Utah owned the first seven points scored in Sunday’s Game One loss to the San Antonio Spurs to kick off the NBA’s Western Conference Finals. They also fought back from 18 down in the fourth quarter to give some level of suspense to the game as it wound down. But everything in between was all San Antonio. Utah has undoubtedly figured out after this game that the Spurs are not the underachieving Rockets or the streaky Warriors. Their response in Game Two will be very telling as concerns this young, upcoming team.
Utah does have a few positive things to reflect on before these two squads tip off again Tuesday night back at the AT&T Center. Many of those same things are elements of basketball that Gregg Popovich will probably reinforce with his own players before that tip. The most evident of these is rebounding. Utah out-rebounded San Antonio 48-33 and 21-8 on the offensive glass. Giving Utah that many second chance opportunities in Game Two and beyond will severely undermine the defensive intensity that is San Antonio’s bread and butter.
Deron Williams can also be happy with his play this afternoon. He would be ecstatic were it not for the fact that it was, ultimately, all for naught. Still, he poured in 34 points and handed out 9 assists and generally outplayed Tony Parker. Williams got almost no help though. Carlos Boozer’s 20 points and 12 rebounds look a lot better than they were. he was completely taken out of the game until the Jazz’s furious comeback attempt down the stretch. Andrei Kirilenko, so impressive against Golden State, played a sloppy game that looked much more like the regular season rendition of AK47. Meanwhile, Manu Ginobili was making up for Parker’s mediocre showing with his own double-double (23 points, 10 assists) and Tim Duncan played up to his usual standards, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 boards while throwing out a handful of assists and making sure to get in a couple rejections for good measure.
For most of the game, San Antonio looked nothing like a team that was less than two days removed from what had to be a draining semifinals series. It took them a few possessions to settle in, and their fatigue did rear its ugly head late. But any concern Spurs fans had about their team shrugging off Utah or not being ready to go again after such a short layoff should be put to rest now. San Antonio looked like, well, the same team that has been here so many times lately.
If Utah wants to recover and still steal one while in San Antonio, they’ll need to give Deron Williams a lot more help Tuesday night. Mehmet Okur cannot shoot 20% again. Kirilenko will have to make a positive contribution rather than making silly mistakes with the basketball. Oh, yes, and he must also refresh himself on the idea of blocking shots while they’re still heading in an upward direction. Most importantly, Carlos Boozer will have to try even harder to avoid early foul trouble and will need to make a significantly greater impact on the outcome of the contest, especially on the offensive end.
The Jazz got many extra opportunities with their thrashing of San Antonio on the boards, but a good chunk of those opportunities went horribly wasted. The Jazz only had two more assists than turnovers, a sharp contrast to San Antonio’s 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. They shot an uninspiring 5-of-14 from behind the arc and barely over 40% from the floor. As is common, the only shooting category the Spurs came up short in was at the charity stripe. The Jazz were able to get off 16 more shots than San Antonio, and natural logic says that if you have more chances to score, you likely will end up scoring more in truth. But if Utah has to make the extra pass and find a higher percentage shot, then they’re going to have to hunker down and do that. At times Utah seemed to almost expect getting a second chance from an offensive rebound, and the result was poor shot selection, especially from many of the role players.
Utah certainly has an uphill struggle ahead of them, and now they are down to three losses left in the tank. But Williams did play much better basketball than I had expected to see from him against such a defensive-minded team. If Utah can get on track with their big men, they might be able to push San Antonio yet. After all, the typical San Antonio win means solid output from at least three players, that trio oftentimes being Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili. A lot of the big guns on Utah’s roster have a habit of taking a step backwards and letting someone else carry the load. Having one guy step up might have worked against Golden State in Game Two. (Right, Derek Fisher?) But against San Antonio, it’s going to have to be a more consistent showing from everyone on the floor. Williams, Boozer, and at least a couple other contributors are going to have to bring it during the same 48 minutes of basketball.
The potential is there. But a lot of teams have the potential to beat the Spurs.