The Jazz’s first quarter Saturday afternoon was ugly: a lack of early defense leading to San Antonio making 6 of 8 shots to start; bizarre indecision on when to shoot or pass up 3-point attempts; getting overly wrapped up in admittedly poor officiating.
Maybe it was the 3:10 p.m. tipoff time and the accompanying lack of pregame naps?
Actually, as pretty much everyone said afterward, it was confusion at how to handle the Spurs’ rarely-seen triangle-and-two defense. And after the Jazz figured that out, they picked apart the falling-apart Spurs thereafter, rolling to a 125-105 victory in their final Vivint Smart Home Arena game before the All-Star break.
“Once we got comfortable and got space right, guys were attacking and just kind of took what they gave us,” said coach Quin Snyder. “We just started playing more instinctively, without thinking, but also playing smart, if that makes sense. It’s a little oxymoron — instinctive, but not thinking. Make sense?”
It apparently made sense to his players.
Despite all the early miscues, Utah trailed by a single point after the opening 12 minutes. And so, when the Jazz opened the second period on a 7-2 run, got dominant performances from Rudy Gobert and Ricky Rubio and an efficient bench outing from Royce O’Neale, they cruised their way to a 39-point quarter, and, well … that pretty much was that.
“We had to kind of figure out the game. San Antonio played a triangle-and-two early, and I think it’d been a long time since any of us had played against a triangle-and-two,” conceded Kyle Korver. “It was a great gameplan by them, it had us kind of caught off-guard. It took us a little while to figure it out. But we kept on plugging away, found some things that were working, started making some shots.”
Rubio started it off with increased aggression. After passing up a wide-open trey in the first period, Snyder told him to keep attacking, and the point guard began the second with a driving reverse layup, followed by an assist to a cutting Derrick Favors for a dunk.
Then Gobert began to assert himself inside, to the tune of a dozen first-half points. Meanwhile, O’Neale sent the zone packing for good by nailing a trio of wide-open 3-pointers.
“We moved the ball, got the easy shots,” said O’Neale, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4 for 4 from 3-point range. “Ricky did a great job driving. Knocked down open shots — Jae, Kyle. Then Rudy finishing — him and Fav at the basket.”
And once the Spurs’ gimmick was solved, they had no adjustment. They Jazz made 16 of 25 shots in the second quarter, while San Antonio went just 8 for 21.
So, Utah’s lead reached 14 by halftime, as much as 17 in the third quarter, and up to 22 in the fourth.
The Jazz got another balanced performance, with six players scoring in double-figures. Donovan Mitchell had a team-high 23 points, and also added five assists, five rebounds, and three steals. Rubio had 16 points and six assists, while committing zero turnovers. Favors added a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Gobert contributed 21 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. But it was his defense on LaMarcus Aldridge — a controversial All-Star pick over Gobert — that garnered attention, with the Spurs star shooting just 5 of 16.
“He hit a few tough shots early — I just tried to do the same thing and make him hit the toughest shots possible,” Gobert said.
With the win, the Jazz improve to 32-24, while San Antonio lost its fourth in a row to fall to 32-26.
And that, Gobert added, was more important to him than besting the man whose All-Star inclusion potentially got him snubbed from the game.
“We knew it was a very important game for us. It’s a team that is staying … with us in the [standings],” he said. “So we had to come out ready, and we did.”