SAN ANTONIO — The Easter Bunny would've had a hard time hauling around the huge egg the Utah Jazz laid in the first half Sunday at the AT&T Center.
And though the Jazz made a comeback after quickly falling behind by double-digits like they so often do, the early deficit proved too much to overcome as the San Antonio Spurs took a 114-104 victory in the first of their back-to-back contests.
"We'll always fight to the end. I think we've shown that throughout the season," Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said. "It's just you can't come back on every single team, especially on the road."
Especially (times two) when you're playing the Western Conference's top team, which has now won 11 games in a row.
"They're too good for that," Hayward added.
Sunday's game was a classic Spurs showing.
San Antonio (40-14) shot 50.7 percent and ran its offense effectively, played good enough defense when it mattered most, and got big contributions from its main trio of title-winners.
Tony Parker spun, sped and shot his way to a game-high 28 points. Tim Duncan added 13 points, 16 rebounds and multiple "Who, me?!" faces after fouls. And Manu Ginobili came off the bench to throw in 23 points, including a 14-for-15 outing at the free-throw line.
The Spurs took a 10-point lead moments after Ginobili entered midway through the first quarter and built that advantage to 19 before halftime.
"We can't afford to give that type of team 31 points in the first quarter," Jazz center Al Jefferson said after his team fell behind 31-19. "But we still had a chance to win. We just can't make mistakes against that team."
Utah played a relatively clean game, only making 11 turnovers.
But the Jazz went just 16-for-26 from the free-throw line, got outrebounded 45-39, shot 44.1 percent (36.2 percent in the first half) and struggled on defense.
"The first half we were all disappointed in how ... they were the aggressor," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "That third quarter and the second half, I thought we were more aggressive and played a lot better because of our aggression."
Utah cut the Spurs' lead to six late in the third quarter. But Ginobili scored five straight from the charity stripe and beyond the arc, and the Jazz couldn't get closer than eight points in the fourth quarter.
"We would like to do that early in the game, so we give ourselves a chance to start off (well)," Jazz point guard Jamaal Tinsley said. "Playing a veteran team like that and trying to fight from behind is hard. Playing the Spurs, it kind of (bit) us."
This loss hurt the Jazz in the playoff race and likely on the depth chart.
Utah (29-28) again dropped to the No. 10 spot out West — a game-and-a-half behind No. 8 Denver (30-26) with only nine games left.
And the Jazz, already down starters Raja Bell and Josh Howard to injuries, might have to go for a while without two more players. Starting small forward C.J. Miles strained his left calf and backup point guard Earl Watson tweaked his right knee in Sunday's game.
They will both receive MRIs today in Utah to determine the severity of their injuries.
"It's always tough losing one of your teammates, but it's just the nature," Tinsley said. "We've got to have other guys come in and be ready to give us a good game (tonight)."
Sporadically used forward DeMarre Carroll was one of the players who did that Sunday. He was among five Jazz guys in double figures, scoring a career-best 16 points. Jefferson, playing with a strained abdomen, led Utah with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Backup big Derrick Favors also had a double-double with 14 points and 12 boards.
Round 2 of this weird doubleheader is tonight at EnergySolutions Arena.
"That's the beautiful part of this two-game stretch," Hayward said. "We can get a little bit of revenge hopefully."
Especially if the Jazz play like they did in the second half when they outscored the Spurs 64-57 and, according to Jefferson, picked up some confidence.
"Our fans are going to help us out, but (the second half) proved that we can play with these guys," Jefferson said. "We played them pretty good, but we're a young team. We make mistakes and they don't really make too many mistakes."6 comments on this story
The Spurs have beaten the Jazz in three consecutive games this season, including a 106-102 win in Utah on Feb. 20, but they're expecting a doozey tonight.
"It's going to be another tough one," Parker said, "as it's always tough to play in Utah."
Ginobili noted that both teams had a two-hour-plus flight after Sunday night's game. The Jazz's physicality, he said, also makes it a tough task.
Utah hopes so.
"We need to come out and punch them in the mouth first," Hayward said. "They did it to us (Sunday), so it's what we've got to do to them (tonight)."