SALT LAKE CITY – Thanks to the ongoing arms race in the Western Conference, Saturday’s Jazz-Spurs game was less than epic but more than meaningless. Long ago, they were titans in the Western Conference. But time and the Golden State Warriors changed all that.
That doesn’t mean there’s no talent. San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are formidable players. But the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are on a slow burn after being ignored in the All-Star sweepstakes.
Guess who won on Saturday?
The team that loves a reason to be offended.
Rudy Gobert overlooked? Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors in trade rumors? It didn’t affect the Jazz in a negative way. They mistreated San Antonio 125-105. In that sense, it was easy for the Jazz to shrug off their latest slights. As Gobert intimated afterward, results speak for themselves. Asked about facing Aldridge, the player widely considered the one who took his All-Star spot, Gobert had this to say: C’est la vie.
“You know, he’s a very good player and they’re a very good team. So we have to get the win,” he said. “To me, that was the No. 1 thing tonight. I would say, you know, it's a survival-type game — it's about how you impact the game. If he could have 30 and we’d have won by 20, I'd be happy.”
Boy, was he happy.
All-Star or not.
So the Jazz overtook San Antonio for sixth place in an afternoon matinee. In spite of the oddball starting time — does anything important actually happen at 3 p.m.? — this tipoff time seemed to resonate on both sides of the ocean. The early start was a nod to basketball’s popularity in Europe, where the game aired, in real time, at 11 p.m.
It didn’t do too badly in Salt Lake, either, as the game was a sellout.
Because of the preponderance of players from Europe – namely France, Spain, Switzerland, Latvia, Italy and Austria – the contest attracted an unusual number of international media, who were in town for the FIS world championships. They were at Vivint Arena at game time to make their bosses happy.
The Jazz satisfied their own bosses wonderfully. There was speculation a trade deadline hangover would affect the Jazz, even though that’s every team’s problem. But the Jazz shook off a poor shooting first quarter to lock down the Spurs defensively. Royce O’Neale came off the bench to score 17 points for the game.
The Jazz looked every bit the dangerous playoff team they were last season.
A couple of Rubio lobs to Gobert were statement plays that summed up the game: slam dunks. Rubio, who a day earlier had reflected on NBA teams’ tendency to minimize chemistry during the trade deadline, had an answer of his own: 11 points, including 5-of-7 shooting in the first half. He finished with 16 points and six assists.
Meanwhile, Gobert did what he usually does when he feels “disrespected” – a term he used upon learning he hadn’t made the All-Star team but Aldridge had. He logged 21 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. Aldridge had 15 points, 10 rebounds and a block.
“Rudy did an excellent job of not allowing him to get where he wanted to go in the post,” coach Quin Snyder said.Comment on this story
With a 32-24 record, the playoffs are looming more likely by the day for the Jazz, despite the closeness of the conference race. But it’s not a foregone conclusion. The Jazz have 15 wins against apparent playoff teams, with 15 losses. The tail end of the season should be a breeze for the Jazz, with only four of their final 16 games against teams currently in playoff position. Before that, though, they need to watch for falling rocks. Six of their next nine are against playoff-likely teams. Top-shelf teams, in fact: Golden State, Oklahoma City (twice), the Clippers, Denver and Milwaukee.
Coming up Tuesday is a road game against the Warriors. Who knows what kind of lather Gobert, Rubio and friends will work themselves into by then? Snyder can only hope someone tells them they’re overrated.