By Will Stevenson
Of all the games on the schedule, the Sunday afternoon matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and the Utah Jazz was one of the most intriguing games of the day. The Spurs came into this game going 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Jazz were 5-5 in their last 10, holding a slight edge over the LA Clippers for the 4th seed and home court advantage in the the first round of the playoffs.
The Jazz were missing two of their key starters, George Hill and Derrick Favors. With Dante Exum starting at the point, the Spurs were able to be aggressive in their backcourt. I saw something I haven’t seen in a while for the Spurs: An offensively aggressive Tony Parker. Parker continously drove the paint while the taller Exum was guarding him. Whether it was an isolation at the top of the key, or in a pick and roll situation, Parker drove the lane and got to the free throw line, going 7 for 9 from the stripe and ending up with 21 points. Johnathan Simmons gave the Spurs a huge boost off the bench, scoring 17 points in minutes. Of course, the night belonged to Kawhi Leonard as he bested the matchup between he and Gordon Hayward, totaling 25-4-7. Leonard was hitting threes, running the pick and roll, posting up, coming off screens and hitting fall-away jumpers. With LaMarcus Aldridge out of the lineup, the spurs leaned on the play of Parker and their youngsters: Bertans poured in 11 points, Bryn Forbes had 8 points and Kyle Anderson had 8 rebounds.
The Jazz were off with their defense for most of the night. Gordon Hayward struggled throughtout the night, only finishing with 16 points. Exum and guard Rodney Hood combined for 12 points on 5 of 16 shooting, with Hood sporting a plus/minus number of -12. Guard Shelvin Mack and Boris Diaw were able to keep the Jazz in the game during the second half. At one point, Boris Diaw was the center of the offense as he was able to score at will with jumpers, runners and post play.
The Jazz are looked at as an up and coming team in the Western Conference this year. Their defense is stout in this run and gun league, but their offense comes and goes as their young players look to assert themselves into playoff basketball.