San Antonio • How surprising was Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin’s decision to start Josh Howard in Game 1?
Even the small forward was caught off guard.
Howard didn’t learn about the move until Sunday morning. Then he said pregame and postgame that he wasn’t expecting the sudden playoff promotion.
"All I can do is roll with it," said Howard, prior to Utah’s 106-91 loss to the Spurs.
The nine-year veteran played 16 scoreless minutes against San Antonio, going 0-for-4 from the floor while pulling down four rebounds and committing two turnovers.
Reserve small forward DeMarre Carroll ended up playing more (21:36) than Howard, and the Jazz’s rotations were off throughout the game.
Corbin said the decision to start Howard was a unanimous one made by Utah’s coaches. The move gained momentum after Howard scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds Thursday during Utah’s regular-season-ending 96-94 win against Portland.
Howard averaged 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 43 games (18 starts) this year. However, contests last week against Phoenix and the Blazers were the only games he had participated in since March 18.
Left knee arthroscopic surgery sidelined Howard for more than a month, and he was originally slated to miss the remainder of the season.
Howard refused to settle when the initial news about his injury was announced, though. He received a second opinion and pushed hard to return last Tuesday against Phoenix.
He hopes to again bounce back after a quiet Game 1.
"Just to get out there and get some sprints up was pretty good," Howard said. "Overall, we played pretty well despite being on the road. We’ll get into practice [Monday], see what we did wrong and try to correct it for the next game."
Normally, the Jazz own the lane. Not Sunday. San Antonio outscored Utah 58-44 in the paint, with Tony Parker alternately sinking layups and setting up the Spurs’ big men for power slams.
According to ESPN, San Antonio scored 48 points within five feet of the basket, the most by any team during the past two postseasons.
"They get the ball in the paint, and then it is pick your poison: [They] kick out, start shooting 3s, dump down passes or [hit] little floaters," Jazz guard Gordon Hayward said. "We have to find some way to keep it out of the paint and make it difficult."
Spurs reserve center Tiago Splitter was not on the bench at the start of the third quarter. Midway through the period, it was announced he wouldn’t return due to a sprained right wrist. Splitter is expected to undergo an MRI on Monday.
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