A poor defensive effort from the Spurs leads to a 111-120 loss to the white-hot Jazz as Ricky Rubio has a career night.
After a tough loss to the Houston Rockets, the Spurs came into Saturday’s game hoping to get a win at home before their Rodeo Road Trip begins. Unfortunately, despite their impressive 22-5 record at home, the Spurs will depart San Antonio having won just two of their five-game homestand.
The Spurs were missing Rudy Gay (heel), Kawhi Leonard (quad), and Brandon Paul (back). Joe Johnson (rest) and Donoven Mitchell (flu-like symptoms) sat out for the Jazz as they faced San Antonio for the second time this season. In the teams’ first meeting, Utah won by eleven points.
For the first few minutes of the first quarter, the Spurs looked great. Dejounte Murray showed off his athleticism with a great dunk in transition and Aldridge was very effective in the low post. The Spurs got out to an early 6-0 lead, and up until the 7-minute mark, they were firing on all cylinders.
Rubio steals the show
The trouble began when Ricky Rubio began to get hot. In the Jazz’s previous four wins, the Spanish point guard has been an instrumental part in his team’s unexpected offensive surge, and tonight was no different. Not only was he shooting himself, he was also getting the previously cold Rudy Gobert involved through multiple flawless assists. The Spurs seemed to have no answer for Rubio, and by the end of the first half, he had 23 points on 100 percent shooting from the field.
The first half was plagued not only by poor defense by the Spurs, but also multiple passes “to no one.” They had nine turnovers, while they normally only have 14 total per game. Halftime began with the Spurs losing 61 to 49.
The third quarter began with an increase in defensive aggressiveness by the Spurs. They began doubling Rubio during switches, and it seemed to effectively stop him from firing off as many shots. However, this increase in aggressiveness began to lead to fouls for San Antonio. With four minutes left in the third quarter, the Jazz had attempted 22 free throws while the Spurs had shot just six.
At the start of the fourth, Popovich put out a small ball lineup of Pau Gasol, Danny Green, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills, and Dejounte Murray. Together, they staged an impressive comeback. Green led the way on the defensive end with an impressive block on Rubio, and Mills had eight points in four minutes. This brought the Spurs to within one point of the Jazz, until Rubio hit yet another three.
That was as close as San Antonio came to retaking the lead, and the Jazz pulled away for a nine-point victory. It was a particularly frustrating loss, as each time the Spurs got some kind of momentum going, the Jazz would dance away again with their superior offense.
This loss marks the second in a row for the Spurs, leaving them just half a game above the fourth seed Timberwolves. Perhaps the most concerning thing about these losses, however, is not where it puts them in the standings. It is the way this team, whose hallmark is solid defense, it is falling apart under a balanced offensive attack.
The Spurs allowed the Jazz 36 free throw attempts and racked up 27 fouls. They also permitted Utah to shoot 56.5 percent from the field and 52.2 percent from three. This is uncharacteristic from a team that is second in the league in defensive rating. In fact, San Antonio is normally the best in the NBA at not fouling, with an average of just 16.7 per game.
The view from here
It is games like these when Kawhi Leonard’s absence is really felt. However, the 2x Defensive Player of the Year will remain sidelined for the foreseeable future with a lingering quad injury.
Luckily for the Spurs, they are about to embark on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. In the fourteen season that the team has been doing the trip, they have had a winning record on it thirteen times.
They will have three days off before their next game, in which they will play the Phoenix Suns at 9:30 CT.