SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs secured a much-needed 119-111 win over Utah to keep pace in a tight playoff race, taking care of business against a shorthanded Jazz team on Friday afternoon.
This story will be updated with live highlights, play-by-play and analysis. Follow along on Twitter @bigfunpod for up to the minute coverage.
Utah is playing without Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Royce O'Neale, and Bojan Bogdanovic, who are five of their top players.
San Antonio's young core has shown promising development and some growing pains in the bubble so far, and they'll need a solid performance. A win today would put San Antonio within striking distance of the eighth and ninth seeds, while a loss could basically drop them out of contention.
First Quarter: Spurs take 36-27 lead
On the first play of the game, Derrick white had an opportunity to shoot an open catch-and-shoot three. He passed it up, drove, tried to tiptoe the baseline, and turned it over. It was not a mistake he made again. White scored eight of the first 15 for the Spurs as they jumped out to a 15-6 lead.
Jakob Poeltl finished a few times as the roll man, Dejounte Murray got a few buckets, and the Jazz reserves couldn't score until San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson checked in.
Birthday boy DeMar DeRozan got in his bag and got to his spots, and the Spurs built a 29-17 lead with just over 3 minutes left in the first.
Sharpshooter Marco Belinelli drilled a few three pointers with his signature off-ball movement, and the Spurs took a 36-27 lead into the second quarter.
Second Quarter: Spurs lead 60-50 at halftime
Derrick White opened the second period attacking the rim, first for an and-1 layup, then for a dunk. He got a steal on the other end and led a break that ended in two free throws for Marco.
Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson were the best players on the court for the Jazz by far, and they combined for 29 of Utah's first 50. Ingles shot 4-5 from three out of the gate, and Clarkson finished the half with a game-high 17.
The Jazz stayed within reach and chipped away at the lead, and center Jakob Poeltl continued his troubling trend of not finishing strong around the rim. He did finish some though, and finished the half with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Utah cut it to 6, but the Spurs extended the lead to 60-50 at halftime.
Third Quarter: Spurs build 96-84 lead
Lonnie opened the second half with a huge dunk off an nifty back cut, taking the pass from DeMar in stride.
He got a rebound on the other end, went coast to coast, probed, passed to Poeltl, took a dribble handoff from him, drove, and kicked to Derrick for three. White got to the line on the next possession and hit the free throws.
Jordan Clarkson kept the Jazz in it, hitting a three through a foul by Derrick, and then drilling another.
Walker missed an open three, but Poeltl cleaned the offensive glass. When Walker cut backdoor, Poeltl hit him with the pass and Lonnie hit the layup and-1.
The Jazz got close with some hot outside shooting, but the Spurs extended the lead.
Rudy Gay scored five quick points, then hit Poeltl down low when he got in position under the basket. Poeltl punched it home to give the Spurs a 14-point lead, and Gay scored another quick five.
The Spurs led by 12 with 12 minutes to play. Utah shot 13-26 from three, while the Spurs hit 7-17. San Antonio outscored the Jazz 52-28 in the paint, behind 17 from Poeltl.
Fourth Quarter: Spurs win 119-111
The Jazz opened the fourth on an 11-5 run to cut the lead to 6, but Lonnie Walker IV pushed them back. He hit a tough driving layup high off the window, then stepped back for a corner three.
The Jazz continued to stay in the game with their outside shooting. Rudy Gay stepped up for a massive hammer dunk, but Utah wouldn't go away.
With two minutes left, the Spurs led by just 7 points. Coach Popovich rolled with Derrick, Lonnie, DeMar, Keldon, and Rudy. White drilled a late clock three to push the lead to 10.
San Antonio closed it out down the stretch and won 119-111.
Jakob Poeltl finished with a season-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds. After the game, Coach Popovich said that the coaching staff has been encouraging him to play a bit stronger around the rim.
"We're trying to get him to be a little bit more forceful rather than tactile, letting the ball come off his fingertips, giving other athletic guys a chance to get to the ball," Popovich said. "He's in positions where he can dunk a lot more, and take away all the doubt."
After the game, Poeltl said that he wanted to redeem himself after a few off games, and that he had an easier time in the paint because it was less packed than it had been against Denver and Philadelphia. He credited all of the teammates who set him up and told him to assert himself, especially Rudy Gay, who connected with him on a few high-low looks.
"He's always telling me to be more aggressive, to look for my own shots," he said. "He keeps mentioning to me in timeouts too that if he catches it at the top, to duck in and he's gonna look for me, so he's really looking out for me."
Gay wasn't the only one, as Derrick, Dejounte, Lonnie, and DeMar all seem to love running pick and roll with the Austrian big man.
"With their defense, they decided to step up and take away our guards in the pick and roll. They found me on some easy rolls, I got some momentum going and could go and finish at the rim," Poeltl said.
Overall, it was a strong performance by Poeltl and all of the young players.
"This is all about development for us," Popovich said. "The young guys get evaluated, we see them playing together, they get more minutes, and we get to determine how valuable they are, and if those are the guys we want to move forward with."
"I think they've come along very well, I especially like DJ and Derrick playing together, we get to see Lonnie playing more minutes and figuring out how to play basketball with his teammates, you see somebody like Keldon Johnson getting time and getting out on the court, and that's great," Popovich said.
Derrick is another guy who Pop has been trying to instill confidence in. White said after the game that this was as confident as he's been about seeking out his own three-point shot. He hit 4-9 in this game, moving him to 15-32 in the bubble. White led the team with 24 points, and added 6 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal.
On Walker specifically, Popovich said that he didn't think the game was slowing down for him, but that he was understanding the game better.
"He's got such speed, and probably feels like he can beat everybody, and that's not a bad thing, you want him to keep his competitiveness and his confidence." "It's just learning situations and time and score, and who's on the court with him, and where are the shooters."
"Today he relocated really well to me, he drove it, he kicked it, he relocated, he looked like Steph Curry running to the corner to hit that open shot, and it came right back to him and he knocked down a three," Popovich said. "He's starting to figure things out."
After the game, Walker said that his off ball motion was a response to what his teammates are doing on the floor.
"Honestly, I'm just watching what my teammates do. I'm not a primary ball-handler, so I'm not gonna always be having screen and rolls."
"My way of scoring has to be different, and I have to accept that role as of right now. DeMar DeRozan does a fantastic job with getting into the paint, and you've got to know his strengths," he said, noting that he's made a habit of cutting backdoor when DeMar occupies the defense. "I've been watching a lot of film on all of my teammates and seeing where I can help them out."
Lonnie said that after the Denver game, he got a call that he needed from his father to help him get back on track after a few lackluster games during which he said he was dealing with some issues in his family.
"I wasn't myself the last two games, I wasn't in it mentally," Walker said. "The second quarter when I only played 33 seconds, I wasn't mentally in tune, and (Pop) seen it, so as a man I had to understand where he was coming from."
"My father called me and he got up in me, he cursed me out, told me how I was acting and how I looked, and that's just all I needed," Walker said. "I know myself, I know my capabilities, and God willingly, everything will follow its course."
He spoke about isolation from his family in the bubble, and learning to be vulnerable with his teammates off the court. He said their love for each other has grown in the bubble.