The San Antonio Spurs during the regular season scored 98.5 points a game. In their first two playoff series, the Spurs averaged 97.1 points a game against high-octane, offense-minded Denver and Phoenix.
In two games in the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz, whose coach is as passionate a defender of defense as there is, the Spurs have scored 108 and 105 points in taking a 2-0 lead in the series that resumes Saturday night in EnergySolutions Arena.
What's wrong with that picture if you're the Jazz?
"When you look at all the things they did, yeah, they beat us on some plays," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan, "but they beat us where we were totally lost on the defensive end."
The Jazz are confused, looking for help, even pointing fingers when that help isn't effective, said point guard Deron Williams, noting that the three-time-champion Spurs don't do such things. "Sometimes during games, we do that, we do the pointing fingers, but that comes with growing up, that comes from learning, and I think we can learn from them in that regard.
"I just think they've got an understanding. They know what they've got to do."
"You don't holler for help until you help yourself first," Sloan said. "That's one of the things (where) we have to do a better job."
His team is going in circles trying to defend the super-efficient Spurs. "Ninety-four feet, they ought to be able to find themselves," Sloan said. "I've seen some guys do 360s, but not the kind you like to see, just on defense."
He seeks better transition defense that takes away some of the Spurs' layups, and of course, he wants a defense that somehow slows the Spurs' pick-and-roll situations that lead to layups, lead to wide-open long shots shots, lead to unencumbered drives by role players like Fabricio Oberto or Bruce Bowen. "Then I'll know we're competing, if we're doing some of those things," said Sloan.
"He hit it right on the nail. We have to pick it up defensively, just to have a shot," said power forward Carlos Boozer. "There's a million things the Spurs do, a million things you have to defend.
"They've had the same pieces for a few years, and they all know where they're supposed to be at. They run it very fast and very crisp, and they're very determined at what they do. If you make the littlest mistake, they exploit that."
"I don't think it's help, it's more like paying attention," said wing Andrei Kirilenko, Utah's best help defender who gets caught trying to aid inside when the Spurs throw it back out for 3-pointers they hit 13 of them in Game 2 Tuesday night.
"We're playing hard, but we don't pay enough attention. Sometimes it's over-hustle, different direction. You need to play hard, but you need to kind of be smart defensively. If we're going to pay attention, we'll be fine," Kirilenko said.
"Even without looking," observed Memo Okur, who has his hands more than full guarding Tim Duncan, trying to keep him out of the low block only to see him toss an easy pass to a cutting Oberto or Manu Ginobili, "they know a teammate's going to be there for them because they've been running all plays a long time together, so they did a good job. They're such an unselfish basketball team."
"They go out and make extra passes," said an envious Williams. "We do at some points of the game, but sometimes we get a little selfish, we look for us, us, me, me, me."
Defending the Spurs of 2007 is as frustrating as when other teams were trying to defend those Jazz teams of the Karl Malone-John Stockton 1990s heyday of the Utah pick-and-roll plus its alternatives.
"They're going to run a play until we can stop it. If they find something that works, they're going to run it until we can stop it," said Williams. And if the Jazz do discover a way to defend it, "They do different things off those plays. They have different reads, and it really works. They cut hard, they move hard, they move with a purpose, and it's effective.
"We've just got to keep trying new things. What we've done so far hasn't worked. It's tough play to guard. We're going to have to stop it if we're going to win."
But it's also the Jazz, Kirilenko said. "I don't think we're playing the game we played in the first and second rounds. I think we're playing weaker. I don't know why. Probably we kind of not really believe in ourselves, probably we think that's our ceiling for this moment maybe." He emphasized the "maybe," hoping the home games Saturday and Monday can help Utah get back on even footing with the Spurs."San Antonio is a great team, but it's a great opportunity for us to show we're really on that level," Kirilenko said.
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