SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz wouldn’t outright say it, but it wasn't hard to see how they felt about the importance of Friday's game.
The injury report alone was a pretty big giveaway. Mike Conley was out with right knee soreness, Donovan Mitchell out with a left peroneal strain, Royce O’Neale came down with some right calf soreness and would suit up and Rudy Gobert needed some rest. Joe Ingles was even reported to have right foot soreness — which had to have been the reason he only played in the first half, right?
And if that wasn’t enough, the Jazz went most of the fourth quarter with a lineup you were more likely to see play for the Salt Lake City Stars than the NBA club.
So things went about as you’d expect on Friday. San Antonio, which is in a fight for its playoff life, led just about wire-to-wire in a 119-111 win over the Jazz.
"I don’t go into our injury report that’s for our sports performance guys," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said before the game. "Certainly guys during this stretch are going to have nicks. And our hope is that they’re back and we’re in a good place as we move forward."
Translation: It was a rest day for his stars.
With the game’s end result clearly not meaning much for the Jazz (home-court advantage doesn’t provide much of an advantage in the bubble, after all), might as well make it a little fun. And giving the likes of Tony Bradley, Jarrell Brantley and Miye Oni extended roles qualifies as fun — even if it’s not the most effective way to win a game.
Want a Bradley straight away 3-pointer? Sure. Brantley leading fast breaks? Why not. Jordan Clarkson taking any shot he could? Well, everyone knew that was going to happen.
Clarkson had 13 points in the first quarter and finished with 24 on 8-of-18 shooting. He played 24 minutes and sat out most of the second half. Ingles was the only regular Jazz starter to play on Friday — likely only due to his NBA-leading games played streak. He scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three in 17 minutes — all in the first half.
Bradley tied his career-high in points (15) and blocks (three) while finishing with 11 rebounds on the night in 22 minutes. His time was so limited only because the Jazz played Friday’s game much like they had the scrimmages preluding the NBA restart. They gave the starters some run (in this case their regular bench unit) and then gave way to the rookies and G-Leaguers to finish off the game.
And in a game the Spurs very much needed to win, the young Jazz players really did hold their own. After back-to-back Justin Wright-Foreman floaters, the Jazz had cut the Spurs' lead to just six with 7:14 to go.
The Jazz third-unit didn’t have much trouble scoring against the closing lineup of the Spurs. Wright-Foreman got to his spots with surprising ease, Oni and Brantley both were able to hit on open shots, and Rayjon Tucker used his athleticism to not only get to the hoop but keep possessions alive. It was a strong effort by the group of rookies.
It wasn’t until Derrick White hit a three with 1:31 left that the game was finally put out of reach.
“It was just good experience for all those guys, just to get out there and get in the flow of an NBA game,” Clarkson said.
It was career days for many of the young Jazz players. Bradley tied his career highs, Oni had a career-high 14 points, and Wright-Foreman and Brantley both recorded their first NBA buckets — each finished with 8 points. The only real negative was Juwan Morgan, who had played his way into a small rotational role, came down with a knee injury late, and had to be helped off the court.
“They just competed, and that's kind of our expectation for our whole group,” Snyder said. “And whoever's on the floor, that's what they expect of each other. I thought Miye, at the beginning of the game, his defensive effort, his presence, and Jarrell as well — those two guys on the defensive end really set a tone.”
The Jazz are still looking to solidify their rotation as they head into the playoffs. On Wednesday, for example, Snyder opted to go with Rayjon Tucker in the second half instead of Emmanuel Mudiay. A game like Friday’s could give Snyder a chance to further evaluate the end of the bench to see who could contribute when the postseason rolls around.
Did Oni, Brantley or anyone else show they deserve a more meaningful shot?
“We’ve been evaluating them for a while,” Snyder said. “That’s why they are on our roster. That’s why we are working with them. That’s why they are competing. There really isn’t such thing as garbage time. I think for a player, every minute that you are on the court and every opportunity that you get … oftentimes to be able to come into the game for two or three minutes and come out and try to make an impact in the game in any way you can.”
The Jazz return to the court, presumably with their starters, Saturday afternoon against Denver.