SAN ANTONIO – The Jazz advantage in the series was supposed to be all about their size. They would have to pound on the Spurs, hammer them on the boards and nail them down with defensive toughness.
Better luck next time.
While the Jazz did come away from Game 1 with a 45-39 advantage in rebounding, they also came away with the 106-91 black eye loss because they simply could not keep the Spurs out of the middle.
If it wasn’t Tony Parker slicing through the lane for twisting drives or nifty reverse layups, it was 36-year-old Tim Duncan wheeling and dealing in the paint like he was a kid again or even Boris Diaw rolling across the lane for a hook shot that was unfolded and delivered with the speed of a tugboat in a crowded harbor.
“I call that the Statue of Liberty,” cracked teammate Matt Bonner.
It certainly appeared just as mobile and, hey, after all, it came from France, too.
But the bigger point is the Spurs were able to do everything except build a condominium tower in the lane. They outscored the bigger, bulkier Jazz lineup 58-44 in the paint, the second-highest playoff total in Spurs history. Even more, they scored 48 points inside of five feet from the basket, which is the most by any playoff team in the past two years.
“I didn’t feel good about our big lineup,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “In the second half, I just went with it a little bit to see what we could get. I thought they ran out on us a little bit and they spread the floor.”
“We are learning on the fly,” said forward Paul Millsap.
But the Spurs are too smart, too experienced, too crafty to be treated as a pop quiz. Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili, with 10 championships between them, will pick apart a weak interior defense in their sleep. There is a reason by the Jazz only won one of the four games these teams played during the regular season and that was the night when the Big Three stayed at home instead of making a trip to Salt Lake City.
It’s good to have height and length and bulk and reach. But if the Jazz don’t mix in a good dose of smarts before Game 2, they’ll keep learning that size doesn’t always matter.