AT&T CENTER – With 5:09 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, there stood the San Antonio Spurs on their way to their 31st victory of the season as they led the Utah Jazz 100-84.
The final five minutes wouldn’t end as the Spurs had planned, as rookie Trey Burke (17 points, 11 assists, 11 points in the final five minutes) and the Jazz outscored the Spurs 21-9 in the final five minutes to cut the Spurs’ lead to two points with 7.4 seconds remaining. The Jazz wouldn’t complete the upset as clutch plays and free throws developed from Tony Parker (25 points, 9 assists) and Marco Belinelli (15 points, 7 rebounds) that helped the Spurs hold on for the 109-105 victory.
“It happens,” said Spurs head Coach Gregg Popovich after the game of the Spurs surrendering 21 points in the final five minutes. “It’s an 82-game season and that’s why you play the games. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s played by human beings,” continued Popovich. “It’s not a computer, where you dial it in and that sort of thing. Anything can happen.”
With Manu Ginobili (13 points) and Jeff Ayres (10 points) joining Parker, Tim Duncan (15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Kawhi Leonard (15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks) in the starting lineup in consecutive games, the Spurs jumped out to an early 18-9 lead on Utah. Derrick Favors (19 points, 12 rebounds) and the Jazz would respond with a 7-0 run to cut the Spurs’ lead to three by the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Spurs’ offense began to struggle with only 22 points in the quarter and at one point, the Jazz had taken a two-point lead. By halftime, the Spurs were holding onto a 50-45 lead.
At the start of the third quarter, Popovich made a lineup change by putting Ginobili and Ayres back on the bench and allowing Belinelli and Boris Diaw to start. The move paid off as the Spurs built an 18-point lead, mainly by a very aggressive offensive quarter from Parker with 12 points, and the team went into the fourth quarter leading 81-69. In the first half of the fourth quarter, the Spurs looked like they were pitching a blow-out going up by 16 points a little more than the midway mark of the quarter.
“They’ve always been a gritty physical group,” said Popovich of the Jazz’s late quarter rally in the final five minutes. “They never give in. They did a good job of coming back and then they were fortunate enough to make some shots, some tough shots that got them back in the game.”
Behind Parker and Belinelli, the Spurs would escape with the four-point win.
Tony Parker: Most of Parker’s scoring damage came in the third quarter where he scored 12 of his 25 points. He was scoring in a variety of ways, from driving into the paint, to even knocking down his mid-range jumpers. The area where the Spurs needed him the most was the fourth quarter where he scored seven points, including five of the team’s nine in the final five minutes.
“He pulled us through it again,” said Popovich of Parker’s overall game. “I thought in the third quarter Timmy, he and Manu all played really well and got the lead for us.”
“I learn a lot,” said Burke of observing and playing against Parker. “You can learn so much by playing against a guy like that. He has been in the league for years and is very experienced.”
“He is one of the best there is and I always personally thought that he never gets enough credit for what he has done in this league,” continued Burke of Parker. “One minute he is distributing and the next minute he scores six to eight points. It is always a privilege to play against a guy like that.”
Kawhi Leonard: Though Leonard doesn’t post superstar level scoring numbers, he puts up team stats across the board as he affects the game and brings productivity on both sides of the ball as evidenced by his 15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks night in 33 minutes. When he’s aggressive, he can go on mini-scoring spurts like he did in the first quarter with seven points. He was also a key part of the Spurs’ early 9-2 run in the fourth quarter as he scored a crowd applauding dunk in the open court and knocked down a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions.
Asked after the game if Leonard’s passing is improving, Popovich said it’s not something the team is currently focusing on, but it is something that will improve as Leonard continues to understand the offense.
“We don’t think of him as a passer right now like Beli (Belinelli) is,” said Popovich. “We’ve concentrated mostly defensively, rebounding-wise, making him feel comfortable in the offense.”
“I think as he gets comfortable in the offense, he knows where people are,” continued Popovich, “(and) his passing will become better.”
“Tony and everyone are doing a great job of finding me in the offense,” said Leonard postgame. “I’m just being smart and aggressive out there the whole game, trying to make plays for the team.”
“Coach Pop is believing in me and seeing me work every day, and he’s calling my number,” finished Leonard.
Take a look at one of Leonard’s dazzling plays in the open court via @CJZero:
Jeff Ayres: Game by game, as he’s receiving more minutes and building chemistry with the guards in the pick-and-roll, Ayres is continuing to makes leaps and bounds in improvement. On Wednesday, of his 10 points, eight of them were dunks off the pick-and-roll.
“He needs minutes more than anything,” said Popovich of Ayres after the game. “He just sat in Indiana, he didn’t play. So all these minutes that he’s getting is basically new for him.”
“He’s learning the system pretty quickly,” added Popovich. Ayres said after the game that he’s been working extensively in catching all types of different passes at different angles off the pick-and-roll because before coming to San Antonio, he hadn’t played with guards like Ginobili who can draw in a defense and pass at any moment.
Tim Duncan: Duncan really only played in three quarters of the game as Popovich didn’t bring him in in the final five minutes because the Spurs had already built their 16-point lead and he wasn’t expecting them to have it trimmed down. Duncan had a quiet 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists on 7-of-10 shooting. He scored seven points in the second quarter and eight points in the third to help the Spurs build an 18-point lead.
Derrick Favors: Without Tiago Splitter, Favors was able to help contribute to the Jazz’s 70 points in the paint as he consistently scored on whoever was defending him. He finished shooting 50% from the floor.
Enes Kanter: Like Favors, Kanter also proved to be a mismatch for the Spurs’ thin frontcourt missing Splitter and he continued to get Aron Baynes in foul trouble when Baynes defended him. Kanter scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench, while 6 of his points in the fourth quarter came in the last five minutes.
Trey Burke: For a majority of the game, Parker locked Burke down but in the final five minutes, Burke scored 11 of the Jazz’s 21 points with some clutch baskets in a variety of ways.
“It just shows who he is,” said Jazz head Coach Ty Corbin of Burke’s clutch play down the stretch. “There is not a moment that is too big for him. He relishes in those moments.”
· Favors, Kanter prove Splitter’s worth: Splitter’s worth is evident when San Antonio plays teams with bigger frontlines like the Jazz, as Utah outscored them 70-52 in the paint. Though Baynes is a larger body, he had difficulty staying on the floor because of his quick fouling rate. The 70 points surrendered in the paint was a season high for San Antonio.
· Spurs starters lead the way: Each of the Spurs’ starters finished with double-figures in scoring on the night. Though Ginobili and Belinelli switched spots at halftime, Belinelli even had 15 points off the bench. After the game, Ginobili said he expects to come off the bench once more in the future, but the ultimate decision will be made by Popovich.
· Ayres tallies new season high in points: With his 10 points, Ayres scored his season high in points on the night. With Splitter out a few more weeks, the expectation is he’ll continue to grow and produce more game-by-game with more minutes that will be provided.
The Spurs will have Thursday off and then they will resume play on Friday at home against the Portland Trailblazers. Parker mentioned after the game that playing well against Portland, one of the ‘elite’ teams in the NBA, will be a focus for the team.
Where they stand
Regular Season: 31-8 (Number 1 in the Western Conference)
Vs. teams below .500: 20-1
Vs. the West: 20-6