Jazz Edged by Spurs in OT Thriller

March 24th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Even the Utah Jazz’s Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert couldn’t slow down San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who posted a career-high 45 points in the Spurs’s overtime victory, ending the Jazz’s 12-game road winning streak. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Story of the Game

If there is such a thing as a quality loss, the Utah Jazz leave San Antonio with exactly that after falling a hair short in a playoff-caliber contest to the Spurs 124 to 120 – though it’s little consolation for a team that, with the loss, now holds a tenuous single game advantage in trying to hold on to eighth spot in the West.

The signs that this game may be special came early in the form of LaMarcus Aldridge, whose career high 45-point night started quickly as he poured in 17 points in the first quarter. With Aldridge unable to miss and a scheme fine-tuned by Gregg Popovich to neutralize All-NBA center Rudy Gobert, who finished the night with 13 points and only eight rebounds, the Jazz looked unsettled early.

Yet after being down 29 to 21 after the first, Utah reined in any urge to panic and fought back despite the Spurs’s humming offense. Weathering Aldridge’s 28 points at half time, the Jazz narrowed the deficit to six. In a defensive-oriented third quarter, Utah scratched another point closer by period’s end despite shooting only 38 percent in the quarter. Entering the deciding quarter, the Spurs, shooting 49 percent from the field at that point, held a four point lead. 

San Antonio stayed hot and widened the lead back to eight with six minutes to play. It looked like the Jazz, who played yesterday in a victory over the Mavericks, might run out of gas. The in a sign that foreshadowed the amazing and unpredictable end to this game, Derrick Favors hit a corner three, trimming the lead to five and giving the weary road challengers new life. What followed was approximately ten minutes of basketball as brilliantly crazy as any in recent memory.

Just consider the following sequence of noteworthy plays to close out the fourth quarter:

  • 5:03: Patty Mills makes a long pull up as the Spurs offense stagnated. 100 – 93.
  • 4:48 – 4:39: Mitchell turns the ball over, then Mitchell steals the ball back from the Spurs’s Kyle Anderson, only to pass to Favors who travels driving from the corner.
  • 4:16 – 4:13: Anderson steals the ball from Rubio only for Mitchell to, once again, steal it back.
  • 4:09: Gobert grabs an offensive rebound, is fouled, and makes both shots. 100 – 95.
  • 3:48 – 3:45: Mitchell steals the ball from Aldridge and sprints for a layup. 100 – 97.
  • 3:12: Favors kicks to Ingles for a three. 100 – 100.
  • 2:22: Gobert fouls Aldridge who makes both free throws. 102 – 100.
  • 2:12: Aldridge fouls Mitchell who makes one of two free throws. 102 – 101.
  • 1:59: Ginobili slithers for a driving layup. 104 – 101.
  • 1:47: Mitchell nails a three. 104 – 104.
  • 1:26: Aldridge hits a pressure jump shot. 106 – 104.
  • 1:14: Mitchell slashes to the basket for a layup. 106 – 106.
  • 0:55: Aldridge nails another crazy hard fade away jumper. 108 – 106.
  • 0:38: Mitchell is trapped and turns the ball over. 
  • 0:17: Ginobili slides behind his defender and reaches from the baseline to lay the ball in. 110 – 106.
  • 0:16: Rubio kicks to Mitchell who hits another three. 110 – 109.
  • 0:13: Ginobili is fouled and makes both free throws. 112 – 109.
  • 0:10: Gobert cuts to the rim and finishes through obvious contact and a foul is not called. 112 – 111.
  • 0:10: Mills is fouled and makes both free throws. 114 – 111.
  • 0:03: Mitchell drills his third three in the last minutes and 45 seconds. 114 – 114.

Utah’s young star was everywhere down the stretch of this game. The players capable of creating that type of clutch impact, on both sides of the ball, against a team as good and motivated as the Spurs, is very, very short. LeBron James. Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Anthony Davis. Maybe a few others like Joel Embiid, Paul George, or Jimmy Butler could approximate such a stretch. 

And Mitchell.

With all the momentum in Utah’s favor, they had to like their chances to steal the game. Early in overtime it looked like they would. Gobert finished a three-point play at the hoop and Mitchell matched a Mills jumper with one of his own. Then the Spurs took hold of the game by playing both hard and wisely sticking to their game plan.

All night they had countered Gobert with a variety of strategies: getting up into his body, sometimes two and three people at once, so he couldn’t get off his feet for rebounds; making him cover huge amounts of ground to recover to contest shots at the rim; and as would prove key late, boxing out hard when he helped on defense near the rim, counting on offensive rebound opportunities.

On back-to-back plays in overtime, Aldridge drew Gobert to him and shot, opening up a putback by Rudy Gay, and then Gay did the same, missing a shot that Aldridge gathered in and put through the hoop. That final offensive rebound and field goal gave Aldridge his 45th point and the Spurs 122 points, a number the exhausted Jazz simply couldn’t match. 

When the final horn sounded, Aldridge’s career high was just enough to give the Spurs their sixth straight home win, their longest win streak in over a year, and end Utah’s 12-game road winning streak. 

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Donovan Mitchell (35 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 threes)

There are valid criticisms about Mitchell. His three point accuracy has taken a notable downturn late in the season (he was four of 13 tonight), lowering his season average to 34 percent. His shooting volume sometimes swells as his efficiency lowers, often due to highly difficult shots he accepts too readily (as his 36 field goal attempts this game attest). He sometimes makes rookie errors, such as tonight’s costly turnover while being double teamed and inexplicably saving a ball from out of bounds and giving the Spurs an extra possession in crunch time. But these things are critiquing the imperfect cape of a superman. The combination of guts, confidence, and ability Mitchell displayed down the stretch as he willed his team into overtime against arguably the best-coached team in the league was astounding. Maybe 10 NBA stars are capable of doing what this 21-year-old rookie just did. Even fewer are willing to try. Mitchell ALWAYS tries, and succeeds with stunning frequency. If the Jazz make the playoffs, he’s Rookie of the Year. Period.

Secondary Stars: Derrick Favors (22 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 1 three) and Ricky Rubio (20 points, 8 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 threes)

Favors was Utah’s best big tonight. He required only 10 shots to get his 22 points, hit the three that gave the team new life for a fourth quarter push, and played defense far better than Aldridge’s shooting made it look. The Spurs offensive leader took multiple fade-aways with Favors’s hand in perfect defensive position; Aldridge even fell the floor on several he thrust so hard fading back. Just about every one went in. It was a career night for a multiple time All-Star. Against anything less, Favors’s gave up shots that almost certainly win this game.  

With Mitchell struggling mightily from three most of the night, Gobert effectively schemed out of the game by Popovich, and Ingles struggling to even get off shots, Rubio did a ton of heavy lifting offensively to keep his team within striking range. He didn’t miss a single three (three of three) or free throw (seven of seven) and so required only 10 shots to get his 20 points. He also led the team in assists. The Jazz won’t lose many games where Rubio produces 20 and eight. 

Secret Star: Dante Exum (4 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, +4)

While Exum made no impact in the second half, unfortunate in an overtime game in the second night of a back-to-back, his first half impact was notable. He finished two nice layups, once over the Spurs defense and once by tricking it with a nifty shift of pace dribble. He also continued to distribute assists with encouraging rapidity, notching four in only 10 minutes of play. It’s just glimpses so far, which sums up the problem of Exum’s career to this point. He has nine games to turn those glimpses into full games.

Stats of the Game

65 percent – Field goal percentage in the fourth quarter and overtime by Aldridge, Mills, and Ginobili. Their 13 makes on 20 attempts is even crazier given the difficulty of many of these shots. Given how Utah defended, a typical NBA team would make maybe seven or eight of those field goals.

11 – Offensive rebounds by the Spurs, two of which just killed Utah’s in overtime.

Minus-10 – The plus-minus for each of Mitchell and Gobert, indicative of Popovich’s brilliant game plan keying on that pair.

23 – Point advantage by San Antonio’s bench, which scored 40 to Utah’s 17. 33 came from Ginobili and Rudy Gay.

78 – Combined points scored by both teams in the wild fourth quarter.

4 – Jazz players who played 40-plus minutes (or close enough): Mitchell’s 44 and Rubio’s, Gobert’s, and Ingles’s 40 each. These guys all played last night. 

Sundries

  • This was everything NBA fans hope for in a playoff game. The Spurs were deeply invested in this game, both to avoid a season sweep by the Jazz and to keep a little cushion between themselves and sliding out of the playoffs. That San Antonio had to play this fine a game to get by the Jazz, on their home court and with Utah having played yesterday, says a ton about how the Jazz competed.  
  • It’s been a long time since Gobert has been anything nearing a non-factor, but he was for much of tonight. The Spurs game plan was truly brilliant. The whole evening they drew the Stifle Tower away from the hoop as much as possible and, when he was in the paint, they played into and under him, completely cutting off his ability to elevate. When he helped on defense, they made a conscious effort to cram bodies into the void he left. There’s a reason that Favors mustered a plus-four on the night as he has the size, strength, and discipline on the glass to really protect Gobert’s back when he contests shots. Jae Crowder has been a game changer since Utah acquired him, but tonight their stretch fours were picked on by San Antonio’s determination of the offensive glass. To be blunt, it probably lost them the game.
  • Aldridge and Mills took 11 long twos. They made nine. That’s ridiculous.
  • Royce O’Neale hasn’t scored more than seven points since February 14th. His shot isn’t falling, he’s making some poor decisions (especially in the open court), and his minutes are decreasing. Quin Snyder is clearly looking for more consistent help from his bench than just Crowder, and right now he isn’t sure where to find it.
  • The Jazz really did play well tonight. They managed 24 assists and, including tonight, are 23 and four in games where they share the ball that well.   

The Spurs entered this game off a dominant five-game home winning stand and were fighting for their playoff lives for the first time in decades. They had already lost to the Jazz three times this year. Meanwhile, Utah played on the road on the wrong side of a back-to-back. And it still took an Aldridge career high, a near season high from Mills, and a fourth quarter Ginobili from the way-back machine (12 points in the quarter!) for the Spurs to put the Jazz away.

This team in Salt Lake is really, really good. And they’re in eighth place only one game ahead of the ninth place Nuggets. Thus is the paradox of this season in the Western Conference.

Will it take a similar effort to have a chance to win Sunday in Golden State? The world champions have been decimated by injuries recently and look to be set in second position in the West, so the game appears unpredictable. But even if the Warriors were full strength, Utah needs that win more than the champs. Sunday will see if they can get it.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

5 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    The Jazz seem to be one more scorer away from being a contender. Have you considered whom the Jazz might be able to pick up in free agency or in a trade in the off-season who could fill that role?

    As much as I have loved Alec Burks over his career with the Jazz, for whatever reason he is not currently thriving in the Jazz system. I could see the Jazz trying to trade him away to another team in a salary-dump trade, so they could pick up a replacement player in free agency using the mid-level exception.

    I believe most of the Jazz off-season will involve re-signing their own free agents in Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and Raul Neto. However, some players who might be available in free agency who could fill the role of a rotation/bench scorer for the Jazz are the following:

    (1) Isaiah Thomas (although I think he will be looking for a starting role with a team at a salary higher than the mid-level exception);

    (2) Will Barton (likely to be re-signed by the Nuggets);

    (3) Tyreke Evans (who may be offered more than the mid-level exception in free agency, and probably is seeking a starting role);

    (4) Mario Hezonja (who isn’t a consistent scorer as of yet, but has the potential to become one);

    (5) Rodney Hood (who will most likely be re-signed by the Cavaliers and who was very erratic in attempting to fill a scoring role with the Jazz previously);

    (6) Nick Young (who is a much better all around player after playing for the Lakers and the Warriors, but who can still score at a high rate);

    (7) Rudy Gay (who will most likely stay with the Spurs);

    (8) Michael Beasley (who finally seems to have matured as an NBA player and a person);

    (9) Brook Lopez (who will most likely seek a starting role at a higher salary than the mid-level exception, but who could be a very good scorer for the Jazz at the center position);

    (10) Nemanja Bjelica (a classic European stretch-4 power forward who can really shoot the 3-point shot, but may not be a better player than what the Jazz already have in Jonas Jerebko); and

    (11) Jabari Parker (who is highly likely to be re-signed by Milwaukee at a salary much greater than the mid-level exception).

    Although the Jazz could pick up a quality player in the draft, it is not likely that such player would be able to contribute right away for the Jazz (unlike Donovan Mitchell, who is such an anomaly as a rookie). We are all hoping the Jazz will make the playoffs, but with the tough playoff race in the West, there is still a real possibility the Jazz could end up just missing the playoffs. At this point in time, it looks like the Jazz 1st round draft pick could fall anywhere in the range of #13 to #20. The Jazz could find a high quality player in the NBA draft in that range, but most of the players that may be available to the Jazz in the draft look like they will need some significant development over 2-3 seasons before they will make much of an impact with the Jazz. Some players who may be available in that range whom the Jazz may be interested in are Kevin Knox, Shai Gileous-Alexander, Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges, Lonnie Walker, Robert Williams, Troy Brown, Dzanan Musa, Anfernee Simons, Hamidou Diallo and Jontay Porter.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      There’s no question they’re missing some scoring punch off the bench, especially a shot creator. I really thought Burks would fit the role but I think he’s no longer part of the team’s plans. While a number of those players above would work well, I think many will want both more money and a larger role than the Jazz will have to offer. I believe Utah’s brain trust thinks a healthy Exum would be a game changer in this regard as well, so I don’t think they’ll panic. That said, a quality team with a strong culture, like the Jazz, might be a sneaky good place for a Michael Beasley. He’s always been able to score and the last two seasons he’s shot better than 50% from the field and 40% from three. The guy can put up points.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        I like Michael Beasley as a target for the Jazz in free agency, as well.

        I recently read an article about Beasley, which noted how he has settled down from the type of behavioral shenanigans that plagued him early in his career–but the league is probably undervaluing him right now, because they are still putting him into that “knucklehead” box, despite the fact that he has matured.

        Apparently, he is a childhood friend of Kevin Durant, who believes that Beasley can score just about any time he wants on just about anyone. Coming from Kevin Durant, that is a strong recommendation. Beasley has good length and athleticism, so he could probably improve his defense, as well, if he was motivated to do so. He seems to be looking for a more permanent home, so if a good team shows him a little love with a long-term contract at the mid-level exception, I think he could be signed.

        He’s a player the Jazz could realistically sign in free agency, and may be a very good fit for the Jazz in a big SF/stretch-4 PF role. He is kind of the offensive/defensive converse of Jae Crowder and Thabo Sefolosha–very good on offense and okay on defense. I think he would be kind of like a younger version of Carmelo Anthony on a much cheaper contract. He could turn out to be a very productive rehabilitation project for the Jazz, if they decided to target him in free agency.

  2. John Jenkins says:

    The note on Derrick was the real deal. He should have been in in the final 2 minutes for both offense and defense including the rebounding. Quin has figured out how to play Derrick and Rudy through out the game until the end. This was a game where they both should have finished. Someone from then spurs would have needed to guard Derrick and Rudy. One of them could have been open t the rim or on a short jumper.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I do think that playing Favors down the stretch would likely have shored up the defensive rebounds, which may have been enough to win the game. That said–and this is coming from as big a Favors fan as there is–the Jazz have been world beaters with Jae Crowder playing with the other starters. I can’t fault Snyder for wanting to roll with that lineup after seeing what it’s done to the league since Crowder arrived.

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