Playoff basketball and regular season basketball are two entirely different beasts. That is a lesson the Utah Jazz had to learn the hard way in The Alamo State on Sunday. The San Antonio Spurs welcomed them back to post-season ball with a convincing 106-91 victory in the series opener on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t say it was a rude awakening,” Jazz point guard Devin Harris said. “But they did what they were supposed to do. We’ve got to respond now.”
No, Devin. “A rude awakening” is exactly what I would call it. It certainly was not a happy awakening.
Entering the game on Sunday, the Jazz were riding high atop a five game winning streak, including a crucial victory over the Phoenix Suns to nail down the eighth and final playoff spot in the last game of the regular season. Any feel-good vibes left over from their impressive end to the regular season were extinguished when the good ol’ posse from Texas lassoed them back down to earth.
The Jazz hung close for the first 3 quarters, led by 20 points and 9 rebounds from Paul Millsap. Gordon Hayward and Al Jefferson chipped in with 17 and 16 points, respectively. They will need a lot more firepower than that if they hope to win a duel with the battle hardened Spurs.
Tony Parker led the way for the top-seeded Spurs with a game-high 28 points. His 8 assists were also the high mark on Sunday. The crowds chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” may actually hold some merit (let’s be honest, they usually don’t) in this case. Parker has emerged as the clear leader of this San Antonio team, and he has been a very impressive force all season long. Many feel that he should be included in MVP discussions this year. He may very well end up finishing third in MVP voting if the voters have been paying close attention during this lockout-shortened season.
Utah’s frontcourt should know better than to call Tim Duncan “old,” but if they didn’t before Sunday’s game they sure do now. Duncan recorded a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The future Hall of Famer was clearly not intimidated by the size and youth of the deep Jazz frontcourt. There is no substitute for experience, and Timmy sure knows it. His impressive performance helped the Spurs to their first series opening victory in four long years.
The score remained close for the better part of three quarters, but you would be foolish to feel any semblance of confidence while you’re on the court with the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team. The Spurs blew things open a bit towards the end of the third quarter by sinking three from long range during a two-minute span to end the 3rd and deflate this young Utah team.
Despite the Jazz’s best efforts, they would not find themselves nipping at the Spurs’ heels again in game 1. They could not cut the deficit any lower than eight points. Game 1 belonged to the Spurs, and while a fifteen point, blowout victory insinuates pure domination, the final score is rather misleading. This game was surely closer than that. To sell the Jazz short would be unfair, as they were alive and kicking in this game until midway through the fourth quarter.
Utah head coach, Tyrone Corbin, has got his work cut out for him during these next three days. He must go back to the drawing board and attempt to figure out which adjustments he must make to give his team a better chance to compete with the heavily favored San Antonio club.
The Jazz have to try and figure out a way to contain Tony Parker, or least limit his effect on the game. It’s obviously a tall task to completely contain a player like Parker, but if you let him burn you for 28 and 8 every nihgt then this series is going to be over in the blink of an eye. In this case, that “blink of an eye” will be on May seventh in Salt Lake City.
San Antonio had no difficulty getting into the paint and dealing some serious damage to their younger opponents. Corbin needs to utilize his roster’s depth at the power forward and center positions to give the Spurs a hard time whenever they try and take it to the rim. Even if Utah manages to correct this weakness in game 2, that would open things up for San Antonio’s sharpshooters to light up the scoreboard. Have I mentioned that they are the NBA’s top 3-point shooting club? Good, Just making sure.
As if Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli weren’t enough of a handful already, they have to better prepare for the x-factor of game 1, recently acquired Stephen Jackson. The veteran swingman has returned to San Antonio for a second tour of duty and he has succeeded in strengthening this already-powerful roster.
I get the feeling that these Spurs are on cruise control. They know what they need to do and they are doing it. I bet they would barely miss a beat if the coaching staff went on vacation and had a randomly selected fan replace them on the sidelines. I don’t know about the later rounds but they would likely continue rolling in this opening round regardless of who is coaching this veteran squad.
Unfortunately for Utah, the Spurs coaching staff is not on vacation. The man behind the sidelines is Greg Popovich, a future Hall-of-fame coach who needs no introduction. Does he honestly need to make adjustments for his club to win game 2? Maybe not, but if you know Pop, you know he is probably making some adjustments right now as we speak.
Can Coach Corbin refocus his young team and put them in a position to score the upset in Game 2? First and foremost, he needs to address his point guard’s terrible game. Devin Harris seemed to have shed his earlier season struggles after consistently impressing with his hot play in April. He needs to brush this one off and get back to playing well again if the Jazz are to have any chance of making some noise in this series. Game 2 is Wednesday evening in San Antonio.