SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) -The San Antonio Spurs showed why they’re the top defensive team in the league Thursday, stifling a Utah team that had found an offensive groove recently.
Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points and the Spurs shut down the Jazz 96-78 for their fourth straight road victory.
“This is the best game since we came back from break,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We had been really spotty and undisciplined, but what really helped us is that they are so good at execution. It actually helped us tonight because they used the whole clock and we had to play (defense) over and over.
“The first quarter we were awful. We got better and better defensively because we had to guard their execution, which is excellent.”
The Jazz led by seven in the first quarter, but the No. 1-ranked scoring defense in the NBA cranked it up in the second quarter and held Utah to its lowest point total of the season. The Jazz had scored 110-plus points in their three previous games.
“They make you expend so much energy that when you do get open shots, they’re a little harder,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “You have to work for them.
“They’re a superior team. If you’re going to play with them, which we did for a while, you have to be able to make some shots.”
The Jazz now trail Houston by a half game for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Two baskets by Leonard highlighted a 9-0 run that put the Spurs up 35-31. San Antonio never trailed again and held the Jazz to just 12 second-quarter points.
Tim Duncan had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Tony Parker finished with 16 points.
Derrick Favors scored 25 for the Jazz, who remained a half-game behind Houston for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
“We had to grind this one out more, they’ve been playing well,” Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “You need games like this. You don’t want to have blowouts all the time. You want to try to work on execution down the stretch and I thought we definitely played better down the stretch.”
The Spurs (49-9) shot 48 percent from the field and the Jazz (28-29) knocked down 43 percent of their shots. San Antonio is 44-0 when it has a higher shooting percentage than its opponent.
“They force you to take tough 2s,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. “They’re also good at mixing up whether or not they’re switching on pick-and-rolls. They’ve been doing it for a while. They’re 49-9. They’re a good team.”
The Jazz next host Brooklyn Saturday night.