NBA: Spurs call the tune in victory over Jazz

(REUTERS) - It was a showdown between two of the best defensive teams in the NBA when Utah and San Antonio met on Thursday and despite an inspired effort from the Jazz, who are in the fight for the final Western Conference play-off spot, the Spurs won 96-78.

Kawhi Leonard poured in 29 points to lead the Spurs to a victory that allowed San Antonio to tighten its hold on the second seed in the Western Conference due in large part to its defensive prowess.

Coming into the game, the Spurs were the No. 1 team in the league in defensive efficiency, only giving up 95.8 points per 100 possessions.


Kawhi Leonard (front) of the San Antonio Spurs being guarded by Rudy Gay of the Sacramento Kings on Feb 24, 2016. PHOTO: AFP/ GETTY IMAGES

However, during February, the Spurs' defensive tenacity slipped, putting them in fifth place in the league with a defensive rating of 100.5 points per 100 possessions.

The Jazz, healthy again after long stints of missing power forward Derrick Favors and centre Rudy Gobert came into the game ranked ninth in the league during February for defensive efficiency, allowing 101.8 points 100 possessions.

Utah jumped out to an early lead, on top 23-18 at the end of the first quarter. San Antonio came out of the gates looking very much the part of a tired team, after coach Gregg Popovich chose not to rest any players in the second of a back-to-back.

The Spurs tightened up their execution to gain a 39-35 headed into half-time.

Favors showed up to play for the Jazz during the third quarter, scoring seemingly at will as he tried to keep Utah in the game.

However, the Spurs made the requisite half-time adjustments to counter Utah's tenacious first-half effort and took a 56-49 lead with 4:55 left in the third quarter. San Antonio did not look back after that.

The Spurs finished with four scoring in double figures, while the Jazz saw minimal input from players other than Favors, Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward.

Hayward, in particular, struggled against the tough defence of Leonard, only scoring 11 on the night. Favors was Utah's lone bright spot with 25 points during the contest.

The loss drops the Jazz to 28-29 on the season, while the Spurs improved to 49-9.