I suppose we can thank G-Pop for tonight’s win over the San Antonio Spurs. As he has done already this season, G-Pop sat his Big Three, namely Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Timmy Duncan. That left a lineup that included names such as Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, DeJuan Blair, Patty Mills, and Danny Green for the Jazz to contend with.
Now, I could whine and moan about how the Jazz (shorthanded themselves with Watson, Miles, Bell, Howard, and now Evans all out with injuries) probably should’ve blown this short lineup out of the water – but then I have to remember, a win is a win. No matter how it comes, whether through luck or design, a win still looks the same on the record sheet.
And so, the Jazz beat the Spurs 91-84 in a relatively close contest that featured typical Spurs nonsense: lots of flopping, lots of no calls, lots of … boredom. The Spurs do what they do well, and I commend them for that, but they are easily the most unexciting team in basketball. They don’t dunk, or make spectacular plays – instead they drive to the hole, dish out to the open man, or collect most of their points at the free throw line.
Without their big boys, however, San Antonio’s game plan was more or less nixed, as refs very rarely call fouls for rookies – just look at the free throw discrepancy: only 7 out of 10 for the spurs, versus 25 of 33 for the Jazz. Compare that with last night when the Spurs went to line a whopping 46 times against Utah’s 26. Granted, San Antonio’s bench threw up a lot of 3-balls, and played mainly on the perimeter tonight, save for Master Splitter (14 points, six rebounds), who I commend for holding his own against the Jazz bigs.
Thank you Devin Harris.
Harris’ play of late is awe inspiring. Early in the season he made stupid plays down the stretch that cost the Jazz some big games. Now, however, the thrifty PG is playing at a – I kid you not – all star level, scoring 28, 18 and now 25 points in the last three games. He played a big part in Utah’s second half resurgence against Golden State, kept the Jazz close in San Antonio, and more or less won the game tonight. His 3-point shooting has been superb (11 out of 22 over the weekend), and he has limited his turnovers in the fourth quarter to practically zilch.
Milsap, Hayward and Jefferson had typical nights (with the latter scoring only 12 points), while our bench continued to struggle. Not sure what’s going on there. At one point in the season, Kanter and Favors proved a potent combo coming off the bench. But now, neither scores in double figures, and look a bit bewildered at times out on the court. It’s so bad that Harpring and Boler have to give the Subway Sub of the Game Award each night to someone who only scored seven points and collected three rebounds. Nice.
I will say this: Utah looked downright tired during moments of tonight’s game. Dejected is a better word. They tried hard, but there was a lot of complaining (for some silly no calls) and moping around out there. Perhaps Utah has figured out that getting into the playoffs will mean matching up with either San Antonio (who schools them each time they play) or OKC (who will probably see to it that Utah never beats them again). A healthy Jazz squad (one with Howard, Watson and Miles in the lineup) would prove a legitimate threat to either of those teams, but at the rate Jazz players are falling, I think Utah has a better shot at acquiring Kobe Bryant than beating two of the best teams in the western conference.
That being said, I keep getting asked whether or not it’s important for Utah to even make the playoffs. At this point the answer is a resounding yes. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: the Jazz opted to ditch the youth movement in order to make a run for the playoffs, hence Kanter’s and Favor’s dwindling minutes (at least before all the injuries), Evan’s nightly no-shows and Hayward’s removal from the starting lineup.
While injuries have played a factor, Utah needs to at least make the first round in order to call this season successful. By not playing their youth, the Jazz gave a lot of minutes to their vets in the hopes of extending their season beyond April. Not making the playoffs means Utah just wasted a lot of valuable time – time that could’ve been given to Kanter, Burks and the gang. At this point, it doesn’t matter who Utah faces in the first round. Getting into the post-season would at least provide money and allow the Jazz brass to pat themselves on the back for a year well spent.
I personally thought Utah should’ve ditched the post-season long ago, hence my utter disappointment after the trade deadline when I awoke to discover the Jazz still carried at least five too many vets. But I went with Utah’s plan, and even felt confident they’d made the right decision during that brief six-win streak. But then Howard dropped, Bell continued to stay sidelined, Watson kept getting injured; Utah’s shrinking team suddenly had to rely on CJ Miles’ inconsistent long range shot on a nightly basis. It was a good try, but injuries kept/keep Utah from offering any sort of threat to any of the top three or four teams in the west.
Even so, despite the injuries, Utah needs a post-season birth to keep the fans at bay. I can’t remember when the Jazz missed the playoffs two years in a row – although I’m not anxious for another first round sweep either.
In closing, I think tonight’s game was a solid effort from all those involved, save for our bench, and proves that everyone on the floor is at least working towards a similar goal. Whether they get there or not is beyond me. At least beating San Antonio keeps them in the hunt.