Well, huh. That was...cheery.
As anyone with DirecTV knows already, they screwed up the feed tonight and didn't get it fixed until just after the second half started. So this isn't going to be a complete review. Others can fill in the blanks in the comments section.
But that's OK, because I'm less interested in the particulars of this game than in what it shows overall anyway. This is the kind of game that shows why the Blazers aren't the fourth or fifth best team in the West. Mind you, they're a good team. They're a playoff team. They're not going to slip below eighth in the conference. I truly believe (and I'm usually right about these gut feelings) that they're going to win any game they have to in order to make sure they're in the dance. The thing is their vision doesn't extend far enough yet--nor is it burned in their consciousness and heart yet--to realize that this is the kind of game that not only makes that task far easier, but could promise more in the offing. Precision, energy, execution, drive, physicality, focus, swagger, determination, trust, and confidence...you didn't see any of those things oozing from this team tonight the way it would if they were destined for a mid-to-high playoff seed. It wasn't a horrible game. It wasn't the worst game we've seen this month. It just wasn't a playoff-level performance from the Blazers.
Look at the Spurs. They were under a pretty severe handicap with both Duncan and Ginobili out. What did they have to fall back on under such duress? Sure, sure...Tony Parker...blah blah. Parker played great but truth be told 1.5 Blazers could have pretty much equaled his performance on a normal night and the rest of the Blazers on paper should have smashed the remaining 11 Spurs. Parker was the point of the spear that worsted us, but the stout pole providing thrust behind it was San Antonio's defense. When all else fails, that will see them through.
It's not even that the Spurs are populated with great defenders. Bruce Bowen and Ime Udoka are plenty good, but those obstacles could have been jumped. Michael Finley? Matt Bonner? Please. But the Spurs planned and executed a fantastic defensive system as a team. They left a single guy on Roy when he was outside but immediately sent help as soon as he made any kind of move and then threw the house at him if he made it inside. There were three and four guys within his reach sometimes. They forced everybody else to shoot the ball, usually outside. Nobody else could step up...or at least nobody they cared about. Every Blake or Fernandez miss was like a dagger in our hearts. Every Batum or Rodriguez shot was like a confirmation of their plan. That's not a knock on Sergio or Nic either. They should have taken the shots they did. But realistically they would have had to have gone 8-9 for the Spurs to start adjusting and neither one did. When nobody else was hitting it put pressure on Roy to score more, which brought even more attention to him. Every shot he took was like breaking out of maximum security. His buddies were supposed to bake a file into a cake but all they left him with was a spork. Half the time he stuck the spork in his own eye. And credit the heck out of San Antonio for exploiting it.
Anyway, as I said, San Antonio has its defense to fall back on even in inclement situations. What do the Blazers have to fall back on when things start going south? As we saw tonight, mostly a spiral of frustration. Portland doesn't have that defensive safety net that the best teams have. The Blazers have to make a choice: either guard the primary threat or guard the secondary and tertiary options. They can't yet manage it all at once. It's not only a lack of individual defense either. The rotations aren't there. The understanding isn't there. The hustle isn't there. And that's taking into account everybody from Roy on down. It's all of them at different times. A team like San Antonio is going to pick that apart eventually. Make life tough for Parker, here's Bonner and Finley and Kurt Thomas draining wide open shots. Stay home on them and Parker butchers us. Incomplete defense like that will get you through some of the schedule OK, but when push comes to shove good teams will gain a huge advantage on you. More to the point, incomplete defense forces you to have a good night in order to win. When the other team has a complete defense it's harder for you to have a good night. Hello 99-84 loss to an undermanned team.
Also, hello reason we're good but not really good, let alone great, yet.
The Blazers did a pretty good job on the boards tonight. Portland got more free throws. They didn't turn the ball over or allow San Antonio free points. The difference in the game was primarily San Antonio hitting 10 more field goals than Portland did while attempting 7 fewer shots. And the difference in that was the Spurs only allowing open shots to minor players and still getting a hand near those players most of the time anyway. That would be defense.
I can't comment on everyone because I didn't see the whole game. Here are the guys I saw.
--Brandon Roy shot 5-18 and only scored 14. He had his usual 5 rebounds but only 3 assists. Everything was tough out there.
--Lamarcus Aldridge only got 9 shots up and all of the ones I saw were jumpers. He did get 5 free throws which is a credible number for the second game straight. But, however, comma...we needed much more from him and it wasn't there.
--Steve Blake: 0-9, 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist. Ugh.
--Joel Przybilla at least put up a fight both figuratively and literally. He's got that reliable, playoff-level "no-quit" thing going on.
--Nicolas Batum was one of the bigger guys we put on Parker to try and slow him down. He did a decent enough job on his own but we just don't know how to run rotations or shift the defense when we go outside of the norm like that. It's like watching those Night at the Roxbury guys when somebody misses an assignment and the opponent gets an easy look because of it. "What? Me? You? You? Me? Huh? Me? You? What? No? OK."
--Travis Outlaw also found himself facing Parker a few times. Individually he wasn't lousy on him. But then again having a 6'8" guy with questionable defense watch a star point guard isn't going to produce fruit for long and it didn't. One or two completely blown plays later and we're back to square one. Offensively Travis was hitting but his style doesn't really free up other people like Blake's or Rudy's jumpers do. You pretty much figure Travis is going to shoot when given the ball and ignore him otherwise. It's not hard to figure out a defensive contingency for that.
--Channing Frye really had a sweet game. His rebounding was strong again and he shot aggressively. Granted the Spurs weren't displeased with him taking all of those shots but credit him for being a threat on a night when nobody else was. Had even one more guard been hitting Channing may well have been the straw that broke the camel's back. As it was he just stuck in the saddlebag. But he's earned some notice the last couple days. 15 points, 7 rebounds in 25 minutes.
--Sergio had 7 assists and 4 rebounds and I didn't see most of them.
--Rudy missed 5 of 6 threes and I didn't see most of them.
We said going into this mini-trip that 1-2 was the standard. That's still achievable. Friday's Minnesota game becomes pretty important now.
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