Spurs Withstand Utah's Fourth Quarter Rally, Win Game One, 108-100San Antonio completely controlled the first half and held on for a 108-100 win over Utah in Game One of the Western Conference Finals. Tim Duncan produced 27 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. I think that the opposing team's shooting percentage should be included in his individual stats because he is such an imposing defensive presence; the Jazz shot just .419 from the field and that kind of defensive field goal percentage has been a staple of the Spurs with Gregg Popovich as coach and Tim Duncan in the middle. Manu Ginobili had 23 points and 10 assists, while Tony Parker added 21 points, six assists and three steals. The Spurs also got an unexpected offensive contribution from center Fabricio Oberto, who scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting; he moves well without the ball and received passes from Duncan and Ginobili when the defense focused too closely on them. Deron Williams had 26 of his career-high 34 points in the second half and he also had nine assists and seven rebounds. Carlos Boozer got off to a slow start but still got a double double (20 points, 12 rebounds) despite shooting just 7-17 from the field. ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who of course just coached against Boozer when the Jazz beat the Rockets in the first round, noted that in the second half Boozer made an adjustment and started shooting his faceup jumper as opposed to trying to get all the way to the hoop against the long arms of Duncan and Oberto. One of San Antonio's defensive principles is that if you drive by one 7-footer that you still have to shoot over another one, so Boozer is not going to have quite the same success in the paint that he did against Houston's Yao Ming or against various smaller Golden State defenders; Boozer could drive right past Yao and shoot over the Golden State players in the post but against the Spurs he will need to shoot his midrange jumper effectively. The weirdest stat of the game is that Utah outrebounded San Antonio 48-33. It is not surprising that Utah rebounded well--the Jazz are a great rebounding team--but it is unusual to win the battle of the backboards by that much and still lose.
Utah took a 7-0 lead to start the game but, as Tim Duncan said afterwards, the Spurs knew that there was a lot of time left and that their shots would fall eventually. By the end of the first quarter, the Spurs were up 23-20. The difference in the game was the second quarter, during which the Spurs outscored the Jazz 31-16. Duncan scored 12 points in the first seven minutes of the quarter and by that time the Spurs already had a 39-28 lead. They closed out the quarter with a 15-8 run to push the margin to 54-36 by halftime. Duncan had 18 first half points, while Ginobili had 14 points and four assists.
San Antonio's lead grew to 19 points in the third quarter and was still 16 (78-62) at the start of the fourth quarter. The Jazz outscored the Spurs 38-30 in the fourth quarter, largely behind the efforts of Williams (18 points) and Boozer (10 points), but they never got closer than seven points--and that did not happen until :22 remained, so while the Jazz made it "interesting," as the cliche goes, they never were really in a position to win the game.
Prior to the game, the pundits wondered whether Utah would be rested or rusty since the Jazz have been off for a few days; on the flip side, they tried to figure out whether San Antonio would be tired or riding waves of momentum in the wake of the Spurs' win on Friday over Phoenix. The whole "rest versus rust" debate is so overrated: the "rested" Jazz took a 7-0 first quarter lead and then apparently the "rusty" Jazz took their place and were outscored 54-29 for the remainder of the first half. The reality is that NBA teams perform best when they play every other day; that is the most natural rhythm for them but whether you are "rested" or "rusty" you have to bring it in the playoffs or you end up with a loss. One of the best things about this game was Utah Coach Jerry Sloan's postgame press conference. I'd like to dub in his remarks over all the whining that we heard from Phoenix after the Spurs eliminated the Suns. Sloan said that his team did not compete in the first half, played selfishly and looked intimidated. He told them at halftime that anyone who was scared did not have to come out and play in the second half. Eschewing any possible excuses, Sloan said that he is tired of hearing about how young his team is. He expects the Jazz to play hard, play smart, read what is available on the court and to stop hanging their heads or blaming others for their own mistakes. Sloan gave San Antonio credit for playing well but said that his players have to do a better job.
Guys like Sloan and Popovich--and Mike Brown in Cleveland--are considered "boring" by some people but they understand what the game is really about: playing hard, sticking together, focusing on defense and giving credit to the opponent while making no excuses regarding your own team's play. If what they say is considered predictable that is only because these guys believe in doing things the right way and are not going to deviate from that to provide an interesting soundbite or to make any excuses.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:55 PM