Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz are a disciplined, hard-playing, and talented group. Unfortunately, they’ve also been bit by the injury bug. Having lost guard Dante Exum to an ACL tear as he prepared for FIBA Oceania before the NBA season began, and finding themselves without three more players (Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert) who had accounted for nearly 40 points per game this season, to stop the Spurs from improving to 21-0 in San Antonio was too much to ask on this night. The Spurs rolled to victory, shooting 60 percent from the field and handing out 34 assists. A season high eight Spurs scored in double figures and the team topped 120 points for a third straight game.
Considering the score, some of the games within the game were more interesting than the contest itself. Here’s a look at a few.
The Difference a Year Makes
Exactly one year ago, on January 6, 2015, the Spurs suffered a one point defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons on a last-second Brandon Jennings runner. The loss dropped the Spurs to 21-15 and, as every Spurs fan remembers, became just one of several that put the Spurs behind the eight ball in the Western Conference and eventually contributed to their ending up the sixth seed.
One year later, the Spurs are sitting pretty with the second best record in the league behind the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Just as important is how they’ve done it, accumulating wins while keeping to the maintenance plan their coach prefers. Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge, for instance, sat against the Jazz.
Last season, the competition in the West and injuries to Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter forced Gregg Popovich to extend the minutes of his healthy stars, including the oldest. By January 6, 2015, Tim Duncan had already played 984 minutes, including three games of 40+ minutes in a week, from December 12 to December 19 (all overtime losses, including consecutive triple-overtime losses to Memphis and Portland).
This year, Duncan has played just 810 minutes through January 6. He has only cracked 35 minutes twice and was recently given an entire week off, resting after a Christmas Day game in Houston until January 2. He went scoreless in 14 minutes in his first game back, then averaged 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists on nearly 60 percent shooting in the two games since. His 18 points against Utah were good for his season high.
There is still a long and winding season ahead, but health (knock wood), depth and a favorable start have thus far allowed the Spurs to win while getting the rest they believe necessary to playoff longevity. It is a luxury they could not afford just a year ago.
The Secret Weapon
Speaking of depth, the million dollar man has become an invaluable asset. David West has started seven games for the Spurs in place of Duncan or, as was the case against Utah, Aldridge. The Spurs are 7-0 in those games.
His game of elbow jumpers, crafty passes, and hard-nosed (if sometimes undersized) defense doesn’t always stand out, but that’s a testament to how well he’s fitting in.
On Wednesday night West also set season highs as he went for 14 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists on 7-of-8 shooting.
Clash of the Titans
The Spurs’ meeting with the Jazz provided a rare opportunity for fans to see two 7’3″ centers go against each other as San Antonio’s Boban Marjanovic squared off against Utah’s Tibor Pleiss, of Germany. The two had a nice battle as both big men showed touch and footwork to go with their extraordinary height.
Overall, Marjanovic took a slight edge. He went 5-of-7 for 13 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes to Pleiss’s 3-of-7 for eight points and two rebounds in 24 minutes.
But more than that, Marjanovic gets the edge for a moment that will not show up in the state sheet. With about two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Marjanovic posted up and overwhelmed Pleiss to the point that all the Jazz center could do was wrap his arms around the Spurs’ big man in what I like to call “prom picture” defense:
In fairness, it appears there may have been some typical fudging of the numbers. Though listed at 7’3″, Pleiss looked to be at least a hair shorter than Marjanovic. Pleiss certainly seemed to think so judging from his comments to reporters after the game.
In the interest of full disclosure, Marjanovic did have a dunk attempt blocked at the rim, only not by Pleiss. The Jazz also employ the 7-foot Jeff Withey, who shared time on Marjanovic and came up with the block. I can only assume it was a strange and foreign experience for the Serbian.
Whatever the exact measurements, Wednesday night’s matchup featured no less than three 7-footers on the court in an NBA game in 2016. Take that, small ball.