The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz to improve to 11-22 on the season. The Spurs controlled the game for a majority of the night and held on following a late rally by the Jazz, who fell to 19-17.
Utah trailed by 20 points late in the third quarter before staging their comeback. While they were able to get within three points in the fourth quarter, the Spurs did just enough to win by a final count of 126-122 in front of their home fans in the AT&T Center.
Overall, I thought the Spurs should be pleased with how they played. They competed on both ends and won the game despite only hitting six three-pointers. You don’t see that much in 2022 — but that statistic is a testament to how passionate and determined they were about taking the ball to the basket and doing what they needed to do to get the victory.
Final Grades: Spurs vs. Jazz
Johnson was really impressive in the first half. He kept the Spurs humming with his relentless pursuit of the rim and went into halftime with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Johnson was much more subdued in the second half. I’m not sure if he was tired but he was doing less and less as the game progressed. In the fourth quarter, he shot only once and went scoreless. While his fourth quarter disappearing act was concerning, the good news is he wasn’t forcing the issue on offense and was still trying on defense.
Don’t let Vassell’s wayward accuracy confuse you — he was really good against the Jazz. He hit only 8-of-22 from the field, 2-of-7 from deep and 6-of-9 from the free throw line. However, Vassell hit difficult shots and was making great decisions when it mattered most. He also handed out a career-high eight assists. Vassell’s passing wasn’t fancy but it was undoubtedly effective. Defensively, he rebounded the ball and his hyperactive ways on that end show up in the box score by way of his two blocks and two steals.
Poeltl’s doesn’t look like he’s 100% back physically following his knee injury but he’s getting really close. Versus the Jazz, he was amazingly productive. In 24 minutes, he poured in 16 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals. He also only turned it over once, only fouled twice, didn’t miss a shot from the field and hit 80% at the line. Poeltl’s unmistakable size and length in the paint paid dividends on both ends.
Jones was having a relatively quiet evening until the game’s final 35 seconds. That’s when, with the Jazz getting within three points, he scored San Antonio’s last two baskets to put the game on ice. Jones found mismatches and was able to finish off Utah in the lane. Beyond the late flurry, Jones wasn’t spectacular but he was impactful. His passing was heady, he helped out on the boards and he limited his mistakes in all aspects of the game.
After scoring in double figures in each of his previous three outings, Sochan wasn’t quite as active against the Jazz. He had a few quality moves and a couple smart passes but he was more passive than we’ve seen him on that end. Defensively, Sochan was mostly a force for good. Lauri Markkanen got him a few times with vet moves but the rookie did well to contest shots without fouling. I also thought his rotations and switches were smoother than usual.
Branham’s post-Mexico explosion continues. Tonight versus Utah, the rookie scored a career-high 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, 2-for-4 shooting from three-point territory and 4-for-4 shooting at the line. When he put his mind to it, the Jazz had virtually no answer for Branham. His fluidity, coordination and quick release were all impressive. He also ran a lot of point guard and didn’t have many issues in that area. When Branham looks to call his own number, he can effortlessly score. Let’s hope he feels more and more confident as his rookie season goes along.
The good: Collins was burly in the paint. He was defending the rim well, boxing out with a mean streak and rebounding everything his fingers could touch. Not only was his interior defense good, he was much better than usual out on the perimeter. Offensively, Collins did really well. He rolled with purpose and finished with authoritative moves. The bad: Collins hit only 2-of-6 free throws and fouled out in 23 minutes. That said, while it’s never a positive to foul out, at least most of his fouls tonight were a result of him being aggressive and not simply Collins making a mistake or unwisely reaching.
McDermott wasn’t bashful. He fired off ten shots in 18 minutes — and I liked all of his looks. His movement was helping the offense and the bench rallied behind his electricity. Defensively, McDermott was more physical than usual and even had a couple of positive plays on that end.
This was easily Johnson’s worst game in Silver and Black. He had a team-high three turnovers in only 14 minutes, as he was holding onto the ball too much and his decision-making was sub par. On the other side of the coin, Johnson provided undying effort and physicality on defense. His ball-handling ability was also helpful at times and I like that he plays with a self-assuredness — even when he doesn’t really know what he should be doing quite yet.
Bates-Diop got a quick cameo in the second half. He was helpful in transition a couple times but didn’t move the needle much at all.
For whatever reason, Pop was extra motivated this game. He was barking defensive orders all night long and didn’t allow his team to slack off on either end. The Spurs definitely responded to their coach’s prodding. I really liked Pop’s rotation, particularly leaning on Branham and Sochan so much. Pop allowing Branham to run the show for long stretches in the fourth could do wonders for the rookie’s confidence going forward.