Jazz turn defensive in win over SpursJan 29, 2008 - 6:29 AM By Chris Bellamy PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) - Even when the Utah Jazz were struggling, putting points on the board was never the problem. They've been one of the top-five scoring teams in the league all season.
However, it was the defense that led the way for the offense as the Jazz squeaked past the visiting San Antonio Spurs, 97-91, in a rematch of last year's Western Conference Finals on Monday.
Andrei Kirilenko had the hot hand, scoring 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting and Carlos Boozer added 21, seven rebounds and seven assists as the Jazz won their fifth game in a row.
"It's a great day for us. We did a good job playing against a really good team," Carlos Boozer said. "We don't to make too much out of it; it's a step in the right direction and we've got to keep it up so we can maintain where we are."
Kyle Korver's back-breaking 3-pointer with 48 seconds remaining all but sealed the victory for the Jazz as they held off the Spurs' inevitable fourth-quarter rally.
"I thought I'd made the one before, and that one would have been just as big as any other one," Korver said. "It felt good. I thought I made it. I hadn't gotten a shot in a while. When I saw we got (the rebound), I just tried to get ready in case it got kicked out to me, and it did."
But it wasn't Utah's numerous scoring options that kept the pressure on the reigning champions. Instead, the Jazz made their plays on the defensive end, picking up 15 steals and forcing San Antonio into 19 turnovers overall.
"We were being aggressive. With teams like San Antonio, you need to be aggressive," Kirilenko said. "You can't let them feel free on the floor, because they will just destroy you. I think we played pretty aggressive, but I'm tired. It takes a lot of energy."
Despite playing from behind for the length of the game, the Spurs battled to within three points with a chance to pull even midway through the third period. But the Jazz forced turnovers on three straight possessions for San Antonio.
"I think we've done a better job defensively. ... We seem to be helping each other more," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Our big people are doing a better job of trying to do something to help clog up the middle - not blocking shots, but just trying to go after the basketball."
Kirilenko pushed the lead to five with a long jumper from the left wing, then turned right around and snagged a pass from Jacque Vaughn to lead a fastbreak the other way.
After Ronnie Brewer followed a miss by Deron Williams with a dunk, Kirilenko picked the Spurs' pocket once again, jumping in front of an errant pass from Manu Ginobili and finishing with a reverse dunk.
Suddenly, what looked like another comeback for San Antonio had turned back into a double-digit lead for Utah.
"They're aggressive. They're physical. They do a good job, we know that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Down the stretch, making shots is a huge, huge, huge part of the NBA, and we didn't make shots and they did."
The Spurs came roaring back in the fourth quarter, as Ginobili scored 16 of his game-high 29 in the final period. He had six straight for the Spurs at one point, burying a 3-pointer, driving in for a layup and adding a technical free throw to cut his club's deficit to just two.
After Korver's 3-point bucket, Ginobili added another pair of foul shots, but the Jazz answered once again.
Williams, who dished out 14 assists and had four steals, drove into the middle of the lane and kicked it out to the baseline, where an open Matt Harpring was waiting and buried a 19-footer to make it 97-91 with just 25 seconds left.
"Down the stretch we played pretty well actually. We didn't in the first half and it's been happening kind of often," Ginobili said. "It's something we really need to improve against the better teams."
After struggling through a putrid December that included six straight losses at one point, the Jazz have won 11 of their last 13 to charge right back into the playoff hunt - and the race for the Northwest Division crown.
With Denver's loss to New Orleans on Monday, the Jazz officially climbed back into first place.
Monday's victory was Utah's third straight home win over San Antonio in the regular season. On the other hand, the Jazz have dropped 16 straight to the Spurs on the road.
Tim Duncan added 26 points for the Spurs, while leading scorer Tony Parker was limited to just five on 1-of-7 shooting.
SAN ANTONIO 91
UTAH 97 FINAL
Jan 28 11:28 PM
SAN ANTONIO 66
UTAH 76 END, 3RD QTR
Jan 28 10:51 PM
SAN ANTONIO 45
UTAH 55 HALFTIME
Jan 28 10:07 PM
SAN ANTONIO 19
UTAH 27 END, 1ST QTR
Jan 28 9:32 PM
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