SAN ANTONIO — If only Tony Parker could have stayed away for one more game.
Because the way the Jazz played Friday night at the AT&T Center, they would have certainly beaten a San Antonio team led by Cory Joseph at the point guard position.
After some lackluster performances the past couple of weeks, the Jazz put together a strong game on both sides of the ball and gave the Spurs all they could handle before falling in an overtime heartbreaker, 104-97.
With the loss, the Jazz fell below .500 for the first time since early January at 34-35 and watched their playoff hopes slide even further.
Parker wasn’t at his best after missing the past three weeks with a severely sprained ankle, but he still led the Spurs with a team-high 22 points and came up with key plays down the stretch to help the Spurs improve to 53-16 on the season.
Tim Duncan, who turns 37 next month, had his usual solid game for the Spurs with 19 points and 16 rebounds and former San Diego State star Kawhi Leonard hit key shots on his way to 21 points.
It was a disheartening defeat for the Jazz who led nearly the whole game and after falling behind in the final minutes of regulation, forced overtime with a 3-pointer by Marvin Williams at the buzzer. However, they didn’t have enough in overtime to avoid another loss, their 11th in their last 14 games.
“The positive thing is that we played hard,’’ said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “We made a good effort to win the ballgame. If we play this way against everybody we’ll be OK. That’s what we’re looking for, a good effort, and we’ll get everything else figured out.’’
Corbin has been preaching effort all week, and he finally got it Friday as the Jazz played with energy, especially on the defensive end, where they came up with numerous deflections that led to 17 Spurs turnovers. They also came up with nine blocked shots.
“We came out tonight and were really great on the defensive end,’’ said Corbin. “We made them work for everything they got and were physical, but they made the right plays down the stretch.’’
Mo Williams had his best game since returning from thumb surgery, scoring a game-high 23 points and handing out eight assists. He also came up with three steals. Al Jefferson had his 32nd double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds and Paul Millsap scored 11 points.
Early on the Jazz looked like they were going to let the Spurs run roughshod over them as they fell behind 16-4 midway through the first quarter. However, at that point, the light switch went on, particularly on the defensive end, and they outscored the Spurs 17-3 the rest of the quarter.
Favors, who replaced Millsap at the 6:25 mark, sparked the Jazz defensively with all four of his blocked shots in the quarter. It didn’t hurt that the Spurs were ice cold from 3-point range as they hit on 1 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Utah actually led by as many as 10 points at 39-29, but only managed one basket in the final 3:32, while Duncan scored seven at the other end, five on free throws.
The Jazz didn’t lose their lead in the third quarter, although the Spurs did tie it at 49 and 58. Randy Foye made a couple of 3s in the quarter and the Jazz took a 65-63 lead into the final quarter.
Parker re-entered the game with just under five minutes left and the Spurs down three. He hit a pair of free throws to tie the score at 81 and then hit a floater in the lane to put the Spurs up for the first time since the first quarter.
With 10 seconds left, Parker sank a pair of free throws to put the Spurs up 90-87, but the Jazz weren’t done.
The Jazz worked the ball around the perimeter with Mo Williams faking right and reversing and hitting Jefferson, who sent it around to Randy Foye, who had just entered the game. When the defense collapsed around him, Foye found Marvin Williams in the left corner.
As Manu Ginobili flew by, Williams calmly let fly with a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net as the final buzzer sounded.
The Jazz bench celebrated wildly, but Utah's joy was short-lived as the Spurs dominated the overtime. Leonard and Ginobili hit 3-pointers and then Leonard scored in the lane to make it 100-95 with 1:46 left. Parker clinched things with a 15-footer and a pair of free throws.
“I thought it was a great game,’’ said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Utah’s a team that’s trying to stay in the playoffs and they are really highly motivated. I thought we just grinded it out. It was one of the better wins this year for a lot of reasons.’’
The Jazz have one last chance to get a win on this three-game Texas road trip with a game against Dallas Sunday at 5 p.m.