The Spurs played one of their best games of the season tonight against a scrappy and well-coached Jazz team, at least for about 46 minutes. Utah turned up the defense in the final quarter, and almost pulled out a win while the Spurs barely held on as Tre Jones scored the final two buckets for the Silver and Black. The Spurs overcame a monster effort from Lauri Markkonen with 32 points and Jeremy Clarkson with 25. The Spurs got great games from Keldon Johnson with 21, Devin Vassell with 24, and a big unexpected boost from rookie guard Malaki Branham with 20. The hero of the game had to be Tre Jones, who was able to score at the end when no one else could and secure the win for the good guys.
Jakob Poeltl opened up the scoring for the game with a layup, and the Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson took over for an early 11-5 lead for the Silver and Black. Collin Sexton heated up to an extent but defense dominated on both ends as both teams had trouble putting the ball into the hoop, often because of spectacular blocks from the bigs. The Spurs finished the quarter strong, except for an unfortunate turnover on an inbound pass, and led 31-26 at the end of 12 minutes on a buzzer beater scoop shot from Doug McDermott.
The Spurs extended their lead to double digits early in the second, despite cold shooting from the Silver and Black, because the players in the banana uniforms were even colder to start. That didn’t last, as the boys in yellow started to find the range, and the Spurs didn’t do a good enough job holding onto the rock and the Jazz tied the game at 44 with 5 minutes left. The Spurs answered with a 12-3 run of their own, and the Spurs held onto a 63-56 lead at the half, which could have been more except for Vassell uncharacteristically missing 2 out of 3 free throws at the end of the quarter.
The Spurs started the third with active defense and businesslike offense, stretching the lead to 13 on a triple from Tre Jones and a pair of free throws from Vassell. The Spurs took off after a sequence with a dunk by Sochan after a fortunate no-call on a Keldon Johnson carrying violation, which led to a technical foul on Will Hardy, adding insult to injury. The Spurs pushed the lead to 20, which was blunted by a Jeremy Clarkson charge that kept the Spurs from running away, as the Silver and Black led 96-82 after three.
The game got really physical at the start of the fourth, as the Walkers (Kessler and Alexander) were pounding the paint for the Jazz, and along with Markkanen, and the Jazz brought the Spurs to single digits a little more than 3 minutes into the quarter. Then something unexpected happened: instead of losing their composure as the other team steamrollered them, the Spurs stood up and started to play with poise and physicality, and held on to the lead, and even began to increase it a bit. Lauri Markkanen did his part to keep the Jazz in it by dominating whoever the Spurs put on him, but with Malaki Branham helping out with bring the ball up court, the Spurs were able to limit turnovers and hold on until the last two minutes where things got a little interesting, as a bad foul from Sochan followed by a turnover allowed the Jazz to go on a 10-0 run and cut the lead to just four points with 80 seconds left. All of the poise the Spurs exhibited earlier was now gone. Luckily for the Spurs, Malik Beasley’s shot to cut the lead to a point swirled out, and Tre Jones finished out the game with a pair of timely baskets as the Spurs won 126-122.
- There will be typos in this article. There always are.
- Will Hardy got a glowing recommendation from Coach Popovich in the pre-game, and he’s demonstrated his worth so far by keeping a rebuilding team in the playoff hunt.
- The game started late, bringing back memories of what happened in Mexico City, where arena issues delayed the beginning of the second half. While Bill Land and Sean Elliott did a great job with a Christmas list bit to kill the extra time, I feel like this was a real missed opportunity since Michelle Beadle wasn’t there. Surely, she would have been in her element with an extra 20 minutes or so for aimless banter.
- The Spurs didn’t list a single player on the injury report for tonight’s game. It’s a Christmas miracle!
- I’m not a fan of the color rush scheme. One team should be wearing white or a light color and the other dark. Having said that, the Jazz banana jerseys are ridiculous. Ridiculously good.
- It was really interesting to watch Walker Kessler and Jakob Poeltl battle in the paint. They’re similar players, but Jakob was getting the best of Kessler with his defense early on.
- Stanley Johnson has been a real find for this year’s Spurs. I hope he sticks, because he’s been making plays.
- Coby Dietrich (Spurs center 73-79, 82) was the sideline guest and had some interesting insights into how the game is different now than it was when he played.
- Malaki Branham is really smooth on offense, but he still needs to work on passes, as his lack of touch led to a couple of turnovers. He’s just a rookie, so I’m sure he’ll improve that aspect of his game.
- Sochan was benched for much of the third quarter as Pop engaged him in an intense coaching session, which seemed to work as he came back playing like a demon with green hair.
For the Jazz fans’ perspective, please visit SLC Dunk. After tonight’s game, the Spurs are headed to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder tomorrow night.
The Spurs are currently in 14th place the western conference, and still on course for a 14% chance at the top pick in the 2023 draft.