SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn’t like San Antonio was resting any of its main players as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili were all on hand. It wasn’t like the Spurs were tired, having had two days to rest since their last game.
No, there were no excuses for the defending world champions, who were beaten decisively by the Utah Jazz, who took it to the Spurs with a convincing 90-81 victory Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Nine points might not sound that convincing, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich basically threw in the towel with 4:12 left in the game and his team trailing by 15 points. That’s when the Big Four were replaced by the likes of Reggie Williams, Cory Joseph and Jeff Ayres.
Pop certainly acted impressed by the Jazz after the whipping.
“I think they were great,’’ he said. “They played unselfishly. They believe in each other. I thought they were tremendous. It was fun to watch."
Trey Burke came off the bench to lead the Jazz with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, Gordon Hayward scored 18 points, including 10-of-11 from the free-throw line, Derrick Favors had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds while new starting center Rudy Gobert led the team with 14 rebounds while scoring seven points.
But it wasn’t the offense coach Quin Snyder was talking about after the victory. It was something he’s been talking about all season — defense.
“Everybody’s been doing their job,’’ he said. “Rudy’s been very good, but it’s more than Rudy. Dante Exum was terrific on the pick-and-roll defense, terrific … Elijah (Millsap) … Gordon had a stunt tonight, a big play that took away a 3-point shot … Trey’s working hard … everybody’s trying to do their part.’’
It may have been an off-night for some of the Spurs, but it very well could have been caused by Utah’s defense, which has been excellent of late.
Duncan was the only Spurs starter in double figures with 14 points, as Leonard only managed eight points and Parker scored just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Ginobili was only slightly better, going 3-for-9 for eight points.
Duncan, who was blocked by Gobert a couple of times in the first quarter and almost seemed intimidated by his length much of the night, was complimentary of the second-year center afterwards.
“He affects it a lot,’’ Duncan said. “He is a rim protector and a shot blocker and he cleans up a lot of people’s mistakes. He has been great for them. He’s improving.’’
Popovich also praised Gobert, saying, “He’s a long drink of water. He changes shots, he always affects a game.’’
Hayward believes the Jazz have been playing good defense since their upset win in Chicago in early January and is also happy about the unselfishness of the team.
“It’s been a pretty good stretch for us for sure,’’ Hayward said. “We played very well defensively and played well as a team both offensively and defensively and it was fun out there. When the ball’s moving and everybody’s getting a touch and people aren’t playing selfishly the game is easy and simple and also fun. It’s rewarding.’’
The Jazz took it to the Spurs from the start and never let up. They had a bunch of highlights in the first quarter, headed by Gobert who had nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the first quarter alone.
The Jazz’s most exciting early sequence came when Favors came out of nowhere to block Duncan who thought he had a clear path after getting by Gobert. At the other end, Hayward found Favors on a no-look pass for a dunk. Then the Jazz forced another turnover and Joe Ingles hit Gobert on the run for another dunk. On the next Spurs possession, Exum stole the ball and hit Ingles, who went all the way for a layup.
Just like that, the Jazz turned an 8-7 deficit into a 13-8 lead that they never lost. The lead was 28-22 after the first quarter, 47-40 at halftime and 73-64 after three.
Burke and Millsap started the fourth quarter off with baskets off drives, and Gobert scored off a nice alley-oop pass from Millsap to push the lead to 79-66, and the Jazz coasted from there.
It wasn’t a great shooting night for the Jazz, who shot just 41 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from 3-point range on 4-of-15, but thanks to stingy defense it was enough for a big win.
Next up for the Jazz is a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, followed by a quick trip to Denver Friday night and a home game Saturday against Milwaukee.