Looking ahead to the end of a five-game homestand Saturday, the Spurs had talked about how important it was to beat the Utah Jazz and build some momentum before starting their annual Rodeo Road Trip.
Much to their displeasure, the Silver and Black got a stellar shooting performance from Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio and a kick in the gut instead.
Rubio set the tone for Utah early and never relented, finishing with a career-high 34 points and leading the Jazz to a 120-111 victory.
The Jazz (24-28) won their fifth consecutive game while playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and beat the Spurs for the second time this season.
The Silver and Black fell to 34-21 and lost a second straight home game for the first time this season. San Antonio finished its five-game homestand 2-3, not exactly numbers that engender confidence with a long road trip ahead.
Rubio was virtually unstoppable until missing his first shot with 7:53 left -- in the game. He got his 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting, including 3 of 4 from the three-point line. Rubio was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line, and also dished out nine assists. He went into the game averaging 11.5 points and 5.0 assists a game.
Down 87-78 heading into the fourth quarter, the Spurs drew to within one (94-93) on a three-pointer by Patty Mills with 7:29 left. But Rubio buried a three-pointer on Utah's next possession. The Silver and Black trimmed the Jazz's lead to 97-95 on two free throws by Pau Gasol, but they never could get ahead down the stretch.
In a nutshell, the Spurs lost because they couldn't string together enough stops to make a run that would have put them over the hump. And that's going to continue to be a problem for the Silver and Black until Kawhi Leonard, who continues to rehab a lingering quad injury after playing in only nine games this season, returns to the court.
The Spurs also played without key reserve Rudy Gay, who has missed 19 consecutive games with a heel injury.
"I thought Utah did a great job executing for four quarters," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They played 48 minutes. We played 24. We played the second half just like we did against Houston, so that's tough against a good executing team.
"They had a great performance. I think they won their last four or five out of six, something like that, and it showed. They beat us in that regard and I thought that they came to play physically and aggressive for 48. Twenty-four minutes isn't going to do it."
The Silver and Black will play six consecutive games during the Rodeo Road Trip, so named because the team vacates the AT&T Center every year to make way for the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. The Spurs won't play at home until Feb. 28, when they face the New Orleans Pelicans.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 31 points, hitting 12 of 19 shots, including one from beyond the arc. Manu Ginobili finished with 13 points, and Mills and Tony Parker had 11 apiece.
Dejounte Murray rounded out the double-figure scoring for San Antonio with 10 points. Parker also dished out nine assists. Gasol led the Silver and Black under on the boards with 11 rebounds.
The Jazz looked razor sharp despite arriving in San Antonio at 5:30 a.m. Saturday after flying from Phoenix, where they rolled to a 129-97 blowout of the Suns on Friday night. Utah's team plane had to return to the airport after it had mechanical problems, delaying the Jazz's flight to the Alamo City.
Utah also won without rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who sat out the game with flu-like symptoms after scoring 40 points against Phoenix. He hit 14 of 19 shots, including 7 of 9 from beyond the arc.
Rubio picked up where Mitchell left. When he wasn't burning the Spurs with his jumper, he drove to the basket and deftly passed to the ball to an open teammate more often than not.
"I know he's a great guard, experienced guard," Murray said. "He's smart, but it's the best I've seen him play. He made shots. He's known for making plays, making a lot of shots from everywhere.
"We were trying to get on the same page as a group, and that just happens with time. He had a great game. There's nothing we can do about it."
Royce O'Neale (18), Derrick Favors (14), Raul Neto (12), Rudy Gobert (11) and Joe Ingles (10) also scored in double figures for Utah.
The Jazz shredded the league's No. 2-ranked defense, shooting 56.5 percent (39/69) overall and 52.2 percent (12/23) from the three-point line.
The Spurs shot 48.4 percent (44/91) and were 38.5 percent (10/26) from long distance. Mills and Danny Green each hit three treys.
Sparked by Rubio, the Jazz led 61-49 in the first half.
Rubio was unstoppable in the first two quarters, hitting 9 of 9 shots, including 2 of 2 from the three-point line, and scoring 23 points. Only a missed free throw (3/4) kept Rubio from having a perfect scoring line on the stat sheet.
Rubio was red-hot from the get-go, scoring 14 of his 23 first-half points in the opening quarter. He made 6 of 6 shots from the field, including both of his three-point attempts from beyond the arc.The Jazz were effective inside and outside in the first half, shooting 57.5 percent (23/40) overall and 5 of 10 from the three-point line.
Aldridge had one of his best first halves of the season offensively, scoring 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He was the only Spur who scored in double figures in the first two quarters. Parker scored only five points, but he dished out seven assists in the first half.
The Silver and Black started slowly again Saturday night, with Utah leading 33-24 after one quarter. The Jazz nailed 5 of 8 three-pointers in the opening period.
"I don't know," Ginobili said, when asked about the slow start. "It would be a great way to start to know why, but it's nothing I can see. They started really well. Ricky made a lot of shots, forced us to change our defense and we were always behind. Then we were a little better, but their confidence level was really high and they had a great offensive night.
"They scored 120, so it was a domination. They were inspired. We were poor, always a little late and they got everything they wanted. They got threes, free throws, midrange (shots), layups, so we were behind the whole game."
Utah made 30 of 36 free-throw attempts, and the Spurs were 13 of 18 at the line.