San Antonio Spurs 104, Utah Jazz 97: Spurs offense adjusts, struggles, survives

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AT&T CENTER — With the return of Tony Parker to the San Antonio Spurs lineup on Friday night, one could expect the league’s fifth-best offense to get a positive bump. Before going down with an ankle injury on March 1 against the Sacramento Kings, Parker was captaining the Spurs’ offense with the type of control that few players in the league are able to achieve.

His return, however, did not quite have the desired effect for the vast majority of the Spurs’ 104-97 overtime victory over the Utah Jazz. Parker played well in the second half en route to leading San Antonio in scoring with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, but the Spurs offense sputtered and stumbled to a 99.5 offensive rating. San Antonio also only assisted on 23 of its 39 made field goals, usually an indicator that the offense wasn’t humming along as normal.

The Jazz seemed able to play more compact defensively, crowding passing lanes and preventing easy looks around the rim. They forced 17 turnovers by the Spurs (five coming from Manu Ginobili, who had a rough game) and generally mucked things up on that end of the floor.

“I thought Tony was a little bit shy in the first half. He was trying to feel his way a little bit,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said later.

Trailing 65-63 going into the fourth quarter, Coach Pop resurrected Matt Bonner in an effort to open up the offense. Last season the pairing of Bonner and Tiago Splitter on the San Antonio second unit created one of the most well-spaced offenses in all of basketball and Pop went back to that tandem in an effort to jumpstart his team’s attack.

It seemed to work temporarily, as the Spurs built some momentum and took a one-point lead just a couple minutes into the period. San Antonio then regressed and fell behind by five points just two minutes later.

With three minutes left in the game and the Spurs down 81-80, Pop finally found the lineup that would shake up his stagnant offense. Off the floor came Splitter and in went Manu Ginobili, sliding Kawhi Leonard over to the power forward position. With Parker and Danny Green also on the floor, the Spurs were able to spread the floor with competent shooters and run high pick-and-rolls with Duncan, giving Parker driving lanes he struggled to find earlier in the game.

Over the three minutes the Spurs went small, San Antonio scored 11 points on six possessions. On only one trip down the floor did the Spurs fail to pick up any points, fittingly on a Ginobili turnover. Had Ginobili not also botched a defensive rotation on the last play of regulation, the move would’ve been a winning one for the Spurs. But instead, Marvin Williams sunk a corner 3 as time expired in the fourth to force overtime.

In overtime, Parker and Leonard (21 points on 9-of-14 shooting and eight rebounds on the night) combined for 11 points as the Spurs outscored the Jazz 14-7.

With Parker rejoining the lineup, it was an evening of adjustments for the Spurs. San Antonio had to figure out its rhythm and timing with Parker initiating the offense again instead of Cory Joseph, and Parker himself had to figure out how to be effective while not yet regaining that extra burst he typically has when in game shape. Luckily for the Spurs, both seemed to have recovered enough in the nick of time to get the win.

  • http://twitter.com/JesseGladsaget Jesse Gladsaget

    That was sloppy as all hell, and Mo Williams is still an inexplicable Spur-killer, but I’ll take it. Kawhi was an absolute monster down the stretch, and I don’t ever wanna see Diaw and Blair playing next to one another again(I know it’s been like that for awhile now, but still).

  • http://twitter.com/kmgospurs kmgospurs

    I’m ready for Manu to retire. It’s been so painful watching him out there play.

  • Len

    It absolutely pains me to agree with you. If he comes back it’s gotta be in a much reduced role.

  • Sir Timothy

    You have never struggled? Manu was still there at the end, bro.

    Do you think he does not know that he struggled last night? Do you think Pop does not know?

    We all owe him much respect. He has bled silver and black and I would rather lose in the first round without him than disrespect such a man.

  • Andrew G

    It feels wrong to say it, but I wanted us to lose this one. I think a loss on Tony’s return (and to the Jazz no less) would’ve forced some intense practices, incurring Pop’s wrath and inspiring some better play in the important games to come.

    We got out-played and out-physicaled(?). It was a tale of two halves, but we didn’t play like we wanted it for most of this game. Refs were calling a pretty loose one, allowing a lot of contact, which really benefits teams like the Jazz and Grizzlies.

    I read a really good article in on one of the other Spurs’ blogs, explaining why Manu isn’t Manu anymore. It came down to the fact that he isn’t in his 20s, but he’s still throwing seemingly creative passes and jacking up shots like he did in his 20s. Those passes are now turning into turnovers, and those shots aren’t falling down. My thought is that he needs to take a page out of Tim’s book and revamp the way he plays the game, and adjust to his own physical limitations.

    He needs to stop penetrating AS MUCH, and practice those 3 balls to keep defenses spread and honest. He can throw in the occasional drive to the rim using his patented step, sprinkle in some no look passes with those drives, but be sparing about it. Most importantly though, he needs his shot back.

  • Len

    It wasn’t just his 20′s. Cripes, last year in the playoffs, Manu was still playing great ball. He has just gotten old. It happens to all the great ones. It’ll happen to Timmy soon too. It’s just very painful to see a player that has inspired you for over a decade not be the same.

  • Sir Timothy

    New Rule: You are not allowed to make a comment that basically says “Manu struggled.”

    Really? He struggled? Who would have guessed.

    I think Pop may give him some rest on the way into the playoffs and I think you will see something come playoff time. Is anyone on this board old enough to remember 2005? “In Manu we trust!” Remember that? He had 15 assists just a couple of weeks ago…

    Let me ask you a question…Say Manu is up and down for the regular season. How many games does he have to win for us in the WCF and the NBA Finals? Do you see what I mean? How about Spurs down 1 to the Heat – final possession Game 7. I want Manu on the floor. End of story.

    Now how about some thoughts on Parker playing 37 minutes??? Did we expect that? How about Duncan’s free throws?!!! Kawhi-not (for 3)?

    The Spurs just beat a good team. Pop has plenty to complain about. Now let’s go to Houston and see what we have! Time to end Denver’s streak and then the Heat’s!

    Go Spurs Go!

  • Andrew G

    I’m not dismissing last year’s performance, but like you said, he’s clearly aged between then and now. If he’s willing to accept that and adjust his game (like Tim did), and not let the offense run through him as much, I think we would see him start to put up better performances.

    Maybe it’s hinging on how quickly Nando can develop and take over as the primary ball handler off the bench.

  • Andrew G

    Why are you taking it so personally? I think 999 out of 1000 Spurs fans would take a bullet for Manu. We all want to see him continue playing, but we can’t ignore his struggles as of late. We can’t expect him to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. He’s on the wrong side of 30 for basketball, and needs to adjust his approach a little bit.

  • Len

    Good points.

  • junierizzle

    Nothing misleading about 15 assists, my man.

  • junierizzle

    He has adjusted. How many games have they won with Manu not even cracking double digits in scoring? He knows hee is not the same. He penetrates less and often settles for the three.He’s made crazy passes all his career. He has adjusted. He is basically Super Jason Kid at this point and he knows that. Besides if Pop thinks Manu is really hurting the team he won’t hesitate to sit him. The thing we should really be worried about is can Green and Leonard bring it in the playoffs. I agree with what Sean Elliot was saying through out the game: Leonard has to remain aggressive. If he is reduced to spot up shooter thanhe becomes easy to defend.

  • Mr.Robinson

    Everyone calm down about Manu. Yes he has played poorly lately but so what. I rather have him playing poorly now then in the playoffs. There is this thing called the law of averages and eventually he is going to bust out of this slump with avengence. I hope he is ice cold for the rest of the regular season so the law of averages can equal out in the playoffs for a deep run and another title.

  • junierizzle

    Save that statement after we see what he does in the playoffs.

  • Sir Timothy

    And focusing on the few bad games this year as opposed to good ones is not an outlier??

    Here is the thing…you do not die by Manu. I cannot point to a playoff series at any time that we have lost because of Manu – well there was that phantom foul on Nowitski in 2006.

    But here is the thing, this year everybody else has picked it up and if necessary – in the playoffs – Pop might sit Manu — if he needs to – there I said it. But he will not need to.

    But would you not prefer to take these last few games to see if he can work out the kinks? I would rather have a great Manu than the #1 seed. (Both would be nice).

  • assistman

    SA will have to dump the ball into TD in the later playoff series as well, so Tony’s late season injury was useful in that respect. Next, we’ll just need to see Ginobili and Jackson come alive, especially defensively and from behind the arc. KL just keep doing your thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Luke1618 Jason Smith

    In his first season Manu became my favorite player. I saw his grit even though he was just a “role player” then. Now he can’t hit the ocean from a rowboat. I can’t figure it. At the start of last year he was on fire then got hurt. Something is wrong.

    But Leonard? Wow what a player. I had the same reaction to him last year as I did in Ginobili’s first one. He is the man.

    Manu needs to play smarter. He just can’t overcome his screwups now….too slow.

  • Andrew G

    Last year in the WCF, Manu got back to back offensive fouls that cost us our last game against the Thunder. While I freaking hate Joey Crawford and the horse he rode in on (and will always consider those fouls to be complete BS), Manu cost us the game.

    You can say one play or player didn’t cost us the game, it was a team loss, but by that logic one play or player can’t win a game either. I certainly understand and empathize your passion for the guy, but I’m sticking by my statement that we can’t expect different results if he’s going to keep doing the same thing.

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