Early on, the Jazz seemed content to prove Popovich a brilliant strategist. The team went scoreless in the opening four minutes of the game and struggled to defend Spurs center DeJuan Blair, who scored 11 points in the first quarter. In a sloppy display of back-to-back basketball, neither team had the ability to build a substantial lead. Thanks to the poor play of the Jazz, the makeshift Spurs – in the absence of their stars – kept the game close for most of the night.
“It wasn’t pretty for [the first] three quarters, but we fought it out,” said Jazz point guard Devin Harris of the game’s uninspiring beginning.
In the second half of the game, San Antonio looked determined to put the Jazz away. The intensity of the game increased significantly in the third quarter as the Spurs mounted a well-rounded, 24-point attack. Led by Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter, San Antonio carried an impressive 15-5 scoring run into the fourth quarter where they opened up a substantial lead over the Jazz.
The Jazz, on the other hand, struggled on both ends of the floor to begin the game’s final quarter. Utah’s offense all but disappeared as they began settling for long, low-percentage jump shots. Determined not to lose, Devin Harris re-entered the game and demonstrated an extremely aggressive style of play. He repeatedly drove the lane, drawing fouls and putting up points. Harris finished the game with a team-high 25 points and 6 assists. The Jazz also demonstrated increased defensive intensity in the fourth quarter, blocking five shots and forcing 2 turnovers. Utah ended the game with a very productive scoring run. With back-to-back buckets in the final two minutes, a highly-motivated Paul Millsap sealed the team’s victory.
“It was kind of a slap in our face that they’re not playing three of their top guys,” said Millsap following the game. “It was important that we came out and got this win… I think that was the little motivation that put us over the hump.”
With the win, the Jazz caused the Spurs to fall from their spot as the leading team in the Western Conference, and showed that they deserve the respect of their opponents. More importantly, they kept their playoff hopes alive. With eight games left in the regular season, the Jazz remain a game and a half outside of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The team begins a three-game road trip against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.