San Antonio 87, at Utah 81 (San Antonio wins 4-0)
Offensive Ratings: San Antonio 96.2, Utah 88.4
The decisive Game Four between the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz was really two different games, depending on whether the Jazz had its vaunted big lineup on the floor. Facing elimination, Tyrone Corbin went all-in on Paul Millsap at small forward, moving Derrick Favors into the starting lineup alongside Millsap and Al Jefferson. He played the group more than 30 minutes together, which is about the most possible without riding all three into the ground. (As it was, Jefferson and Millsap both played more than 40 minutes; Favors played 37.) And, after struggling in this series, they succeeded spectacularly. With the big lineup on the floor, Utah outscored San Antonio 64-49.
The problem for the Jazz was the other 18 minutes, during which the team scored just 17 points and surrendered 38 to the Spurs, undoing all the good work done by the big lineup and more. With the notable exception of DeMarre Carroll, who did not play until late in the first half finished the game at shooting guard with Gordon Hayward slumping badly offensively, Utah's reserves just couldn't score. Including an 0-for-8 shooting night by Alec Burks, the other Jazz bench players combined for four points on 2-of-15 from the field.
Of course, those numbers also had something to do with Manu Ginobili, who snapped out of a series-long scoring slump in a big way. When the Jazz closed within three on a 10-0 run late in the third quarter, Ginobili answered with a pair of three-pointers to push the lead back to 10 at period's end. Ginobili had another triple as the Spurs went up by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter before Utah made one last push to extend its season.
Over a stretch of more than six and a half minutes, San Antonio missed all six of its shot attempts, turned the ball over three times and missed a pair of free throws, getting only two foul shots from Gary Neal in that span. A 19-2 Jazz run cut the deficit to just four with possession before a turnover that was comically bad for everyone but Utah fans turned into a runout at the other direction for a Manu Ginobili layup to put the game and the series away.
The big lineup helped the Jazz slow down the Spurs' offense, but Utah never could score consistently. Just one starter shot better than 50 percent from the field--Al Jefferson, who was terrific offensively inside and out, making 13 of his 19 shot attempts and scoring 26 points. The rest of the Jazz starters shot a combined 28.6 percent (14-of-49). A Utah team that was never an offensive juggernaut needed more production. The Jazz also struggled to overcome the gap between the two teams beyond the arc, which peaked in Game Four. Utah missed all 13 of its triples while San Antonio got 10 threes in 22 attempts from seven different players. Basically, the Spurs were playing an entirely different game on offense than the Jazz, and one that makes it a lot easier to win.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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