Recapping the Spurs’ 110-97 Victory Over the Jazz

Are the Spurs starting to build momentum? They followed up a 13-point home win against the Lakers on Friday with another 13-point win at home against the Jazz on Sunday. San Antonio now has a 13-14 record this season.

Let’s discuss some of the most pressing storylines for this San Antonio squad after a second consecutive strong performance.

3 Observations

Rudy Gay takes over

Gay had a really good night overall, with 23 points, 15 rebounds and two assists on 10-of-16 shooting.

His best work came in winning time, though.. The Jazz were on a 21-10 lead spanning the last half of the third and the beginning of the fourth quarter, trimming the Spurs’ lead from 72-55 to 82-76. San Antonio’s offense was sputtering and its defense had slipped a bit since the first half.

Gay responded with three field goals in three attempts in a stretch of less than two minutes. On the Spurs’ next possession, he took advantage of the extra defensive attention by feeding Derrick White for a highlight dunk.

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In all, Gay had 13 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in the fourth frame on 6-of-7 shooting.

This season has been a nice bounce-back campaign from Gay in several areas. In particular, his BBall Index talent percentiles have seen significant increases in perimeter shooting (46.3 to 94.2), playmaking (42.1 to 68.3) and defensive rebounding (65.1 to 90.3).

Midrange jumpers for the win!

San Antonio’s shot selection has been a hot topic this season. The Spurs take a lot of midrange jumpers and relatively few three-pointers compared to the rest of the league.

The team doubled down on that strategy on Sunday, and it worked. The Spurs attempted a season-low 14 threes, making five of them, but compensated for it by making 21 out of 41 shots between 10 feet and the three-point line.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s jumpers were particularly effective. The makes forced rim protector extraordinaire Rudy Gobert to step a bit further away from the basket than he would’ve liked.

San Antonio’s jumpers from the midrange have been a key X-factor for the team this year. The Spurs are shooting 44.2 percent on twos from 10 feet or further in their wins this year. That success rate dips to 36.3 percent in losses.

San Antonio had a fantastic defensive game overall 

The Spurs’ game against the Jazz last Tuesday was a defensive nightmare. Utah splashed in a franchise-record 20 three-pointers and had 38 assists on 51 baskets en route to a 139-105 blowout victory.

San Antonio set a different tone in the first half of Sunday’s game. The Jazz had just 36 points at intermission. The Spurs had good energy, stopping initial penetration and keeping the ball in Ricky Rubio’s or Donovan Mitchell’s hands, forcing them to carry the offense as a duo. Those two ended up with 53 points, but their combined true shooting percentage was a very mediocre 54.3.

The Jazz offense thrives when the ball finds shooters like Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver. San Antonio limited them to a combined 12 points on 1-of-9 shooting from three-point range. That same trio had 36 points on 8-of-13 shooting from behind the arc against the Spurs in Utah last week.

San Antonio also had 16 deflections, well above its average of 11.5 per game heading into the contest.

2 Questions

Can the Spurs string together some more good defensive performances?

The Spurs’ defense was great on defense against the Jazz and had some strong moments against the Lakers on Friday. But they still rank 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and have been miserable on that end for most of the past few weeks.

San Antonio’s defensive ceiling is admittedly low, with all the noted liabilities on the perimeter. But Gregg Popovich is a proven magician at maximizing defensive talent, and experience is a valuable component to defensive excellence. The Spurs have plenty of that.

According to Popovich himself, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Tom Orsborn: “Communication (has improved), a little bit more understanding, guys getting used to playing with each other and understanding what the process is for the way we want to play. And I think it’s sinking in, so we’ll see if it continues. It’s about consistency, and we haven’t had that.”

There’s no reason San Antonio can’t make the jump from disastrous to merely below-average on defense for the rest of the year.

What will a fully healthy Spurs frontcourt rotation look like?

Popovich’s rotations haven’t been super consistent this year. Injuries and up-and-down play from certain players and lineups have contributed to that. Six different starting lineups have played together.

On Sunday, Pop had a limited number of players to work with in the frontcourt. Pau Gasol, Davis Bertans and Cunningham all were absent, but the Spurs’ combinations worked well without them.

If there’s ever a time when everyone is back healthy, it’s difficult to predict how things could materialize. Jakob Poeltl has played excellent ball with Gasol on the shelf and is solidifying his rotation role, but he fits poorly next to Aldridge on both ends and might not be a great defensive match with Gasol.

At least one player is probably going to be frustrated with his role when the entire team is available. Aldridge and Gay are safe to earn big minutes, but Gasol, Bertans, Poeltl and Cunningham will all have to fight for playing time at the 4 and 5 spot (and some 3 for Gay and Cunningham). A lot will probably come down to the opponent’s personnel.

1 Prediction

The Spurs won’t make the playoffs if they maintain the NBA’s worst road defense

This may seem like a “duh” prediction, but the Spurs are just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot despite a road defensive rating of 116.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, the worst mark in the NBA by more than one point per 100 possessions.

In the last eight seasons, teams with the worst road defense in the league have won an average of 19.3 games in an 82-game season. The best team of that group is the 2016-17 Lakers, who won a whopping 26 games.

It’s great that the Spurs had a nice defensive game at home on Sunday, but they’ve already done that at the AT&T Center several times this season. It’s time for this veteran-laden squad to start upping the intensity for road games.

Note: Statistics are courtesy of Video is courtesy of the House of Highlights YouTube channel.

Photo by Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

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