Time to clean the lockers

Jazz send the Spurs home singing the blues in San Antonio’s final game in AT&T Center

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

SAN ANTONIO – There was a point in this NBA season when both Utah and San Antonio were in the playoff race and were even contending for a top-four seed.

Unfortunately for both teams, the season continued after the first month, and both the Spurs and Jazz had to play 70-odd more games.

Utah –– now the 12th seed in the Western Conference –– defeated the Spurs –– who is now the 14th seed –– 128-117 on Wednesday evening at the AT&T Center.

Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker had a game-high 41 points, scoring 27 in the first half.

The Spurs were once again shorthanded, giving another odd rotation of inexperienced players a chance to grow.

“It’s pretty much been like that all year,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’re kind of used to it.”

Keldon Johnson was sidelined with a left foot injury, while Devin Vassell sat next to him with right knee soreness. 

While just precautionary, the Spurs were forced to roll out players such as Julian Champagnie, who made his first start in the big leagues.

“No matter who’s out, no matter who’s not playing, other guys are happy to get minutes,” Popovich said. “Trying to get them to learn how to play is what this is all about.”

Jeremy Sochan also joined the team’s leading scorers on the bench with right knee soreness. 

Sochan, along with Johnson, were given microphones before the game’s start in honor of the team’s final home game at AT&T Center for the 2022-23 season. The two were tasked to give a message to the fans.

It may be fair to say the rookie got a little carried away with the mic.

“We love you all, and any Utah fans here, you’re about to lose tonight,” Sochan said to the crowd.

“You never know what Jeremy’s going to say,” Popovich said after the game.

Sochan may have bitten off more than he could chew with his one-liner, but his team almost backed up his prediction.

San Antonio pulled Utah within two points after trailing by nine with four minutes remaining in the first half.

Devonte Graham hit a 3-pointer to pull the Jazz with two points.

Tre Jones led the team on a fastbreak on San Antonio’s next possession. 

After making a cross-over move on a Utah player, Jones found Graham open for another three, putting the Spurs on top 60-59.

The Spurs could not regain their lead, woefully losing their fifth-straight game.

“We think we can play better, but I’m happy with all of their efforts,” Popovich said. “We’re not blessed with enough talent to have so many guys out and have guys kind of play together and come out and be a unit. But they’re doing the best they can, so that’s all you can ask.”

Malaki Branham led the Spurs with 21 points on 7 of 12 shooting.

The rookie from Ohio State was happy to see his growth on the court from his first game in AT&T Center to his final.

“When I came in I was unsure of myself,” Branham said. “But now I feel like I’m finding myself.”

San Antonio has its final six games in the 11 remaining days of the season, two of which will be home games in Austin at the Moody Center.