Spurs utilize deep bench to sweep Jazz in well-rounded Game 4 win
These are the stats that should make San Antonio's future playoff opponents quiver after the Spurs closed out their four-game sweep of Utah Monday night with an 87-81 win at EnergySolutions Arena: None of San Antonio's starters shot better than 40 percent from the field in Game 4. None scored more than 11 points, and the starting frontcourt combined to shoot just 5-of-18 from the field. And yet the Spurs dominated most of the game. They led for the final 36 minutes. They were up as much as 21 points on the road against a team desperate to avoid elimination. And they did it with nine players seeing 20 or more minutes of action, with a bench that became their most productive unit. Now, as the Spurs move further in the playoffs, whoever they end up facing may look at Monday's game and question how any team can keep pace with such a lethal wave of weapons.
• The biggest difference in the Spurs' six-point win on Monday came at the end of the first three quarters. Strong finishes are the mark of a championship contender and San Antonio's execution was textbook in those cases, locking down defensively and swinging the game's momentum each time. San Antonio was 7-of-12 from the field in the final two minutes of the first, second and third quarters and held Utah to 4-of-11 shooting, outscoring the Jazz 16-6 in those stretches. Those short periods of clutch execution twice turned back Jazz runs. In the first quarter, a 9-0 Utah spurt put the Jazz up 19-15 with 2:33 remaining in the quarter. But the Jazz closed 0-for-3 from the field and failed to score while the Spurs buried 3-of-5 shots to close the quarter, starting a 21-3 run to take an early double-digit lead. Then in the third quarter, the Jazz used a 10-0 run to get within 62-58 with 2:57 remaining. Once again, they failed to score in the final two minutes of the quarter and went 0-for-4 from the field while Manu Ginobili buried a pair of three-pointers to close the period. That started a 20-2 Spurs run that ultimately sealed the win.
• Sure, Al Jefferson should've kept his mouth shut when he said after Sunday's practices that he couldn't imagine anyone beating the Spurs. It wasn't the right thing to say in the moment. But then, nobody seemed to disagree. After all, how many teams can lead 36 minutes of a playoff game while their starting lineup goes a combined 10-of-37 from the field (27 percent) and gets outscored 57-30 by its own bench? The Jazz did what it could to slow the Spurs, moving Derrick Favors into the starting rotation to create a bigger lineup that could compress the paint and keep Tony Parker from penetrating. Congratulations, it worked: Parker was 4-of-14 from the field after terrorizing the Jazz in the previous three games. But then there was that whole problem of keeping Manu Ginobili from rediscovering his shot off the bench, Stephen Jackson from hitting open three-pointers and Gary Neal from dropping in mid-range jumpers. The Spurs' ability to bring wave after wave of potent weapons into the game behind their struggling starters was overwhelming, giving the appearance of an impressive title contender.
• Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin may look back on this series and see that the moves he made in the starting lineup that gave his team a chance against the Spurs' starters may have also sealed its fate against the reserves. Promoting Favors from the bench left Utah with a smaller reserve unit that San Antonio destroyed from the moment it took the floor. The Spurs' reserves outscored Utah's 57-10 and held those backups to just 5-of-20 shooting. It led to embarrassingly lopsided runs that only improved the Spurs' championship image. Ginobili reawakened just when his team needed him, scoring 17 points -- 10 more than he'd scored in any other game in the series -- and burying his first three three-pointers after missing all eight of his attempts in the first three games. Tiago Splitter added another 10 points against the small Jazz lineup, Gary Neal posted his second double-digit scoring night of the series with 11 points, and Stephen Jackson buried a pair of three-pointers and pulled down six rebounds. That unit completely overwhelmed Utah and put the Jazz in holes too deep to rally from.
• Deep as those holes were, the Jazz's adjusted starting lineup was nearly potent enough to overcome the double-digit deficits. The switch of Paul Millsap to small forward to insert Favors into the starting lineup looked brilliant by the game's end. The added bulk kept the Spurs' starters out of rhythm and left Parker -- who entered the game averaging 24.3 points in the series -- struggling to get off mid-range jumpers rather than cutting into the lane for layups. Utah dominated the first-unit matchups, out-rebounding San Antonio's starters 42-21 and outscoring them 71-30. And Utah's starters had moments of dominance every time they were on the floor together: A 9-0 run in the first quarter; a 10-0 run in the third. And then came their dramatic 19-2 rally in the fourth quarter when Utah sliced a 21-point deficit to 83-79 in the final minute and briefly gave Jazz fans hope for a miracle. Unfortunately for Corbin, that successful starting combination had to rest at some point, and things got ugly whenever it did.
• This series may leave haunting memories for the Jazz, who have now dropped eight straight playoff games dating back to the 2010 Western Conference semifinals' sweep against the Lakers. But Favors left them with an encouraging vision of their future. The 20-year-old power forward was one of Utah's bright spots in the series, averaging 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in his first playoff series. And he was a constant burst of energy in his first start of the series Monday night. He made blocks on Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter during a 9-0 Jazz run to take a short-lived first-quarter lead, then made a steal, sank a 14-footer and reached the free-throw line twice during Utah's closing run to give his team one final shot at extending the series. That's the kind of motor that gets coaches revved up. He's still a work in progress, with a quick and powerful body that still lacks a consistent go-to move in the post. But the encouraging points are bright.