SAN ANTONIO – Gregg Popovich, coaching his 182nd playoff game with the Spurs, couldn’t have been more comfortable if he were lying on a raft sipping a cold drink. Ty Corbin, coaching in his first playoff game with the Jazz, was in water over his head.
Not that there weren’t a bevy of other reasons – Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Stephen Jackson – that pushed Utah under in Game 1, but the button-pushing Corbin didn’t help himself when he hit the one labeled “panic” when he changed up his plan of attack.
First, Corbin shifted his team’s look by putting Josh Howard into the starting lineup in place of DeMarre Carroll, who had part of the five-game winning streak that put the Jazz into the playoffs. Corbin said he was looking for playoff experience and reaching back to the days of 2006 and 2009 when Howard played in the postseason for Dallas against the Spurs. Howard didn’t score.
More importantly, Corbin did not use his big lineup of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors long enough to have any effect on the game. We’ll excuse Corbin for making a rookie mistake – he reacted instead of acting. He admitted to allowing Popovich and the Spurs to set the pace and the tone of the game by going small.
“I had to change it a little bit because they went small a couple times, and I didn’t feel good about our big lineup,” he said. “They ran out a little bit on us and then they spread the floor. This team is great at taking advantage of any mistakes.”
The problem is that by letting Popovich dictate strategy, Corbin took the Jazz out of one of their few advantages in the series – size on the front line.
Now, depending on the outcome of an MRI on the left wrist of Tiago Splitter, the Spurs lineup could lose another interior player for Game 2. If Splitter can’t play, it will mean more minutes for 6-foot-8 Boris Diaw,and also more minutes for 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair.
In his playoff opener as a coach, Corbin blinked and it was costly. The odds are already stacked against Utah in the series. They’ll only get worse if the Jazz don’t play their game.