‘Stagnant’ Jazz fall to Spurs, 110-97, to begin two-game trip

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, right, collides with San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

San Antonio • After setting a franchise record for 3-pointers made when they faced the Spurs last Tuesday in Salt Lake City, the Jazz seemingly couldn’t have thrown the ball in the San Antonio River in the first half on Sunday evening.

And while Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio rallied the team late, its early errors proved too much to overcome.

Arguably the Spurs’ best defensive effort of the season, combined with Utah’s inability to generate any easy, early offense or stop San Antonio’s lethal midrange attack, resulted in a 110-97 Spurs victory.

The loss snapped the Jazz’s modest two-game winning streak, and dropped the team to 13-14 on the season.

“They’re the same team; they were just a lot better, and we weren’t as good as we needed to be,” said coach Quin Snyder. “We got stagnant. We started the game pretty well defensively, and then went through a period where we didn’t score for a long time. When that happens, your defense has to hold you in the game, and it can only hold you for so long.”

Indeed, with both teams struggling to convert shots in the game’s opening minutes, Utah’s defense was the better at the outset, and staked the Jazz to an 18-13 lead. However, over the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, San Antonio’s defense swarmed Utah’s shooters, and the Jazz offense went from cold to frigid.

The Spurs then capitalized on the other end, and the resulting 17-0 run put them ahead to stay. The Jazz were outscored 31-18 in the second quarter, as San Antonio built an 18-point advantage at the break.

“We stopped moving the ball, and we missed some open shots. … When you can’t get a bucket, it’s hard to get stops, and vice versa,” said Rubio. “It was a tough stretch — a [17-0] run, and we can’t play that way.”

Center Rudy Gobert, who totaled 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, agreed that was the pivotal stretch of the contest.

“We should be concerned about the second quarter more than anything,” Gobert said. “We gave them a fight, we came back, but it was not enough.”

True enough. After a positively anemic opening 24 minutes, the third quarter was a revelation. Utah scored a combined 36 points in the first and second periods — it matched that total in the third alone.

Mitchell and Rubio powered the rally. The former started drilling shots from the perimeter; the latter continually snaked his way into the lane. Together, they whittled down San Antonio’s advantage, scoring 13 apiece in the third, as the Jazz knocked eight points off their deficit.

The backcourt kept it up in the fourth. Mitchell and Rubio wound up with 27 and 26, respectively, for the game — and 46 of their combined 53 points came after halftime.

However, too many little plays gone awry negated the comeback effort.

The Jazz got within five points in the fourth quarter, only to commit two straight turnovers and see the deficit balloon back to 11. They forced a stop on defense, then fumbled the rebound away to Rudy Gay, whose inside fadeaway further solidified San Antonio’s lead. Mitchell got Spurs big man Jakob Poeltl switched onto him on the perimeter, but committed a turnover.

“Just little things — whether it was losing a man, offensive rebounds, turnovers, our offense,” said Mitchell. “Every little thing matters when it’s a five-point lead, and we just didn’t execute down the stretch.”

His 27-point second-half explosion mattered little to him, he added, considering “the fact that I kept getting blown by on defense.”

Mitchell’s primary matchup, DeMar DeRozan, totaled 26 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. Gay, who started at the four, made one clutch play after another down the stretch, grabbing loose balls, hitting tough shots, and finishing with 23 points and 15 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge was an efficient 10 for 15 from near the rim and in the deep midrange, and he totaled 20 points.

Rubio lamented that the Jazz overcame their awful start to get so close, only to have it all go wrong again late.

“We ran out of gas at the end,” he said. “… It sucks. We fought. … The San Antonio Spurs, they know how to play, too. An offensive rebound, a couple mistakes, and they make you pay.”

Snyder, meanwhile, lamented that the poor play early made the furious comeback try necessary at all.

“Our guys responded,” he said, “[but] you put yourself in a position where sometimes a response isn’t enough to win a game.”

SPURS 110, JAZZ 97

• Utah scores only 36 points in the first half, and a late rally winds up falling short in San Antonio.

• After going scoreless in the first half, Donovan Mitchell scores 27 points post-halftime. Ricky Rubio scores 19 of his 26 after the break.

• DeMar DeRozan has 26 points and eight assists, and Rudy Gay adds 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Spurs, who convert 52.8 percent of their shots.

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