The Spurs returned home from a rough three-game road trip hoping to righten the ship, but they had no such luck against a Utah Jazz team that struggled early in the season but has turned things around in recent weeks. Even though the Spurs got out to a hot start and an early 15-point lead, the same problems that have plagued them all season remained, as they quickly got complacent and relinquished the lead, while the Jazz used a hot-shooting second half to pull away, handing the Spurs their fifth straight loss, 118-130.
Keldon Johnson led the Spurs off the bench with 26 points, while Devin Vassell led the starters with 22 points. Lauri Markkanen exploded for 31 points to lead the Jazz, including 5 threes, and Jordan Clarkson did his usual damage to his hometown team with 24 points off the bench.
- Victor Wembanyama returned after turning his ankle pregame in Dallas, and Gregg Popovich announced before the game that Johnson would be the sixth man going forward in an attempt to both bolster the bench and give Vassell and Wemby more touches on offense. At least for now, Julian Champagnie appears to be the preferred starter of choice as a solid defender and shooter who doesn’t need the ball to be affective, and he responded with 10 of his 16 points in the first quarter as part of an energetic offensive effort from the new starting unit. Johnson also had five quick points off the bench as the Spurs got out to that 15-point lead before the offense fell apart and allowed the Jazz to get back within five at the end of the first quarter.
- The Jazz entered the game as the fourth best rebounding team in the league while the Spurs are 18th, and the difference showed. It was especially a problem for the bench with Zach Collins having to defend the perimeter with no one rotating to box out Walker Kessler, and seemingly every long rebound after missed threes bounced Utah’s way. The Jazz finished the game with 53 rebounds and 25 second chance points, compared to 43 and 10 for the Spurs. They also owned the Spurs at the foul line, hitting 20 of their 22 while the Spurs hit just 14-21.
- The Jazz won a challenge in the first half where Kessler was called for a foul after he blocked a Cedi Osman shot, and despite “marginal contact” to his arm before the block, the refs overturned the foul call. Bill Land and Sean Elliott spent the rest of the half joking (roasting?) about what is and isn’t “marginal contact”. You almost wonder if the folks in Secaucas heard Steve Kerr’s Christmas comments about the NBA “legislating” defense out of the game and wanted to show that they do allow “marginal contact”.
- Maybe it was because Wemby was on a minutes restriction (and he needed it, looking gassed at times), but after the initial stint from the starters to open the game, in which they led the team out to a nine-point lead, that group never saw the floor together again in the first half, with Pop mostly staggering the lineups. They were outscored by 13 the rest of the way, turning what had been a 15-point lead into a 4-point halftime deficit.
- Of course, because this team is known for its slow second half starts, in the two minutes they played to start the third quarter, they were outscored by seven. But this time the bench, led by 12 points from Johnson, saved the quarter, bringing the Spurs from what had turned into a 12-point deficit back to within a point before the Jazz went on a little flurry to end the quarter up 100-93. Unfortunately, the Spurs never responded in the fourth quarter.
- It’s been a while since the Spurs blew a double-digit lead (because they haven’t been able to build one since the Lakers win), but they are now 2-10 on the season under such scenarios, with many of those losses coming at home. (Reminder, the NBA record for worst record when leading by double digits is 5-9, which came from the infamous 2012 Charlotte Bobcats.) At some point, youth and inexperience stops being an excuse, and you have to wonder why this keeps happening and what the solution is.
For the Jazz fans’ perspective, visit SLC Dunk.
The Spurs will head out west to Portland to take on the struggled Trail Blazers in a back-to-back miniseries. Tipoff will be at 9:00 PM CT on Bally Sports.