SAN ANTONIO — Sports fans who expected the Utah Jazz to lose at the AT&T Center on this road trip should pat themselves on the back and perhaps move on to predicting cold weather in the Beehive State throughout January.
Jazz losses in San Antonio have almost become as cliche as references to the Alamo, Pee-wee Herman and Tony Parker’s ex-wife when it comes to this Texas town, and those all happened again Wednesday night.
Well, at least they did after that paragraph.
True to form, Utah finished on the short end of the scoreboard in a 109-105 Spurs win.
The Jazz (13-27) have now lost six straight and 26 of 28 in San Antonio.
While the part of the game in which the Parker-led club took an 18-point lead over a Gordon Hayward-less Utah team played out as expected, the Jazz showed some unexpected vigor and resiliency to liven up the final minutes.
After trailing by 14 with three minutes remaining, the Jazz stunned the Western Conference-leading Spurs (31-8) with a 9-0 run. Utah then pulled within two points with 4.9 seconds left after a long Trey Burke swish.
“We fought. These guys did not quit all night long,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who hasn’t seen the team win in San Antonio since he was Jerry Sloan’s assistant back in January 2010. “We got down and made some mistakes, but we kept fighting our way back. We had an opportunity there.”
Ultimately, Spurs sharpshooter Marco Belinelli finished the Jazz off by hitting a pair of free throws to give the home team a four-point edge with 3.4 seconds remaining.
But the Jazz threatened to topple tradition on its head with that furious rally.
Utah even had a chance to get within a bucket before Burke’s late trey, but Alec Burks just missed a layup with 38.9 seconds remaining that would’ve made it a three-point game.
Even after Parker hit three freebies on two trips and the Spurs held a six-point lead with 25.9 left, his Jazz counterpart, Burke, hit two 3-pointers in the final 17.7 seconds to startle the thinned-out crowd.
“We played the fourth quarter the way we were supposed to play in the third quarter to open the half,” Burke said, referring to how the Spurs quickly turned a five-point halftime lead into an 18-point advantage. “We knew coming in we were going against a really good Spurs team on the road. As a team we knew we had to come out of the half with a lot of intensity, but we didn’t.”
ESPN had to have loved how the Jazz, making their first appearance on a major network this season, gave the Spurs a scare in the final three minutes.
“Those (Spurs) are old guys. We have some young players out there and love to run, so that’s what Coach say, 'We just have to run,'” Jazz backup center Enes Kanter said. “That’s what we did in the fourth quarter. We played really hard and just came out big.”
The Jazz rally began after Parker, who had 25 points and nine assists, hit a jumper to put San Antonio up 102-88 at the 2:59 mark.
Kanter, playing one of his best games in three seasons, ignited Utah’s comeback engine with a couple of mid-range jumpers. With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the bench, the Jazz continued to chip away thanks to a Burks dunk and a three-point play by Burke, making it 102-97 for the Spurs with 1:05 to play.
In less than two minutes, Utah had turned a blowout into an entertaining and competitive finish.
“They kept fighting until the end,” Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard said. “It’s a 48-minute game, and we didn’t do a good job down the stretch of keeping our lead.”
The ending wasn’t the only positive for Utah.
The Jazz also enjoyed one of the best nights yet for the frontcourt combination of Kanter and Derrick Favors, which got scrapped for a while this season because of their early struggles together.
Kanter put together his sixth consecutive double-figure-scoring game with a team-high 25 points and 11 rebounds. Favors offered up a strong 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Utah’s B-and-B duo — Burke and Burks — also had big nights, especially late. Burke joined the double-double fun with 17 points and 11 assists, while Burks had 20 points and six assists in his third straight start at shooting guard for the injured Hayward.
“There are no moral victories in this league,” Corbin said, “but if we get this kind of effort on a nightly basis, we will have a chance to win our fair share of games.”
Parker scored 25 points with nine assists for the Spurs, who thought this game was a bit too reminiscent of a tight win over Memphis earlier in their six-game winning streak. Last Tuesday, the Grizzlies overcame a late 16-point deficit to force overtime before succumbing to the Spurs, 110-108.
“It happens. It’s an 82-game season and that’s why you play the games. You never know what’s going to happen,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s played by human beings. It’s not a computer where you dial it in and that sort of thing. Anything can happen.”
The Jazz should keep that in mind the next time they stop by to visit the Alamo, Pee-wee Herman’s old stomping grounds and Eva Longoria’s hometown.
NOTES: Jazz legend Frank Layden, who celebrated his 82nd birthday on Jan. 5, attended the game with his wife, Barbara. The couple lives in San Antonio for a couple of months in the winter to spend time with their son, Scott Layden, who left his assistant coaching gig in Utah to become the Spurs’ assistant general manager in 2012. Utah outscored San Antonio in the paint 70-52. That was a season-high for a Spurs opponent. Hayward tried to test his injured left hip at Wednesday’s shootaround but was unable to play. His status for Friday at Detroit is uncertain. “You want to make sure that he’s more healed,” Corbin said, “and not taking a chance of coming out and getting hurt and being out for an extended amount of time.”
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