Three previously unknown injuries and one curiously timed rest day within the Utah Jazz’s starting lineup made the result of Friday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs a fait accompli.
Shocker, everyone: The fully stocked Spurs prevailed 119-111.
Really, the only intrigue surrounding the early-tipoff seeding game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., was coach Quin Snyder’s motivation for sitting out Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale — 80% of the group that’s constituted his starting lineup in every previous bubble game.
Strategic tanking for a 3-vs.-6-seed playoff matchup against the Denver Nuggets? Doing a solid for former boss Gregg Popovich, as the Spurs chase a long-shot postseason berth? Seeing what the young guys can do with more opportunity and responsibility? Simply wanting to keep the regular rotation guys fresh for the second half of a back-to-back coming Saturday against Denver?
To be determined.
(Though option No. 3 seems dubious, and No. 4 outright ridiculous, considering, you know, those guys have now played four games in five months.)
Still, before the game, Snyder dodged the injury question by noting that it was up to “our sports performance guys,” before elaborating that “guys, during this stretch, are going to have nicks.” He added that Gobert was given a rest day because “we have a back-to-back, and Rudy plays 35-40 minutes a game … and we want him to be fresh.” He also extolled the virtues of getting to see what the others could do.
As for this actual game and those who played in it, despite being significantly outgunned, the Jazz were surprisingly competitive, buoyed by a shoot-first-ask-questions-later 24-point performance from Jordan Clarkson; a 15-point, 11-rebound, three-block effort from backup big man Tony Bradley; and another resurgent showing from beyond the arc, where they converted 16 of 37 attempts (43.2%).
Meanwhile, after allowing the Spurs to shoot nearly 70% from the field in the first quarter, Utah’s defense at least tightened up sufficiently to whittle that down to a mere 50.6% overall by game’s end.
“Well, I think there was a reason they shot such a high percentage — I didn’t think we were doing a very good job getting back in transition and really didn’t give ourselves a chance to defend in the halfcourt,” Snyder said. “As the game progressed, we did a better job getting back, and guys settled in a little bit and made things hard.”
Just not too hard.
Even though Utah pulled within half a dozen points or so multiple times down the stretch, Snyder was content to close with a lineup of third-year forward Georges Niang plus rookies Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley, Rayjon Tucker and Justin Wright-Foreman.
Joe Ingles — who racked up 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3 in just 16 minutes, 34 seconds — remained firmly planted on the bench, where he spent the entirety of the second half. Clarkson also was not on the floor in crunch time, despite having been the team’s only real viable offensive threat for extended periods (as evidenced by having launched 18 shots in 24 minutes).
He also contributed four assists, which he said afterward was perhaps his more germane accomplishment.
“I definitely was trying to be a little bit more aggressive, make plays for my teammates and stuff like that,” Clarkson said. “At one point, I felt like I was playing a little too fast, a little bit too aggressive; coach took me aside and just told me to trust everybody and trust the plays.”
Bradley, who looked increasingly consent against San Antonio’s predominantly small ball lineups, also obliquely referenced trust in his postgame remarks, noting it was not up to the players to take issue with the decision to rest so many key components, but rather to go out out there and play to the rest of their ability, regardless of the circumstances.
“Honestly, there really wasn’t much talk [among the players about it],” he said. “Just stick to the game plan and try to go out and execute and play as hard as we could.”