As the San Antonio Spurs (50-16) and Utah Jazz prepare to square off in game one of their NBA Playoff series, both teams will have to come into the game with the understanding that one of their winning streaks will be snapped on Sunday afternoon. The Spurs come in as the hottest team in the NBA as they closed the season with a 10-game win streak, the third double-digit win streak of the season for them. The Jazz also closed out the season strongly as they come into San Antonio with a late five game win streak. The road isn’t the friendliest place for the Jazz as they went 11-22 on the road this season, while the Spurs truly enjoy the AT&T Center where they only lost five games (28-5) through the entire season.
The Spurs will have a fully healthy squad, while the Jazz will be without the services of C.J. Miles (left gastric muscle strain) and Earl Watson (right medial meniscus tear). Which team will continue their winning streak, and which team will be handed their first loss in over five games?
Playoff Case No. 1: Utah Jazz (36-30)
Al Jefferson – 19.2 points (17.2 FGA), Paul Millsap – 16.6 points (13.5 FGA), Gordon Hayward – 11.9 points (8.9 FGA), Devin Harris – 11.4 points (8.6 FGA), Derrick Favors – 8.8 points (6.9 FGA), Josh Howard – 8.7 points (8.4 FGA), Alec Burks 7.2 points (6.1 FGA)
Jefferson will get a lot of looks at the basket both on the post and by shooting jumpers, but the Spurs must remain in a one-on-one defensive stance against Jefferson. He has averaged his normal numbers against the Spurs, but his scoring hasn’t led to wins. As long as Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, and Boris Diaw can play Jefferson on their own, he looses the threat of using a double-team to kick the ball out to open shooters or slashers to the basket.
Millsap hasn’t had a great season against the Spurs. Their improved length and ability to match him with DeJuan Blair and the other big men has been a good reason for that. Millsap is being forced to have to defend Splitter in the post, Blair on the pick-and-roll, while also having to defend the pick-and-roll with Bonner, Duncan, or Diaw either heading to the basket or getting ready for an open jumper.
Hayward is a player who scores the “Reggie Miller” way, by running off screens without the ball and putting up a quick jumper. He’s averaged decent numbers against the Spurs, but he’ll have to deal with Danny Green, Leonard, and Stephen Jackson chasing him around the basketball court, while also having to defend Manu Ginobili and Gary Neal at times. His main opportunity to score will be when or if he’s matched up with Neal.
Harris is probably one of the biggest keys to this series. How well will he play against Tony Parker is the main question, and the key to that will be him having to do a lot on offense. If Harris can keep Parker active on defense by shooting jumpers, running the pick-and-roll time-after-time on the court, then this could limit Parker’s aggressiveness on the other end because Parker’s main focus will be defense. Unfortunately for Harris, the Jazz run a system that is mainly meant for Jefferson and Millsap to get the ball in the low block or in a pick-and-roll feed. This means Harris will likely just bring the ball up the court, distribute it, and wait to see if he gets an open shot. In Parker’s mind, if Harris is a just a floater on the perimeter on offense, Parker will be licking his chops to attack Harris on the offensive end.
Favors could be the X-factor for the Jazz, but the young player has a lot of responsibility, as he is one of the main components off of their limited bench. Favors is a great help defender and finisher with offensive rebounds, so the Spurs will have to be aware of where he is at all times on the floor.
Shooting/Posting High Percentages
Derrick Favors (50%), Enes Kanter (50%), Paul Millsap (50%), Al Jefferson (49%), Raja Bell (47%), Gordon Hayward (46%), Devin Harris (45%)
Jefferson and Millsap mainly score in the area of less than 15-feet. Whether it is hitting the outside shot, finishing for a layup or dunk off the pick-and-roll, or Jefferson posting his defender, the big men score with a good percentage. The Spurs’ big men will have to make those percentages decrease by relying on their pick-and-roll defense and individual defense in the low block.
Three-Point marks men
Devin Harris (3.4 x 3PT FGA – 36%), Raja Bell (2.7 x 3PT FGA – 31%), Gordon Hayward (2.6 x 3PT FGA – 39%), DeMarre Carroll (1 x 3PT FGA – 37%)
The Jazz don’t have many dangerous three point shooters, but they have some streaky shooters on their team. The Spurs saw this first hand with Carroll hitting some big shots in the Spurs’ third win against the Jazz this season, while Harris hit some momentum changing shots for the Jazz in Salt Lake City in the last Spurs-Jazz game, where the “Big Three” didn’t play. Still, the Jazz aren’t considered a three point shooting team.
Gets to the free throw line
Paul Millsap (4 FTA – 79%), Gordon Hayward (3.5 FTA – 83%), Devin Harris (3.3 FTA – 75%), Derrick Favors (3 FTA – 65%), Al Jefferson (2.9 FTA – 77%)
I was amazed to see that Jefferson only gets to the line 2.9 times. Small free throw numbers like this mean only one thing, these Jazz players like to shoot jumpers.
Enforcers in the paint
Al Jefferson (9.6 rebounds), Paul Millsap (8.8 rebounds), Derrick Favors (6.5 rebounds)
The Jazz can dominate the boards, but the one area where the Spurs must be aware of the Jazz is when the Jazz shoot and these post players get offensive rebounds. Favors especially can finish an offensive rebound with a dunk.
Devin Harris (5 assists), Gordon Hayward (3.1 assists)
The Spurs must be aware of Hayward’s more underrated passing ability. In the open court, Hawyard is excellent at feeding Millsap who sometimes “snowbirds” out in front of the defense.
Paul Millsap (1.8 steals), Devin Harris (1 steal)
Denying the Rim
Al Jefferson (1.7 blocks), Derrick Favors (1 block)
Offense vs. Offense
1. Points: Spurs (103.7) – Jazz (99.7) = Spurs
2. Assists: Spurs (23.2) – Jazz (21.8) = Spurs
3. Shooting percentage: Spurs (47.8%) – Jazz (45.6%) = Spurs
4. Three point shooting percentage: Spurs (39.3%) – Jazz (32.3%) = Spurs
5. Turnovers: Spurs (13.2) – Jazz (13.6) = Spurs
Offensive Leader: Spurs 5-0
Defensively, the Spurs will want to make the Jazz try to beat them with one-on-one play. The Jazz can put up big numbers when they share the basketball, so the Spurs should focus on letting one Jazz player “think” they’re having a big game, when in fact they’re just limiting their teammates from touching the ball. Jefferson, Millsap, or Harris are one of the three players I expect to take a lot of shots through the game. The Spurs must also make sure to have a hand up when defending the jump shooters of Utah, as they shoot a relatively well percentage in that department.
Defense vs. Defense
1. Opponent scoring: Spurs (96.5) – Jazz (99) = Spurs
2. Opponent shooting: Spurs (45%) – Jazz (45%) = Tie
3. Opponent 3PT shooting: Spurs (35%) – Jazz (34%) = Jazz
4. Rebounds: Spurs (43) – Jazz (44.2) = Jazz
5. Personal Fouls: Spurs (17.3) – Jazz (21.8) = Spurs
Defensive Leader: Tie 2-2
Offensively, the Spurs are going to enjoy playing the Jazz. The Jazz like to push the tempo and score quickly, they score almost 100 points per game. The Spurs themselves score 103 points per game, so this will be a fast-paced game in which the Spurs can exploit the Jazz’ lack of depth and showcase the many weapons San Antonio possesses on their bench. The Jazz do a good job of switching and staying in front of outside shooters, so the Spurs will have to be aware of this, as it’s the three-point shooting that is a big part of their offensive game plan.
Here’s the difference between these two teams. The Jazz WANT to score, while the Spurs CAN score. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spurs start off sloppy and shoot a terrible percentage in the first half and have a few out of place turnovers. The reason is because Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and Neal haven’t played a full game in almost a week. There could be a few communication errors with the players being reinserted into the lineup, but it shouldn’t have a major effect. In the second half, I expect the Spurs’ offensive attack to eventually ware the Jazz out.
As long as the Spurs do the things that have gotten them to 50-wins this season, they shouldn’t have a problem beginning the series with a 1-0 victory. They need to share the basketball, push the tempo, Parker must stay aggressive, and on defense they must limit Harris, Jefferson, and Millsap, while also making sure the rest of the role players aren’t able to contribute at an efficient rate.
The Spurs will score, the Jazz will try to keep up with them.