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Analysis: Jazz cough up lead as Gregg Popovich becomes winningest coach in NBA history

Gregg Popovich now has more wins than any other coach in NBA history with 1,336

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is hugged by guard Dejounte Murray

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, right, is hugged by guard Dejounte Murray during the team’s NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Friday, March 11, 2022, in San Antonio. San Antonio won, making Popovich the winningest coach in NBA regular-season history.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — The Utah Jazz lost to the San Antonio Spurs 104-102. Despite having a 15-point fourth-quarter lead the Jazz were bested by the Spurs as San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich entered a new realm of NBA royalty.

There might be some people who will look at the Spurs record and the fact that the Jazz had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and call this a bad loss. That would be a very fair assessment of this game. You could also look at this one as an intense defensive game in which the Jazz were missing one of their biggest offensive weapons in Bojan Bogdanovic (leg contusion).

High notes

  • Gregg Popovich became the NBA’s winningest coach on Friday night and now has 1,336 regular season wins to his name, more than any other coach in NBA history. The way that his team reacted when the final buzzer sounded, you can tell that they have been dying for the moment to be able to celebrate this feat with Popovich. I realize that the Spurs had lost five of their last six heading into Friday night and that makes the loss look a little worse from a Jazz perspective, but I feel like that made the Spurs a little more desperate. They were playing toward something a lot more joyful and important than just a run of the mill regular season win, and I don’t think that can be taken lightly.

As for Popovich’s accomplishment, there are few that are as deserving and even if it was a tight game against the middle-of-the-pack Jazz, it was really cool. 
“Gregg Popovich’s success with the Spurs is unprecedented in our league so it’s only fitting that he now holds the record for most career wins. His leadership and unwavering commitment to the game are widely admired by generations of players and coaches alike. Congratulations to Coach Pop on this latest achievement in his legendary career.” — NBA commissioner Adam Silver

  • There is going to be a point very soon in which we look back on this season and evaluate Donovan Mitchell and I think that it’s going to be pretty easy to call this the best season of his career, despite missed time and despite the Jazz not winning as much as they did last season. His 3-point efficiency has been down this season, but he’s been more efficient and more lethal on the floor and in finding ways to get to the rim. It also seems like he’s more often than not having games where he’s doing a little bit of everything rather than relying on his scoring ability, and I think he’s taken a step on the defensive end. On Friday night against the Spurs he finished with 24 points to go with six assists and seven rebounds. He was fantastic for the Jazz in the first half, but with that being said, there were some issues in the second half.

  • There are going to be a lot of people that are worried about Mike Conley because offensively he has been off. I’m not going to pretend like that hasn’t been a thing. Conley has admitted that he’s had some tough games and we all know that it’s happening. But Conley is pretty much the last guy that I’m worried about getting stuck in a slump on this Jazz team. What’s more is that Conley always finds a way to impact a game, even when he isn’t scoring. He had an excellent defensive game against the Spurs, racking up five steals,  dishing out five assists and grabbing five rebounds. 

Low notes

  • Like I said above, Mitchell was pretty fantastic in the first half but couldn’t seem to find any sort of offensive rhythm in the second half, scoring just six of his 24 points in the final 24 minutes of play. If we are looking forward to the playoffs, which we should be, teams are going to constantly try to neutralize Mitchell and he has to be able to find a way to be productive despite anything that the other team throws the Jazz’s way.
  • The Jazz’s spacing with Trent Forrest in the lineup, when he is initiating offense and has the ball in his hands, is really great. It usually means that two other guys like Mitchell and Royce O’Neale, great shooters, are the players that are deep in the corners and it opens the floor up so much. Forrest is long and athletic and has the ability to get a first step on guys and score in the paint and he’s a great playmaker. But, when Forrest isn’t the one with the ball in his hands and it’s Mitchell who is initiating things, the opposing teams know that they don’t have to guard Forrest in the corners or anywhere on the perimeter. 

Flat notes

  • So, I know I said that this game can be looked at through two different lenses, but at the end of the day, the Jazz lost another late-game lead against another inferior opponent and it’s getting harder and harder to not add those up and think that it’s going to hurt the Jazz when games really count. They don’t have much longer to figure out how to maintain a lead and it feels like everything has been said and they just have to find a way to make it happen, or not.
  • It’s the little mistakes, the small things that you come away from games like this wishing that you had back. A bad offensive board battle here, a missed defensive rotation there and all the ticky tack fouls that added up to 43 free-throw attempts for the Spurs (compared to just 23 for the Jazz).
    “Giving up a free-throw rebound ... there’s some things like that, that we can control. And there’s going to be times too when a team is on a roll offensively, and we can score a little bit more. I don’t know if there’s just one thing — I mentioned the pick-and-roll (defense), mentioned the free throw blockouts, there was the clear path foul that gave them a boost, Rudy’s offensive foul gave them a boost. I thought we fouled too much.” — Jazz head coach Quin Snyder