San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stressed the importance of defense throughout training camp.
And with good reason as the last year’s top-ranked offense doesn’t need much tinkering. The defense, however, could use some improvement.
Last season, the Spurs’ defense finished 11th in the league. The defense, while lacking in elite defensive stoppers, was stong enough to contain the majority of the league’s offenses. It just had one fatal flaw: It wasn’t good enough to contain an elite offense like the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Spurs’ 110-100 victory over the Utah Jazz mired an otherwise inspired defensive effort to open the first half.
San Antonio limited the Jazz, whose offense finished sixth in efficiency last season, to 31.8 percent shooting in the first quarter. Exhibiting an activity that wasn’t commonplace last season, the Spurs were able to disrupt the Jazz en route to a 62-44 halftime lead.
The offense was also clicking. The Spurs missed nine — nine — of their 35 attempts, good for 74.3 percent shooting. At this pace, Utah was going to be lucky to whittle the final deficit below 25 points.
The starting backcourt of Danny Green and Tony Parker scored 27 points in the half while shooting 79 percent.
San Antonio’s lead eventually swelled to 19 points with 18 minutes to play.
From there, veteran Jazz point guard Mo Williams carved up the previously stingy defense. The former Cleveland Cavalier accounted for, including assists, 16 of Utah’s final 24 third quarter points.
In the last three minutes alone, Williams scored 13 consecutive points to eliminate the Spurs’ lead completely. Williams, acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers, tallied a game-high 29 points.
Having allowed 35 points in the third quarter, the Spurs were right back to square one. This has been a common theme since Popovich instated a higher octane offense: The defensive unit, as a whole, is good enough to sustain above average efficiency mostly but they cannot consistently disrupt the opposing offense for an entire game.
In the end, it was the Spurs’ offense, combined with enough defense to keep the margin manageable, that sparked a fourth quarter that eradicated the previous quarter from the books.
San Antonio generated points on 12 consecutive possessions in the fourth, giving Utah little chance of winning a rare game in San Antonio. A victory would have gave them their third in the last 31 meetings.
The game wasn’t won with defense but, at the very least, the capability of transient stretches of inspired defense is possible.
Baby steps. It will take some time — maybe a lot of time or perhaps the Spurs will never advance defensively — to return to the consistent defensive performances of old.
Next opponent: The Spurs will welcome George Hill and the Indiana Pacers Monday. The game will tip-off at 7:30 p.m CST and will be televised locally on Fox Sports Southwest.