SAN ANTONIO — If there is one surprising, entertaining thing the Utah Jazz did all season, it was block shots. Hundreds of them. The 385 swats they executed caused Deseret News beat writer Jody Genessy to nickname the Jazz's hometown "Swat Lake City."
That is good stuff. Clever. Dunks are great, wrap-around passes marvelous, but there's a singular thrill to watching someone slap a shot into the $20 seats.
Such plays have become a big part of the Jazz's persona. They finished the regular season fourth in the league in blocks. On Sunday, the Jazz rejected eight Spurs shots in Game 1 of their postseason series.
That's all fine and good, because the Jazz have benefited from having players like Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors, whose length and size have fashioned a towering fortress of sorts. Their message: Don't bring that in here or we'll mail it back and reverse the charges.
But as the Jazz approach Wednesday's Game 2 of the playoffs against San Antonio, you have to ask: Why are people getting that close to the rim in the first place?
Blocking shots is good, because it's a team's last line of defense. The problem is that opponents are driving or passing deep inside the forbidden zone, or this wouldn't be happening. Despite their blocks, the Jazz were only 23rd in the NBA in scoring defense this season.
In Sunday's loss, Utah allowed 48 points to be scored within five feet of the basket — the most in a playoff game in the last two seasons. The Jazz rejected some shots, but San Antonio was shooting a nice 48 percent, largely because it was getting mid-range and up-close attempts. The Spurs outscored the Jazz 58-44 in the paint and 13-5 on second-chance scoring, zipping past the Jazz defense like racers past a checkered flag.
The Jazz set up a perimeter and the Spurs breached it with impunity. All too often, Tony Parker not only passed Devin Harris or Jamaal Tinsley at the arc, but when he went down the lane, no one was there to make him pull back out.
What should the Jazz do, string up a fence?
Harris suggested that in Game 2 the Jazz "limit his layups and maybe give him a hard foul or two."
That didn't happen on Sunday. Nobody so much as looked crossly at him. Others, too, got to the rim unmolested. Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson dunked, and about the only guy who failed was Manu Ginobili, who twanged one off the back of the rim, much to the delight of his teammates.
"We need to attack that rim, obviously," Duncan said, "and they are going to change up some things. We have to move the ball. We have great shooters and we're happy to give them as many shots as they can, knowing (Utah is) going to be covering up that basket a little more. But we will continue to attack, trying to get to the free throw line. That's big for us."
In some ways, "Swat Lake City" is a new take of an old theme. While the Jazz blocked nearly 400 shots this year, Mark Eaton alone rejected an NBA record 456 shots in 1984-85. He had over 300 blocks six times in his career. This year's Jazz got 101 blocks from Jefferson, 65 from Favors and 52 from Millsap — though that was in a 66-game season, not 82.
At the same time, why must it come down to the last line of defense?
The Spurs are taking the high road when it comes to discussing their attack, avoiding too many references to their inside success. But they will undoubtedly try the same approach on Wednesday. Why view the rim from a distance when they can kiss it from up close?
The Jazz would be wise to remember that in matters of basketball and romance, the best way to stop unwanted advances is to never let it get that far.
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