Kragthorpe: Jazz must make changes to compete with Spurs
Plenty of factors need work to make Jazz’s game worth watching.

By Kurt Kragthorpe

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: April 29, 2012 11:36PM
Updated: April 29, 2012 11:53PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

San Antonio

After all of the disjointed play that everybody witnessed Sunday afternoon from the Jazz in their playoff opener with San Antonio, those guys finally got it together in a motivated, efficient performance.

The players showered, dressed and boarded the bus to the airport with stunning precision after a 106-91 loss, eager to get home and regroup for a couple of days before returning to the AT&T Center for Wednesday’s Game 2.

Obviously, their absence of effective timing and movement against the Spurs was not a continuing problem throughout the day.

On the court, the Jazz simply could not keep up with San Antonio’s crisp offense, which features clever passing and inside-out scoring that’s reminiscent of the Jazz of old. Turnovers and the inability to generate any kind of a run also doomed the Jazz to a standard-issue Game 1 defeat on the road, naturally raising questions about their chances of staging much resistance in this series.

“Believe it or not,” said Jazz center Al Jefferson, “we do walk out with our heads up a little bit.”

His supporting evidence? Mainly, the bad stuff his team was guilty of Sunday, including 16 turnovers. The Jazz also can defend Spurs guard Tony Parker better — they hardly could do any worse after he posted 28 points and eight assists — and create some different opportunities for themselves offensively, with more cutting to help Jefferson and Paul Millsap after throwing the ball to them.

“We have to grow through it,” said coach Tyrone Corbin, citing “a couple things we can do a little differently.”

Can the Jazz recover sufficiently to make this series mildly interesting? Maybe, but that’s all.

The Spurs are not kidding around anymore, after losing a first-round series to Memphis last April.

Some recent history is encouraging to the Jazz: In a 2010 first-round meeting with Denver, the Jazz lost the opener by 13 points, then won Game 2 by three and went on to claim the series.

But that was with Jerry Sloan coaching against Adrian Dantley. This is Corbin vs. Gregg Popovich, and Corbin is being tested just like Dantley two years ago, only with a personnel disadvantage.

Corbin worried too much about playoff experience in replacing DeMarre Carroll with Josh Howard in the starting lineup, shortly after Howard returned from a month’s absence due to a knee injury. Corbin used his celebrated packaging of Derrick Favors with Millsap and Jefferson for only 3 minutes, 38 seconds of the third quarter (before Jefferson’s foul trouble scrubbed that strategy).

True, the Jazz were only slightly better off with Carroll on the floor instead of Howard, and the big lineup netted only a one-point gain, thanks mostly to Tim Duncan’s one-on-one abuse of Jefferson. But in a 15-point loss, every sign of life is meaningful.

Corbin acknowledged being skittish about the Spurs going small against him. But here’s the deal: Corbin has to dictate some strategy, not merely respond, if the Jazz are to have any shot in this series.

Carroll should start Game 2, and the big lineup should get a longer look. And the Jazz have to do something about Parker, who presents a bigger problem than anything else.

“The biggest thing that we’re going to learn,” the Jazz’s Gordon Hayward said, “is the different ways that we need to guard the pick-and-roll — what worked and what didn’t.”

Really, not much worked Sunday. My solution: Hayward should defend Parker occasionally, making him go against a much bigger defender, who’s as athletic as Devin Harris or Jamaal Tinsley.

Clearly, Corbin and the Jazz need to give this series a different look. More of the same, even for only three more games, would not be worth watching.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt