Once again, San Antonio lived by getting inside and attacking the basket.
Once again, the Jazz died because they didn’t.
The Spurs’ interior defense stymied Utah in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Saturday night, helping San Antonio roll to a 102-90 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
Al Jefferson scored 21 points on 10-for-18 shooting, but most of his damage came on jump shots. He shot only two free throws — his second and third of the series.
In all, San Antonio outscored the Jazz in the paint 50-28. The Spurs shot 48.8 percent, including 21 of 38 in the first half, when they took a determined punch by Utah but survived.
Defensively, San Antonio pushed Paul Millsap and Jefferson to the perimeter. Millsap finished with nine points on 4-for-12 shooting.
Although Jefferson’s jumper “was falling a little bit,” he was never able to establish himself on the block.
“… They are a good, smart team,” Jefferson said. “Tim Duncan does his work early so he doesn’t have to defend me close to the basket.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin credited the Spurs for making things difficult for the Jazz’s top two scorers during the regular season.
“They do a great job of pressure on the ball at the point,” Corbin said, “and they make the guys on the wings catch it at a bad angle. They deny them … so the angle is bad.”
San Antonio also keeps a weakside defender or two close to the basket, daring the Jazz to shoot from outside and limiting the space for Jefferson and Millsap.
“They are making our guys catch it two or three steps off their spots instead of letting them get it deep,” Corbin said.
In Game 4, the Jazz must get more production in the paint or face the prospect of being swept out of the playoffs.
“… We just have to try and force our will on them,” Corbin said. “We’ll try some things to come at them from a different angle because we have to find a way to get it inside. That makes us better.”
Said Millsap: “We’ve still got to do that we do — do what we did to get here. That’s get the ball inside somehow and get points in the paint.”
According to Jefferson, the Jazz must improve their execution and limit their mental and physical lapses.