in a Nutshell
The Spurs field only one player from their normal starting lineup--Richard Jefferson--and proceed to out-hustle the Blazers to open space, rebounds, and loose balls for 80% of the game. San Antonio takes an 8-point lead in the fourth period but, suddenly realizing that they are succeeding in walking the high wire, they suddenly fall. The Spurs miss a bevy of makable three-pointers and the Blazers tighten up the rebounding on the defensive end and pass the ball well on the offensive end. A 15-1 run late in the fourth helps Portland pull ahead and stay there on an otherwise ugly night.
The first three quarters of this game don't need much explanation. Portland's offense looked awkward, heavy with leaners on the run against the clock. Andre Miller and Gerald Wallace were the only two Blazers in their comfort zone. Even so, Miller was often forced into bad shots because of the ineptitude of his teammates' offensive execution. Speaking of ineptitude, LaMarcus Aldridge and nearly every bench player looked like Keystone Cops, coughing up turnovers, missing rebounds, and playing matador defense. On the defensive end the Blazers helped each other like they were going to divorce court instead of a basketball court. Meanwhile the plucky Spurs reserve squad (and everybody who played tonight was a reserve) ran their plays, hustled, rebounded, and popped the Blazers on the chin multiple times. The camera caught the normal Spurs starters laughing behind their hands at first but in the second half, with San Antonio packing defense in the lane and really making the Blazers miss, those same starters were up off the bench and cheering their little buddies. Portland led 58-51 (mostly by default) at the half but then combined for 9 points and 7 turnovers in the third quarter, allowing the Spurs to streak ahead. They led 72-67 going into the fourth period.
The final quarter started in scary fashion for the Blazers as the heretofore-solid Brandon Roy, playing more point guard, stared coughing up the ball like it was a loogie. Throw in some Spurs offensive rebounds and Blazer fans started squirming uncomfortably. That's when Coach McMillan said, "To heck with this" and stopped all experimentation. He threw in the starters and depended on them to win it. With the pressure on the Blazers got their collective heads straight. They started by rebounding long Spurs misses, though they were fortunate on many of those misses because San Antonio had wide open threes. Part of the tightness might have been inexperience, the flip side of playing guys who work so hard because they never play otherwise. The Spurs had been over-pursuing Blazer scorers--notably Aldridge and Wallace--throughout the second half and the Blazers finally got wise and found shooters in space. Portland's marksmen came through a couple of times and that was enough to open up the floor. Spaced apart from each other and forced to defend individually instead of collectively the Spurs just didn't have the athleticism to hang. Portland went on a 15-1 run and followed with a free-throw parade due to intentional fouls. When the smoke cleared everybody heaved a sigh of relief as the Blazers didn't take one of their worst losses of the year. 100-92, Portland.
It's hard to draw hard and fast conclusions from a game like this. The one that matters is: A win is a win. Perhaps we should leave it at that.
The Blazers were stratified tonight.
In the upper echelon stood Andre Miller and Gerald Wallace. Miller once again looked like the only guy who realized that these weren't the real Spurs and acted accordingly. He shot 9-15, 10-12 from the line, for 26 points. He had 5 rebounds which the Blazers sorely needed. He only had 2 assists but the way his teammates were playing he shouldn't have passed as much as he did. After looking like he was actively passing up shots early in the game Wallace came around with 14 points on 5-13 shooting and a couple of clutch threes as the Blazers were making their run. He had 7 rebounds and 2 steals as well. One thing you notice about Wallace is that he always does something. Tonight he had some nice passes, drew multiple charges, and threatened with the drive more than any Blazer outside of Miller. Even on an average statistical night he's making an impact on the game.
In the second stratus stand Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Batum did not have a great game offensively and even had some defensive lapses but he earns praise for his 13 rebounds on a night when only Spurs were grabbing them with consistency. Batum also had some nice fourth-quarter shots. The Blazes were looking to get Matthews off early and he responded with 19 points for the game. Once again he was just about the only Blazer who could defend quicker and smaller guards.
Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby are on the third level, only a step or so above the wagging finger but still contributors. Camby had 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 18 minutes. The issue I have with him the last couple games is esoteric. Despite the stats when Camby is playing his best you notice him out there on the floor, much the same way you notice Wallace. Rebounds aside, his play has been muted. I'm glad to see him come in because you know the offensive rebound parade for the opposition will cease but the Blazers show most of their spark when he's out nowadays. I assume he's still recovering from the injury. Roy had some great moments at point early in the game, both scoring and drawing attention and dishing. He's fallen down to this paragraph because his defense looked poor and because late in the game he made multiple miscues in consecutive possessions. Bad pass, bad shot, dribble off foot...groans ensued and the return of Andre Miller soon after. Still Brandon shot 5-7 for 11 points and 4 assists in 24 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez, and Patty Mills go in the murky ground beneath the rest. Aldridge shot 4-10 for 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 turnovers. The Spurs keyed on him, naturally. I wouldn't have expected a 25-point game from him with 3 people guarding within 4 feet of him the whole game. But not needing 25 doesn't mean the old Aldridge panic should have reared its ugly head. His solution to pressure was to drift outside on offense and (apparently) not rebound on defense. Fernandez shot 3-4 for 8 points but just wasn't effective outside of those shots. Once again he teamed with Roy and Mills (who had a three and an assist in 5 minutes) in a defense that immediately allowed the Spurs a layup, a dunk, another layup, and an open shot before Mills became the sacrificial lamb and got pulled.
Stats of the Night
- San Antonio 10 offensive rebounds, Portland 7. Part of the game plan was for everybody to get back in transition, thus not giving the Spurs' odds-and-ends players easier looks than they warranted. But still, getting beat in this department is bad.
- San Antonio 48 points in the paint, Portland 34. Who, exactly, did the Spurs field that can score inside again? And who did they defend with inside? But Portland is -14 in the paint???
- Blazers only 15 assists on 34 made buckets. That ratio should have been higher against an overly-aggressive defensive attack.
- Portland's bench scored 22 points collectively. San Antonio's bench--keeping in mind that their actual bench started tonight so this was their third unit--scored 33. Granted they had more bench minutes, but still...
- On the other hand the Blazers did shoot 52.3% from the field and 47.1% from the arc. That made up for a host of ills.
Odd Notes and Links
Jersey Contest form for the Hornets game.