San Antonio Spurs Take Winning Act on the Road, Land a Resounding Punch
The San Antonio Spurs did it from everywhere and with everyone.
No one could blame owner Peter Holt if he petitioned the league office to change the team’s name after this trenchant triumph. How about the San Antonio Surgeons? The San Antonio Sluggers?
A 3-0 series lead in the Alamo City tastes better than fresh guacamole on a plate of puffy tacos. In Salt Lake City, where the hyped home fans began the night with a roar then headed for the exits late bellowing defeated boos, the cooked Jazz smell like burnt toast and raw, rotting meat.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Dinner bell.
Mayweather landed 176 punches to Cotto’s 105 in Saturday’s ballyhooed fight, yet some boxing followers still wanted to debate the outcome. The Spurs made sure no discussion was necessary after a third straight trouncing of a squad that has not been able to stand long enough to respond with a resonating rap.
For all the Jazz’s ameliorated efforts and adjustments and the crowd’s caterwauling, the Spurs never trailed by more than three in a tight first half.
Utah’s best performance in a lopsided best-of-seven match concluded with a 12-point deficit and odds no NBA unit has ever overcome.
The Oklahoma City Thunder turned a potential fatiguing dust up with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks into a sobering sweep. A few hours later, the team that passed them in the standings to swipe the Western Conference’s top seed answered one of the final lingering questions about its ability to win four playoff rounds en route to a fifth title.
This silver and black group, unlike last year’s, recorded a playoff road victory. For all the talk about how close the fateful six-game slog against the Grizzlies was last spring, the Spurs did not win any of the three contests staged at the FedEx Forum.
Any team with championship aspirations should know what to do and how to execute on both ends in an opponent’s gym.
Is there any doubt now that this bunch has learned from its 2011 missteps?
Manu Ginobili checked in with 6:32 left in the first period and converted a signature herky-jerk reverse layup 11 seconds later.
Devin Harris drilled a tough turnaround jumper, but Tony Parker responded promptly by probing a Utah defense hemorrhaging paint points to find rookie Kawhi Leonard for a floater.
Ginobili connected with Tiago Splitter for an unmolested layup. Gary Neal nailed a pair of three-pointers in the final 1:45 of the opening quarter.
Just when Tyrone Corbin thought his overmatched team would head to the locker room with its first halftime advantage, his Coach of the Year counterpart Gregg Popovich drew up a gorgeous play to get Matt Bonner a wide-open corner triple.
As Spurs radio play-by-play announcer Bill Schoenig would say, "splash." All that work by the Jazz, and the Spurs still led 52-50.
There were reasons to catechize Leonard and Danny Green’s playoff inexperience. The former spent the previous spring enveloped in March Madness with San Diego State. The latter was drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers but dumped a year and a half later and demoted to the D-League.
Leonard logged just 15 minutes, but he was stoic and effective on defense. Green added 14 points and was one of five Spurs in double figures.
For the first time in this three-game drubbing of eighth-seeded Utah, San Antonio needed Splitter’s size and persistence. He was valuable beyond measure. Forget the box score. He changed shots and connected on five of his seven attempts.
Each time the Jazz tried to mount a successful rally, Stephen Jackson deflated the crowd and silenced Utah’s fading hopes by dialing long distance.
Al Jefferson’s jumper, Derrick Favors’ relentless energy, a breakout from Alec Burks and Harris’s early onslaught kept the Jazz in contact for a while.
Not close. No cigar.
Favors was just 5-of-14 from the field. Gordon Hayward clanged nine of his 10 shots. Paul Millsap was 4-of-12. Harris cooled after a scalding start.
Remember when pundits thought the Jazz could exploit the Spurs with an imposing interior attack?
San Antonio wrecked Utah on Saturday with a workman-like 50-28 advantage in points in the paint. I could post the series figure that heavily favors the Spurs, but I’ll save the Jazz the additional humiliation.
Green and Jackson turned a two-point affair into a double-digit flogging. A better than advertised San Antonio defense transformed a potential shootout into an act of suffocation.
Parker then finished the job with 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter.
With each Spurs bucket, the Jazz faithful seemed to lose more faith in their favorite squad’s ability to make this a competitive tussle.
Instead, the team entrenched in its redemption quest once again threw all the punches that mattered.
When the buzzer sounded and brought the proceedings to a merciful conclusion, Energy Solutions Arena looked emptier than a Wedding Chapel on Super Bowl Sunday.
Even Cotto could not dispute the result of San Antonio’s probable knockout blow.
Ginobili registered 10 assists, Duncan tallied 17 points and Parker sliced up the Jazz like a heart surgeon cutting straight to a patient’s aorta. Instead of trying to repair Utah’s ticker, though, the Parisian paint piranha ripped it out in front of a sold-out crowd.
Last year, Zach Randolph blocked the Spurs best chance to steal one near Beale Street with a last-second three. He swished the improbable shot despite Duncan running at him and the game’s momentum favoring San Antonio.
With Memphis up just two points then, Z-Bo’s trey crushed the top-seeded Spurs best chance to rally their way to the second round.
This year’s Spurs were having none of that.
Popovich’s squad has lapped Utah and can close out an eighth-place team that looks like one as soon as Monday.
Moments after Mayweather dispatched Cotto, the Spurs decked the Jazz and any notion of another No. 8 vs. No. 1 upset.
No more music from the underdogs in Salt Lake City. No more reasons to wonder if this squad is ready to compete at the Staples Center, FedEx Forum or Chesapeake Energy Arena when it counts.
Here come those Spurs. All of them.
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