Spurs teach Utah Jazz about the importance of the bench
Eric Gay, Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs have clinched the Western Conference's top spot. They've racked up 61 wins. They've bounced back from a rare slump with four consecutive victories.
They also have one of the most talented trios in the league with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
But while falling 111-102 at the AT&T Center, the Utah Jazz learned firsthand what really makes the Spurs such a dangerous team as they head into the playoffs.
Tiago Splitter. Gary Neal. George Hill. Matt Bonner. DeJuan Blair.
Who cares if they're not exactly household names outside of the Alamo area?
They were as important to the Spurs' success Saturday as the seven dwarves were for Snow White.
"I feel that is what makes their team so special," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "They have guys that can come off the bench and score the basketball. They truly play basketball out there."
On a night when defense was as nonexistent as snow in scorching San Antonio, Utah managed to hold the Spurs' Big Three in check.
Duncan only had 10 points, three rebounds and played just 22 minutes. Parker scored 13 points with seven assists, which were decent but hardly dazzling stats. And Ginobili chipped in a dozen points with six assists, four boards and zero bat swats.
Even so, the Spurs led by as many as 17 points, shot 57.7 percent and controlled the tempo and game after running into the locker room at halftime on a 9-0 run.
With his 20-point outing, revived forward Richard Jefferson was one big reason for that. But the Spurs had seven players in double figures and nine guys with at least seven points as San Antonio earned this impressive all-for-one, won-by-all victory.
Even the Spurs' victims were impressed.
"That's simply how good their team is," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "You can maintain their 'Big Three,' but still have other guys on their team that beat you."
Utah actually had a good offensive night, shooting 53.8 percent and getting 23 points from Jefferson and a career-best 17 from rookie Derrick Favors.
But the Spurs simply had too many weapons. Splitter torched Utah with 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, Blair and Neal each had 12 points, while George Hill (nine) and Matt Bonner (seven) gave Jazz-killing contributions.
"That's who they are. They are a great ballclub," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "They don't care who leads them in scoring every night, as long as they win the game. They do a great job of sharing the ball. If one guy is struggling, they go to the next guy."
If there was a silver lining in this game for the Jazz, it was how well Favors played — including in stints with a big lineup that also included Jefferson and Millsap (16 points).
"Yeah, I like that lineup: Paul at the three, Favors at the four, and me at the five," Jefferson said. "The Spurs' Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson were even saying how good that big lineup was. Once Paul and Derrick get more comfortable playing with each other, we can be tough."
But there were also things the Jazz didn't like: 13 turnovers, allowing such a high shooting percentage, falling apart at the end of the second quarter after cutting the Spurs' lead down to two.
And, of course, losing for the 10th time in the past 11 games while falling to 37-43 on the can't-end-soon-enough 2010-11 season.
But even with those problems, the Jazz clawed back to within striking distance (eight points) in the final minutes before the Spurs closed them out.
That is how Jefferson said the team will continue to play in its final two games.
"We're going to fight. We've gotta finish this season with our head up high to have some pride for ourselves," he said. "We're just not going to go out there and lay down. We're going to play hard. I really thought we had a chance to win the game tonight. We just made too many mistakes."
Favors was surprised when informed that his 17-point night — on 8-for-13 shooting — was a career-high. He also played 30 minutes for only the second time since joining the Jazz in mid-February in the Deron Williams trade.
"It felt good, but we came up with a loss," he said. "We came up short, we just need to work hard."
GAME NOTES: The Jazz are without five injured players on this road trip: Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Ronnie Price, Kyrylo Fesenko and Mehmet Okur. =85 A group of San Antonio-based LDS missionaries, including several from Utah, sang the national anthem. =85 Utah will practice today at Trinity College in San Antonio before traveling to New Orleans for Monday's game, the final road contest of 2010-11.
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