In a Nutshell
The Blazers succumb to an energetic Spurs squad in the first half but never let the game get out of reach, largely due to good defense. With the score tied after three the Blazers swarm all over San Antonio like a pack of locusts in the fourth to run away with a victory. The Spurs look stunned and LaMarcus Aldridge looks jubilant as he scores a career-high 40 in the victory.
The Blazers started this game in a world of hurt. They gave up 5 offensive rebounds to the non-offensive-rebounding Spurs on the very first possession, then followed that with a turnover. A litany of turnovers and missed shots ensued and San Antonio jumped out to an 11-4 lead. They weren't shooting much better than the Blazers, they were just hustling more. Two things saved Portland in the first. They defended well enough, a story which would last throughout the evening. Second, let's pretend that Jack Nicholson and Dina Lohan had a love child together, locked it in a cage in the basement, and fed it only fish entrails and Ecstasy. That child would not go as crazy as LaMarcus Aldridge did in the first quarter of this game. He scored 16 points in the quarter, most of which were within spitting distance of the rim. He made San Antonio's defenders look old and/or ponderous. Seriously, my first impression was that Tim Duncan had lost about 82 steps off of his youthful pace. Then I realized that he wasn't actually that slow, Aldridge was that fast. Same with Blair and anyone else the Spurs threw against LMA. Eventually they were down to trying guards and small forwards off of switches. More on how that worked later. Portland led 24-22 after one.
As is commonplace in Portland's games, the second period proved a challenge for the good guys. Portland's second unit couldn't contain the Spurs' reserves. Only some made jumpers on the home team's side kept Portland even. As had been true in the first period, the Blazers' rebounding was particularly egregious. San Antonio seemingly snagged the ball at will. Meanwhile the threat of DeJuan Blair's interior scoring and rebounding kept the Blazers shading inside, allowing the Spurs wide open looks at the perimeter. Things only got worse when the starters returned, as Blair was on a roll by then and San Antonio's main guys are good at open jumpers. This was all made worse by Nicolas Batum's lack of mobility due to his recent knee issues. Usually he's a closer defensively but he couldn't transition from inside to out and back fast enough to make a difference. Portland's starters made a game run at the end of the period but in the end it was too much San Antonio inside and not quite enough Portland jumpers falling. The Spurs led 52-47 at the half.
The third period saw the tempo slow down and the Blazers' energy pick up. The first half had a catch-as-catch-can feel, as both teams tried to push. The second half was more of a chess match. The first sign the Blazers were serious about making this a game was their renewed attention to rebounding. After an embarrassing first half, Portland escaped relatively clean from the board battle throughout the second. The Blazers also made a concerted effort to get inside, drawing fouls against the Spurs and getting into the penalty early. Penetration and inside threats freed up the outside jumpers the Blazers were missing in the second period. A few free throws and layups later, Portland's offense was on track. Not so with the Spurs. San Antonio struggled mightily to make ball meet twine. They scored only 19 in the period. 15 of those points came from 17 feet or beyond. Plus they attempted zero free throws in the quarter. Lo and behold, the Blazers had closed the 5-point gap when the horn sounded. Only a last-second three by Manu Ginobili kept Portland from taking a lead into the fourth. The score was tied 71-all.
San Antonio decided to stop messing around on defense in the fourth. They skipped right over the court and went straight for the king himself, double-teaming LaMarcus Aldridge with mobile players. To retain that mobility they sat both Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair. The cost for such should have been low in theory, as the Blazers also went small and mobile. Rudy Fernandez, for instance, played most of the fourth-quarter minutes in place of the hobbled Nicolas Batum. But San Antonio's impeccable theory turned into quite peccable disaster when it met the floor. As it turns out, the Spurs were scrambling so hard trying to compensate for Aldridge that they left a couple of key areas neglected. Blazers shooters were farther open than your fly in that recurring Big Speech in School nightmare. As they ran to close out on shooters, the Spurs were out of position for rebounds, which Portland--the league's best offensive rebounding team--promptly collected and converted into points. Oh, and by the way, the Blazers often just passed the ball twice out of the Aldridge double team and then right back to Aldridge, who was no longer double-teamed. Spladow! Welcome to your 40, LMA. On the other end the Blazers continued to outhustle the Spurs, inverting the first half trend completely. San Antonio started missing shots and turning over the ball. Nowadays the Spurs are a guard-oriented team and Portland's guards did a masterful job making life tough for their counterparts. Throw in a few unexpected bonuses like Rudy Fernandez rebounds and Andre Miller made jumpers and the tide started rushing in big time. The Spurs still looked confident, but in a way perhaps they were over-confident. Their starters looked like they thought they'd win this game up until the moment that Coach Popovich pulled them out down double-digits with two minutes left. Their rally never came. The Blazers walk away with the win of the year, a 99-86 drubbing of the best team in the league.
It was surprising how easily the Blazers let their strength--rebounding--get ripped away from them in the first half. To their credit, they never panicked. They showed how a baseline of decent play, in this case on the defensive end, can carry you through a rough patch until you can assert yourself again.
Also LaMarcus Aldridge was as dominant and game-bending tonight as any Blazer has ever been. That's not to put him on an equal plane with some of the legends. Clyde Drexler and Bill Walton used to do that every night. But for one night, LMA was truly as great as anybody. I hope his mom saw this game.
Jimmer who??? LaMarcus shot 16-23 tonight for 40 points with 11rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. I can't rave enough about his game. He blasted a hole in the side of the Spurs' ship and they never recovered. He was his own Einstein-esque gravity well. Space and time formed around him.
Aldridge didn't do it alone. Andre Miller fed him with some nice passes and really cemented that fourth-quarter squashing with 8-13 shooting overall, 9 assists, and 18 points. Wesley Matthews scored 21on 8-16 shooting. Rudy Fernandez shot only 1-6 but had 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and some great energy play. I'm lumping these three players together because they also did a fantastic job containing San Antonio's guards, which may be their greatest contribution of the night. Manu Ginobili scored 17 but took 18 shots to do it, hitting only 6. Tony Parker shot 3-11 for 6 points. Mathematicians will not that this means he made no threes and no free throws tonight. THAT is some defense.
Nicolas Batum shot 2-8 for 8 points but had 6 rebounds. As mentioned above, he was really struggling to cover space.
Joel Przybilla had 4 rebounds in 21 minutes. He has all the lift of a cement mixer right now and was getting torn apart on the boards and ignored by San Antonio on defense.
Patty Mills came out energized and had 4 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in 12 minutes. He also stayed in front of his man.
Dante Cunningham played some nice defense and chipped in 6 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Newcomer Chris Johnson was one of the first Blazers to actually scramble for rebounds tonight. He had 2 in 4 minutes of time.
Stats of the Night
- The break-heavy Spurs had 2 fast break points tonight. More accolades for the Blazer guards!
- Spurs 16 offensive rebounds, Blazers 6.
- Blazers make only 2 of 13 three point shots BUT can 21 of 24 free throws while the Spurs attempted only 15 charity tosses and made only 8. +13 from the foul line is a nice stat to have against San Antonio.
Odd Notes and Links
Your commemorative, suitable-for-framing Boxscore
Pounding The Rock will have more Spurs coverage. I'm not sure they remember how to cover a loss over there. Head over and see if they just decide to pretend the Spurs won anyway.
Oh...and yeah...... WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!