on display in the 2nd half. That willingness to fight, along with a day off to find their bearings and rest their weary legs, could be the difference in their rematch tonight, a game they desperately need.
San Antonio Spurs (31-33) @ Utah Jazz (47-18)
May 5, 2021 | 8:00 PM CST
Watch: BSSW, NBATV | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Jazz Injuries: Donovan Mitchell (ankle - OUT), Mike Conley (hamstring - questionable), Udoka Azubuike (ankle - OUT)
Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (ankle - OUT), Trey Lyles (ankle - OUT)
What to watch for
- San Antonio essentially lost the game in the first half, as they outscored Utah by 6 in the second half. They coughed up an uncharacteristic 8 turnovers in the first 24 minutes, leading to an early 13-4 points off turnovers lead for the Jazz at the half that helped put them up 17 heading into the locker room. The Spurs were able to steady the ship in the second half, committing just 5 turnovers the rest of the way and actually finishing the game with more points off turnovers than Utah (22-21). With a day to clear their minds, they can hopefully get off to a much better start while playing a similar brand of mistake-free basketball that they’ve played all year.
- Dejounte Murray acknowledged after the loss that he thought the Spurs competed much better in the 2nd half as well, saying, “I think we competed way more than we did in the first half — starting with myself.” Murray scored 11 points in the first half, but committed 4 of those 8 turnovers as well and went just 2-5 in the 2nd half for just 4 points. A confident Dejounte playing to his potential makes the Spurs that much tougher.
- According to the AP Press, it took until the final minute of the first half for San Antonio to hit its first layup of the game. They took just 6 shots in the restricted area that first half and finished the game 8/21 inside, a dismal 38%. Plenty of this has to do with the presence of Rudy Gobert down there, but Utah also seemed eager to let San Antonio have as many looks from the midrange as they wanted, and while they rather efficiently obliged (29/51, 57%), it’s tough to win games only taking mid-range jumpers. A willingness to challenge Gobert from the likes of DeRozan, Murray, and even Keldon Johnson early on could be the component that opens up their offense.
- Rudy Gobert had a monster game, putting up 24 and 15, including 4 offensive rebounds and 6 second chance points. Utah doubled San Antonio 16-8 for the game in 2nd chance points, and while Gobert is among the very best rebounders in the NBA today, the Spurs have to try their best to limit those easy putback dunks that get the Jazz pumped up and earn them easy points.
For the Jazz fan’s perspective, please visit SLC Dunk.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.