This just in: Tony Parker is very, very good at basketball.
The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz 106-91 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs. The Jazz hung with the Spurs through much of the game but utlimately could not find an answer to the question of how to slow down Parker. The Spurs PG finished with 28 points and 8 assists but affected the game on nearly every possession. Even when he didn’t have the ball, the way he was playing forced the Jazz defense to account for him constantly, freeing up other players to find open looks. I give the Jazz credit for the effort they gave but the Spurs were clearly the better team and it looked at times that the Jazz’s inexperience in the playoffs were a disadvantage. San Antonio was intercepting Utah’s passes all game long, forcing 16 turnovers and deflecting several other passes.
Josh Howard got the start for the Jazz over DeMarre Carroll, which proved to be a mistake. Howard was out of sync the entire game, missing all four of his shots and turning the ball over. It’s easy to criticize the move in hindsight but with how well Carroll was doing in the starting lineup during Utah’s push to the playoffs to close out the regular season, I was surprised by the move from the start. I would be surprised if Corbin started Howard again in Game 2, to put it bluntly, he was terrible today. The Jazz battled the Spurs pretty well in the 1st quarter but had difficulty getting their shots to fall. Near the end of the quarter, Utah was shooting only 35% while San Antonio was at 55%. Despite that, the Jazz were only down 6 at the end of the 1st.
Utah’s bench started the 2nd quarter off terribly, losing ground to San Antonio’s second unit, but eventually picked it up and battled back into the game. DeMarre Carroll played pretty well in the quarter, strengthening the case to start him over Howard in the next game, but the Jazz couldn’t quite close the gap completely. The Jazz couldn’t really get it closer than 4 points and it was becoming very clear at this point that the Spurs were doing an excellent job anticipating every pass, particularly when the Jazz tried to get the ball into the paint. Utah improved their shooting during the 2nd quarter, raising the FG% to 44% during the 1st half and overall played better but a late surge by San Antonio to close out the half put them back up by 7.
The 3rd quarter initially showed some promise for Utah, especially when Corbin yanked Howard from the lineup midway through and finally went to the big lineup of Harris, Hayward, Millsap, Favors, and Jefferson. They immediately cut an 11-point lead down to 6 but the Spurs adjusted and kept the Jazz at bay. The game started to slip away from Utah at the end of the 3rd as San Antonio’s defense stepped up. A barrage of 3s at the end of the quarter put the Spurs up by 15.
Utah showed a few flashes in the 4th quarter but couldn’t find enough momentum to seriously threaten San Antonio. I give the Jazz credit for never wilting and continuing to play hard but in the end, the Spurs proved to be the better team and they deserved to win. Tony Parker was nothing short of sensational, setting up teammates and creating shots for himself at will throughout the game. Whenever the Jazz put a run together, it seemed like more often than not it was Parker who was the one to end it.
The Jazz kept Manu Ginobli in check, he scored only 7 points off 3/10 shooting. Gordon Hayward likely deserves a lot of the credit for that. Tim Duncan was his typically solid self, finishing with a double-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds. The Spurs got some big 3-pointers from Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner off the bench, hitting a combined 5/8 from beyond the arc. Offensively, the Jazz got production from Hayward, who hit 12/12 free throws, Al Jefferson, and Paul Millsap, but did didn’t receive much help from anybody else. Devin Harris was solid in the 1st quarter then disappeared. Derrick Favors showed flashes but wasn’t consistent. For Utah to contend in this series, they’ll need more production from more players. San Antonio is deeper and more talented, Utah needs to bring their A game to hang with them.
If you want evidence that the NBA drags out the first round of the playoffs too long, consider that the Jazz are playing consecutive games in San Antonio yet they are flying back home to SLC in between. The two teams will meet for Game 2 on Wednesday night at 5:00 PM MST on TNT.