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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Spurs Withstand Utah's Fourth Quarter Rally, Win Game One, 108-100

San 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


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At Sunday, May 20, 2007 9:19:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

spurs will win the series because of experiece duncan will dominate it wont be as easy for utah and boozer and willams even though they played well tonight. utah has to win 3 in a row to win the series now i dont see that happening. i didnt see the game i had to take my nephew to the store but they should win this series because they are the better team spurs pistons willl be good on the 7th

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 9:35:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Great article!!! Any fans of Manu GINOBILI, Fabricio OBERTO or Argentine basketball out there, would like to invite you all to our blog and give your comment


At Sunday, May 20, 2007 10:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm not sure that I follow the math or the logic behind the idea that Utah now must win three straight games but I certainly expect the Spurs to win this series and, as I wrote in my preview, I do not expect the series to go the distance.

I also think that you are writing off LeBron and the Cavs a little too quickly. They took the Pistons to seven games last year and that was before Pavlovic became a starter. Detroit won three more games than Cleveland did this year. I understand that Detroit is the veteran team and has homecourt advantage but I do not expect the lopsided Detroit victory that other people seem to expect. In fact, I think that Cleveland will beat Detroit.

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 10:25:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

the logic was utah has to be up 3 to 1 to win the series now becuase i dont think they could win 2 games in sanantonio they have to win 4 out of 5 and win in 6 games i think san antonio gonna win though

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 10:27:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

the cavs got a shot but if detroit comes to play they got the better team than the cavs period detroit is lazadasical is the only thing that will cost them they should win in 6 or 7 games if cleveland win this year id be suprised. san antonio will beat them in the finals though

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 10:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

OK, I see what you are saying: you think that Utah must win Game Two in San Antonio and then both games in Utah so that they can close out the series in Game Six in Utah (assuming that they lose Game Five in San Antonio in this scenario).

We agree that this is not very likely to happen.

As for Cleveland versus Detroit, while Detroit has more good players Cleveland has the best player on either team. Only three games separated them in the regular season and the series went seven games last year so I don't understand why people seem to think that this will be a walk in the park for Detroit.

At Monday, May 21, 2007 8:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, come on! Stop doing this to yourself. You're caught up in a Wile E. Coyote futility cycle with all these predictions against Detroit. It's not even about rational difference of opinions anymore. Cleveland will win because they have the best player? My God, man, have decades of basketball watching led you to this?

Ah well. It will be Spurs-Pistons regardless of what anyone says or wants. I look forward to a hard-fought series that will utterly frustrate the casual fans who need a marketing property (sorry, I mean "star") to stay interested.

At Monday, May 21, 2007 4:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

In case you missed it, this is my second prediction against Detroit in a series in the past three seasons; the first was in the previous round versus Chicago.

Other than Detroit in 2004, the team with the biggest star(s) has been winning the NBA title for quite some time: Duncan's Spurs, Shaq/Kobe's Lakers, MJ/Pip's Bulls, Shaq/Wade's Heat. Maybe this year's Detroit team can repeat what the '04 team did but that team had Ben Wallace anchoring the defense and Larry Brown calling the shots. Cleveland took Detroit to seven games last year so I still don't get why people think that Detroit should be a heavy favorite or that picking Cleveland is so outlandish. Detroit is the favorite based on experience and having the homecourt advantage but let's see what happens.

Also, I don't need a marketing plan or a star to be interested.


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