SALT LAKE CITY — The San Antonio Spurs are fighting for their playoff lives and the Utah Jazz went into Friday’s midday matchup without four of their starters, so the result of the game was never really in question.
The Spurs won, 119-111, but the Jazz reserves put up more of a fight than many may have expected, with a few of the third-string players standing out.
“They just competed,” coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s kind of our expectation for our whole group, whoever is on the floor. That’s what they expect of each other.”
Prior to the game Snyder was asked about the rash of injuries listed as reasons for Mike Conley (right knee soreness), Donovan Mitchell (left peroneal strain), and Royce O’Neale (right calf soreness) not playing in the first game of a back-to-back set and the coach skirted by the question only indicating that there are plenty of players with “nicks” at this point in the restarted season. Though he didn’t go into detail, Snyder gave no indication that any of the injuries were serious concerns.
With Rudy Gobert resting alongside the other three starters, that left a window open to get a more extended look at some of the young players who rarely get NBA minutes.
Some of the performances were expected. Rayjon Tucker’s athleticism and speed were on full display as he leaped for high passes, sprinted in from the perimeter for a free-throw rebound and hustled to save balls flying out of bounds. Tony Bradley settled in as the game progressed and came away with a solid 15 points, matching his career high, to go along with 11 rebounds.
But, it was rookies Miye Oni and Jarrell Brantley who showed the most patience and diversified skillsets in the Jazz’s fifth seeding game in the bubble.
“I thought Miye, at the beginning of the game, his defensive effort, his presence and Jarrell as well, those guys on the defensive end really set a tone.” — Jazz coach Quin Snyder
“I thought Miye, at the beginning of the game, his defensive effort, his presence and Jarrell as well, those guys on the defensive end really set a tone,” Snyder said. “To come into the game and have the willingness to get out and compete on defense and let the game come to you, that’s a formula for opportunity and those two guys got it and made the most of it.”
Oni finished with a career-high 14 points, shooting 2-of-4 from the 3-point line and showed his ability to get crafty in driving lanes and playing through contact, getting four of his points at the free-throw line.
Brantley, in 23 minutes off the bench, gave a solid overall view of what he has to offer on both ends of the floor, guarding multiple positions with quick hands, shooting from beyond the arc and facilitating with a level of unselfishness not often seen from young players. He finished the game with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“They’ve all been working regardless, going to the gym a lot, practicing, playing,” Jordan Clarkson said of the young guys on the Jazz roster. “Miye did a good job catching everything in the flow, a lot of catch-and-shoot opportunities for him. It was just good experience for all those guys, just to get out there and get in the flow of an NBA game.”
While the Jazz front office has been able to evaluate and look at some of these developing players throughout their time with the SLC Stars, the minutes they get against NBA-level competition often comes in short spurts, or in the final minutes of a game that has already been decided. So, the chance to get a look at the rookies and low-minute players, in a full game, against an NBA team that needs the win, is a great opportunity no matter how you slice it.
“We’ve been evaluating them for a while,” Snyder said. “That’s why they are on our roster. That’s why we are working with them. That’s why they are competing.”
Rookie Juwan Morgan, who has been a part of the Jazz’s rotation more lately, coming in when foul trouble or matchups allow him to have a few minutes here and there, unfortunately left the game in the fourth quarter after coming down strange on his right leg while fighting for a rebound in traffic.
Morgan didn’t look to be able to put much weight on the leg as he limped to the sideline and was helped to the locker room. The Jazz didn’t have an update on the injury but Snyder did express how unfortunate the situation was.
“Anytime you get a player or a guy like that that has worked his way into the rotation, has really improved, to see him take an injury like that, it hurts and it hurts most of all for him because he’s worked so hard,” he said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed and praying that he’s going to be alright, but right now we don’t know.”
The Jazz will finish off the back-to-back set against Denver on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MDT.