The Utah Jazz entered Sunday's game against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs tied with the Phoenix Suns for the dreaded No. 9 spot in the Western Conference, looking up at the Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets but just 1.5 games out of the No. 6 seed in a chaotic playoff race. The Spurs own the second-best home record in the NBA and the Jazz have the worst road record of any team in the playoff race, so the game carried a certain tone before it ever started. When it did begin, the Spurs pulled out to an early lead, never let the Jazz get within striking distance and closed out a comfortable 114-104 win.
The Jazz defense had been putting the team in early holes by giving up 30+ points in the first quarter to four of their last five opponents -- Sacramento Kings (32), LA Clippers (38), Portland Trail Blazers (35) and Phoenix Suns (31) -- so when they did it again and ceded 31 points to Spurs to dig an 11-point ditch in the opening period, it didn't come as a big surprise. Not only did San Antonio shoot a sparkling 64.7 percent from the field in those 12 minutes, they also earned nine free throws and sank seven. The Jazz shot just 39.1 percent with one free throw attempt, so Tim Duncan out-rebounded Utah 8-5 just by snatching Jazz misses.
In essence, the San Antonio backcourt overwhelmed their Utah counterparts. Tony Parker (10-10 FTs) and Manu Ginobili (14-15 FTs) kicked off a parade to the line for the Spurs that turned into a 38-43 bonanza. The steady flow of points from the charity stripe tossed the Jazz ten feet behind the pace and left them there for the entire night. Not only did Utah never hold a lead, they also spent a majority of the second half down double-digits and couldn't get any closer than six points after the first quarter.
Parker finished with a game-high 28 points to go with three assists and two steals, while Ginobili added 23 points, five rebounds and a pair of helpers. With DeJuan Blair out and Boris Diaw fouling out in just 24 minutes of action, Tim Duncan anchored the interior. He loaded his double-double with 16 rebounds and 13 points and helped limit Utah to a below-average 48.8 percent (22-45) conversion rate in the paint.
The Jazz bigs still had a solid night, however. Al Jefferson notched a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double, Derrick Favors added 14 points on 7-10 shooting -- including this highlight dunk on Tiago Splitter -- and even DeMarre Carroll helped out with 16 points. Paul Millsap? Not so much (1-8 FGs, two points). As for the backcourt, Earl Watson played five minutes and then left with a sore right knee, while C.J. Miles exited in the second quarter with a strained left calf. Devin Harris played fairly well (18 points, six assists), but didn't do nearly enough to offset the performance of his counterpart.
The win marked San Antonio's sixth straight over Utah in head-to-head matchups, and it pushed the Jazz to 1.5 games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff bracket. As for how good the Spurs have been lately, it's pretty absurd:
Example: The Spurs are scoring 120 points per 100 possessions in the past four games, and allowing just 97.7. They're +22 in efficiency diff— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 9, 2012
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