You can’t hit what you can’t see
AT&T CENTER — They weren’t really threats, nor were they enough to warrant a #shotsfired hashtag on Twitter, but the Jazz entered Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Spurs with proclamations that it would be more physical with Tony Parker.
Parker torched Utah in Game 1 for 28 points and eight assists in a Spurs win, but Game 2 was supposed to be different. On Wednesday, Parker was supposed to take some hard fouls and earn his points.
Instead, Tony Parker saw more of the same and finished with 18 points and nine assists as the Spurs cruised to a 114-83 win to take a 2-0 lead over the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. So lopsided was this contest that Parker and Tim Duncan didn’t even get to the end of the third quarter before Gregg Popovich pulled the plug on his regulars.
“I wanted to keep playing to stay in shape because I did not play a lot,” Parker said after the game. “[Pop] said ‘Okay I will give you two more minutes,’ and it was a quick conversation.
“After the next timeout with two minutes left, I went out.”
Parker started the game aggressive, zooming by Jazz point guard Devin Harris with a nifty stutter step on one play and diving through the heart of the Jazz defense on another. Utah may have actually planned to put a licking on Parker in this one, but we’ll never know because Tony Parker was in a gear so high that the Jazz defense couldn’t touch him.
This game was won in the second quarter, when the Spurs went on a 22-2 run to close the first half that made the possibility of losing Game 2 a Grizzly one.
“I thought we moved the ball great. Shooters were making shots,” Parked said. “Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard played great tonight and when they shoot the ball like that, it helps us a lot.”
Green and Leonard combined for 30 points and shot 6-9 from 3-point range, a significant improvement from Game 1 when the pair contributed eight points. An important next step for the young players is consistently producing performances like this on the road. The old basketball cliche is that role players hit shots at home but struggle on the road.
Although if Parker gets them open shots on the road like they received tonight, it won’t matter what gym in what city they play. They’ll have all the time in the world to knock them down.
The rebounding battle
Just as I mention in our Game 2 preview that I didn’t think the Spurs would win the rebounding battle at all in this series, they go out and sneak a 44-43 advantage in there. Truth be told, it’s a bit of a misleading stat.
The Spurs gave up 18 offensive rebounds to Utah in the game, the Spurs had just five. While San Antonio had a 39-25 advantage on defensive boards, that can be attributed to the Spurs shooting over 57% from the floor. There simply weren’t enough missed shots to go around for the Jazz.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll absolutely live with the Spurs giving up 18 offensive boards if it means the Spurs are going to shoot at least 55% from the floor. Especially when the Jazz only turn those second chances into 16 additional points. And credit goes to Tim Duncan for his 13 rebounds, he was a force on the glass for San Antonio.
Just don’t be fooled by the rebounding numbers.
Messin’ with Big Al
One of the big reasons the Spurs have managed to be an excellent team in terms of defensive efficiency in both games of the Jazz series, other than the inability of Devin Harris to do anything positive for Utah, has been the defense played on Al Jefferson.
Big Al is averaging just 13 points per game in the series and is shooting a hair under 42% from the field, which isn’t good considering the distance Jefferson is usually shooting from. Much of the credit for Jefferson’s struggles go to Tim Duncan, who’s been key to checking the Jazz big man.
“They’re getting him off his sweet spots, sending double teams from different areas where he’s not used to seeing them,” Devin Harris said after Game 2.
In the two games so far this series, Jefferson’s shot locations are all right in line with his season averages. The key must be where he is taking those shots and how he’s being bothered. The Jazz guards aren’t penetrating at will and drawing help defense, so the Spurs big men have for the most part had the luxury of staying at home on defense.
And there’s also the issue of help defense on Jefferson, as Harris referred to. The Spurs are notorious for randomizing their double teams, going all the way back to the Shaq Lakers teams of the early 2000s. Not being able to plan for an additional defender could really hinder a big man like Jefferson, who relies so much on fakes and spins to get his shots off.
“We’re trying to do the best we can on a guy who is very difficult to guard,” Coach Pop said after the game. “He’s one of those herky jerky guys that gets you off your feet and he shoots the midrange jumper very well.
“I just think he had a bad night.”
Utah has to hope the home atmosphere in Games 3 and 4 makes their shooters come alive, otherwise Jefferson may be in for some more bad nights before this season is over.