Jazz stumble out of All-Star break with 113-104 loss to Spurs

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) grabs a rebound from Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27), in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs, in Salt Lake City, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020.

Before Friday night’s Jazz game against the Spurs, coach Quin Snyder referenced how his group lost the teams’ previous matchup back on Jan. 29 because San Antonio shot a ridiculous 71% from midrange and also attempted 30 free throws.

“We can impact it. I don’t want them to have another historic night, understanding that that’s what they do. They are really good at that, so we have to adjust,” Snyder said. “… Make the shots a little harder, contest it a little better. The biggest thing we did is not only did we give up those baskets, but we fouled. We can’t give up both.”

OK, so — back to Friday. For starters, the Spurs not only maintained much of the midrange success, but they got to the free-throw line almost as often; and those problem areas were further augmented by open 3-point looks … and Utah’s turnovers … and …

You get the picture. End result? A 113-104 Spurs victory that ended Utah’s four-game winning streak and denied the team the post-All-Star break momentum it was seeking.

It would be easy to say that afterward, the Jazz were left looking for answers — beyond the obvious “incinerate the yellow jerseys they’re now 1-7 in and never speak of them again” — but the thing is, they pretty much all knew what went wrong, if not necessarily why.

“We got what we earned tonight,” Snyder said.

“[The Spurs] came out and played with force. They were not just the more aggressive team, but the most aggressive team by a long way in the first half, and even throughout the course of the game,” he added. “We made a couple runs, but couldn’t sustain that. Our offense didn’t help our defense, but our defense wasn’t close to the level it needed to be.”

Troubling signs were, indeed, apparent from the outset, as Utah — which came in leading the league in 3-point percentage — hit just one of its first six tries from beyond the arc, while the Spurs went 3 for 5 in building a nine-point lead. That trend continued for much of the first half.

There were some fleeting moments of hope, but on each occasion, San Antonio pretty quickly shut things down.

To wit: After falling behind 44-30 in the second, a thunderous Donovan Mitchell dunk and a pair of Bojan Bogdanovic 3s (his first baskets of the game) sparked a 12-2 run that drew the Jazz within four. Immediately thereafter, however, the Spurs responded with a 19-2 blitz of their own to make it 65-44.

“It starts with defense. It’s on us to be more more physical, come out with an edge — like we used to have. We lose it, and then we get it back, but if we want to be a champion, if we want to be one of the best teams in the league, it’s got to be who we are, and we’ve got to come out with a chip on our shoulder every night,” said All-Star center Rudy Gobert. “… That’s what teams are doing to us. … They don’t really respect us, they cone out, they push us around, they deny us, we don’t react.”

Out of halftime, there was actually a small reaction, another brief glimpse of sparkiness from the home team — with Bogdanovic swiping the ball from Trey Lyles and racing in for a dunk, the defense playing solidly and forcing a stop, and a Bogey post-up drawing a double-team which led to an open 3-pointer from Mitchell on the wing — which cut the deficit to 14.

The flurry prompted Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout a mere 58 seconds into the period. And whatever he said worked, as San Antonio’s advantage had swollen up to 22 points just a few minutes later.

Not only was there precious little defensive resistance — San Antonio wound up shooting exactly 50% from 3 — but there wasn’t a whole lot working for the team on the other end, either.

Half-hearted drives to the basket were too easily cut off, and secondary outlets too inconsistently located — which combined to add up to almost three times as many turnovers.

Utah’s last-gasp attempt came early in the fourth, when reserve guard Emmanuel Mudiay (in the rotation on account of Mike Conley’s rehab day) made the apparent decision to put his head down and get to the rim — to great success. He scored seven of the team’s first nine points in the period, getting the Jazz within a dozen points.

From there, it was mostly a matter of treading water.

“We need to come ready to play from the jump. That’s what happened. We can’t sit here and say, ‘We’ll get them next game’ — we can’t afford to have these games. It’s just tough, it eats away at you,” Mitchell said. “… And then on top of [the lack of defensive effort], not making shots — it just feels like a huge boulder is just falling on top of you. There are games we’ve won playing bad defense and good offense, and we can’t rely on that in this half of the season and the playoffs. When the offense is struggling, you gotta pick [the defense] up to a higher level. We weren’t there at all.”

Gobert contributed his latest double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds, though he also committed four turnovers. Mudiay also added 18 points while also contributing five rebounds and three assists — but his decision-making seemed to just as frequently hurt the team. Jordan Clarkson also added 15 off the bench.

But the team’s two primary scoring options, Mitchell and Bogdanovic, both had rough nights. The former totaled 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting and didn’t reach double-figures until there were but two minutes remaining in the game. The latter, meanwhile, scored 15 — though five of those came on free throws with the game decided, as he shot 3 for 13 from the field overall.