SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz's 101-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs from KSL.com's Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz with an incredible comeback to win 10 straight
What a game. With 8:30 left, the Jazz were down 12, and it was San Antonio ball. The Jazz had scuffled over and over again against the Spurs' terrific defense, and didn't look like they had the legs to pull out a win in the second game of a back to back.
But the Jazz fought back. They just had to make so many difficult plays to win this game. Rookie Donovan Mitchell hit a number of tough looks. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert were offensive forces. And most importantly, the Jazz played some stellar defense down the stretch.
Since the Jazz are a defensive team, let's focus on those amazing defensive plays. The most obvious one is the last possession of the game:
Royce O'Neale plays solid defense against two of the craftiest players in the league, Manu Ginobili and Kyle Anderson. Both aren't very fleet of foot anymore, but they thought they could go in isolation against an undrafted rookie and get him to bite on one of their fakes, earning a trip to the line. But O'Neale stayed down.
(By the way, there's both a double-dribble and probably an out of bounds by the Spurs in this play. That this referee crew missed both was par for the course in a really poorly officiated contest.)
After the game, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was thrilled with O'Neale. "When you want a stop and you're wound up and you're competing, oftentimes that is when you go for a fake and you foul. Being disciplined in that situation is hard to do and that is what I told him. I was proud of him."
The play before that, Favors made a tremendous block/steal on Ginobili's attempted shot or pass attempt to Pau Gasol. Favors is in the unenviable position of trying to defend both the ball and his man on this play, and he does both with aplomb with a one-point lead under thirty seconds.
Derrick Favors had this tremendous block/steal against Manu on the Spurs' penultimate possession: pic.twitter.com/qMUKNDV9Y6— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 13, 2018
And then thirty seconds earlier, Mitchell made up for a missed shot by getting a steal and an easy layup with a minute to go to take the lead.
And Mitchell's steal 30 seconds earlier was equally important. This is all wingspan. (BTW, doesn't it seem like it's been a while since Mitchell's 6-10 wingspan was mentioned?) pic.twitter.com/JE4hS6dV3a— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 13, 2018
Here, it's the initial switch that confused Anderson, causing him to pick up the ball. From there, it's Mitchell's 6-foot-10 wingspan (when was the last time you heard someone talk about his wingspan? It seems like that's been lost in Mitchell's offensive exploits) that gets him the steal on the attempted pass to Gasol.
The Jazz needed huge stops down the stretch in order to have a chance to win the game. It took all five players on the court to defend well enough to come back and win.
2. Favors/Ingles pick and roll, plus Rudy's sacrifice
The Jazz had that big deficit because of how well the Spurs were defending in pick and roll situations. We've seen teams drop into the paint against the Jazz before, that's nothing new.
But what the Spurs did a great job of doing is preventing the Jazz's kickout passes once the ball was in the paint. With most teams that defend the paint, you can take advantage of the help down low by kicking the ball to the weakside corner or by cutting to the basketball. But the Spurs almost face-guarded the Jazz's perimeter players, so that wasn't an option.
Essentially, the Spurs begged the Jazz to take that midrange shot. The Jazz obliged plenty of times to horrendous results.
The Jazz don't really have the personnel to take that midrange shot, nor do they want to. After all, it's the most inefficient shot in basketball.
So what should the Jazz do instead? I asked Snyder. "I can give you a list of five things, Andy," he replied. At this point, I expected Snyder to not give the list. But he did!
"We can drive and dive. We can flip the angle of the screen and cut back. We can hold him on your hip and keep him in the middle of the lane. We can attack the big downhill, and we can Nash (in other words, dribble around the basket and out)," he said.
The Jazz finally figured out how to take advantage late in the fourth quarter, and it was entirely behind the great play of Joe Ingles and Favors together in the pick and roll.
Here's one where Ingles drives and Favors dives.
The Jazz just abused the Ingles/Favors PnR at the end. Here's one where Gasol fouls Favors: pic.twitter.com/n3HZcOSdq7— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 13, 2018
Here's one where Ingles holds his defender on his hip, giving Favors the space to drive and finish.
Here Ingles holds his defender on his hip as he delivers the pass to Favors: pic.twitter.com/JCX3a377mG— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 13, 2018
And while this one isn't quite a "flip the angle of the screen," Favors getting the ball first and then passing to a cutting Ingles surprises the Spurs defense and gives Favors space to roll to the rim.
And then the Spurs overplay it, so Favors gives the ball to Ingles cutting behind him, then gets it back and gets to the line: pic.twitter.com/65EGBHuzzs— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 13, 2018
After scuffling repeatedly against Gasol in the paint, the Jazz figured it out to the tune of five straight successful possessions in the last five minutes of the game. That's huge.
By the way, one of the biggest moments of this game was one that didn't happen. With four minutes left in the game, Gobert was scheduled to come in for Favors, but couldn't, because Favors was at the line. And after two straight successful Favors rolls, Gobert could have come in again when the clock stopped.
But that's when Snyder went out to Gobert at the Scorers table and asked Gobert, "Do you want to come in or do you want to let Fav play?" Gobert said, "I want to let Fav play."
"He was playing great and we were rolling," Gobert simply said after the game. Both Gobert and Snyder made the right call, and the Jazz won the game because of it. That kind of selflessness is rare for a team's star player, but Gobert showed it tonight.
3. 10 in a row
Wow, ten wins in a row for the Jazz now! With that win streak, they're now a game above .500, 1.5 games out of the seventh seed (which Denver and New Orleans are tied for), two games out of fifth, and even just four games in the loss column out of fourth. Heck, after tonight, they only have five more losses than the Spurs!
They're probably not going to catch up to the Spurs. But beating the Spurs three times this season — when all three games were on the second game of a back to back — is a terrific accomplishment that shows just how good the Jazz can be.
It is their first four-game winning streak against the Spurs since 2009. It is also their first 10-game winning streak since 2009. It is the first time a rookie, Mitchell, has led a team in scoring during a 10-game winning streak since Wilt Chamberlain for the 1959 Philadelphia Warriors 60 years ago.
And it hasn't been against an easy schedule. Seven of the 10 wins were on the road. Six of the 10 have been against playoff teams. The Jazz have also won two against the Spurs, beat the Western Conference-leading Warriors by 30, and beat the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors.
They've won in different ways. Mitchell has scored two points, he's scored 40 points. Ricky Rubio has scored a career-high 34 and missed two games. The Jazz have had an all-rookie starting backcourt in those two contests. Utah got 30-point games from a player (Rodney Hood), who isn't even on the roster anymore. The Jazz have had 133-109 shootouts and 92-88 slugfests.
It's just really impressive. The Jazz are playing for each other right now, and it shows with their execution on both ends of the court. What a run.