What more can you really say? The San Antonio Spurs trio of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan kept themselves to 60 points, which is at the lower end of their spectrum. And the Spurs still easily defeated the Utah Jazz 105-96 in yet another game where the final score just doesn’t demonstrate how the Spurs outplayed their opposition in every way.
The key tonight was Tony Parker and his 14 assists, a playoff high for him. Parker is typically not in the vein of Steve Nash or other point guards who genuinely look to distribute before making their own shot. This isn’t a bad thing for Parker, as his amazing speed and nose for good dribble penetration serve him just fine. He’s got the rings to prove it. But if he’s now starting to incorporate the kind of passing that we’ve seen in the first two games of the series, Utah is in for a long one, and the league as a whole should consider itself duly warned for next year.
The rest of San Antonio’s players did the scoring that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker left for them tonight. Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen each contributed their hallmark 3-point shooting, each hitting a set of three 3-point field goals at the most opportune of times. Barry’s were the foundation of the Spurs second quarter run that blew the game open, and Bowen’s were responsible for turning back multiple rallies from Utah in the fourth quarter. Michael Finley also came off the bench with 11. Everyone playing in a Spurs uniform seemed to be on tonight – the team shot a collective 55% from the field and 50% from behind the arc, both well over what the Jazz are used to allowing.
If the Jazz want to look for a bright spot, it is that Carlos Boozer proved capable of exploding offensively even when playing San Antonio’s unforgiving defense. Boozer had 33 points and 15 boards and with Deron Williams’ 26 points and 10 dishes, the Jazz’s heavy lifters did their work. Paul Millsap’s early foul trouble, a total of 8 points from Utah’s bench, Okur’s continued struggles shooting the basketball (4-of-12 for 11 points), and a myriad of other little problems hamstrung Utah all night. The feel good story around Derek Fisher seems to have dried up: Fisher is 1-for-16 through the first two games of the series.
By contrast, the Spurs did all the little things right. Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich found something for every player to do, making the most out of his roughly ten man rotation. The Spurs even managed to out-rebound Utah 44-35, an impressive feat considering Utah’s past dominance of just about everyone on the boards.
Surely Popovich will find something to improve on between now and game three Saturday night, though. This humble fan’s best guess is that he focuses on how to deal with aggressive double teams, which is a tactic Utah used to good effect when trying to claw back into the game. They did make it a point to at least get more aggressive with whoever had the ball, and oftentimes double teams would be send to both Ginobili and Parker when they were running the show. Both players do have a slight reputation for making turnovers when forced to see the court and make decisions quickly. I’m afraid that’s the best Popovich will be able to come up with as far as criticism for his team goes.
People are bound to start wondering if Utah knows how to jump on a team, given their poor starts in both games leading to furious comeback attempts in the second half. I don’t think Utah really has anything to worry about, though. All the pieces are in place, and once Utah learns how to do a few more of the little things San Antonio demonstrated tonight, they could be a team that forces its will on others just as the Spurs do now. They have a good big man and a capable point guard for years to come.
This series, though, is now out of their reach. And it’s no fault of Utah’s. They’ve just run up against a team that’s better, straight up. Better inside, better on the perimeter, better defensively, better off the bench, better from a coaching prospective. Utah still might steal one at the former Delta Center, but it’s clear at this point that only San Antonio can keep San Antonio from the NBA finals now.