Every time Manu Ginobili lines up against the Utah Jazz, he expects a fight.
”It is never easy. They were coming from five losses in a row but they are tough players and competitors. They are rough, and they attack us and attack the rim. So we are happy we could overcome that and end up with a win,” the Spurs guard said, as he rubbed a red spot on his arm.
Ginobili scored 26 points, Tony Parker added 23, and San Antonio built an early lead and withstood a flurry of counterpunches late in the game to beat the Jazz 112-105 Wednesday night for its 10th win in 11 games.
Richard Jefferson scored 14 points, while Tim Duncan and Gary Neal each had 13 as the Spurs improved to a franchise-best, 39-7 record after 46 games. Only five teams in NBA history have had better records than the Spurs at this point in the season.
Jefferson made a 3-pointer on an assist from Parker to expand the Spurs’ lead to 86-67 late in the third quarter. Most of the Jazz starters left the court, but the Utah reserves sparked an improbable rally over the next five minutes. Seldom-used Jeremy Evans had three high-flying dunks and a free throw during a 17-4 run to bring the Jazz within 90-84 with 9:29 to play.
”Our guys played much harder than they have been. They put themselves in a position to have a chance to win. But again, you have to have a great finish,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.
As the crowd roared, Deron Williams scored 17 of his season-high 39 points in the fourth quarter, but Utah lost its sixth straight. Al Jefferson had 22 points and CJ Miles added 13 for the Jazz, who swept the Spurs in 2009-10 but have lost both meetings this season.
The Jazz have recorded 12 comeback victories this season, overcoming deficits of more than 15 points seven times, but the Spurs made just enough clutch plays down the stretch to quell this rally.
”We knew they were going to play with a lot of energy and give us their best shot,” Parker said.
In the end, the best shot from the Jazz just wasn’t good enough.
Ginobili took a lob pass from Tim Duncan and scored to make it 107-97 with 2:00 to play. Williams cut the lead to 109-105 on a driving layup. But he missed two long 3-point attempts in the final 15 seconds.
”These games always have a lot of contact, but we were strong enough to play through it and make some plays when we really needed them,” Ginobili said.
Utah is mired in its worst stretch of the season, and the average loss has been by 15 points. The Jazz reached the bottom against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, when they trailed by as many as 38 before falling 120-91.
It had become so bad for the Jazz, that the last time they had outscored an opponent in any one quarter was against New Jersey – four games ago. The Jazz finally broke the string by posting a 27-24 margin against the Spurs in the fourth quarter.
”We played better. We played harder. But, still, a loss tastes sour,” Williams said.
The Spurs scored the first seven points of the game and ran the Jazz ragged off screens. Parker and Ginobili continually got into the lane for floaters or easy set-ups for the Spurs’ perimeter shooters. The Spurs shot 51 percent and limited the Jazz to just one second-chance basket.
”We are better offensively this season than we were in our championship seasons. But we need to raise the defensive level to what we had then, and we will be very, very good,” Ginobili said after the Spurs allowed the Jazz to connect on 55 percent of their shots.
Playing with a sprained wrist, Williams often bulled his way to the basket in a determined effort to break the Utah skid. He had nine assists and made 16-of-19 shots from inside the arc but missed all five of his 3-point attempts.
”AK (Andrei Kirilenko) got a steal and I was going for it. I tried to move George Hill out of the way with one hand and I felt something pop,” Williams said.
The game was extraordinarily physical at times for a regular-season game. Twice in the first half, the action stopped for Raja Bell and Paul Millsap to stop the bleeding on cuts to their thumbs. Williams also went to the locker room between quarters to get his hyperextended wrist taped.
”Both teams played very physically. Always do,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. ”It was a scrappy game from beginning to end. We just hung in there and luckily we had enough of a lead to win.”
Notes: The Lakers and the Spurs, Utah’s last two opponents, are the only teams that have winning regular-season records against the Jazz all-time. Ginobili and Bell were whistled for a double-technical in the fourth quarter. … After two games in a reserve role, Kirilenko scored 10 points in his return to the starting lineup, while the Spurs tipped off with the same five that have been there every contest this season.