In a Nutshell
On a night when both teams get to find out what their lineups would look like without big men the Blazers get manhandled on the boards, in the paint, in every conceivable fashion. The traditional forced turnovers weren't nearly enough to compensate for San Antonio's pure shooting and the Blazers go down in flames.
The first quarter started out in magnificently pretty fashion with both teams playing to their strengths. The Blazers forced turnover after turnover on the Spurs, pilfering the rock and running to the other end for easy buckets. The Spurs, meanwhile, took advantage of Portland's gambling to set up high-percentage opportunities of their own. The result was a nearly-even contest with the Blazers posting 9 turnovers on San Antonio but the Spurs shooting 70% for the period. Maybe it wasn't a purist's delight, but it sure was fun to watch. Fun...like an idyllic lake shore scene at Camp Crystal Lake. Still waters reflect a beautiful sky on a calm evening when everyone is gathered to enjoy themselves, not knowing that something lurks beneath the waters of that lake. Something horrible...and it's angry...and it's coming for everyone 6'10" or taller. Gee-gee-gee...HA-HA-HAH. You shouldn't play games on Friday the 13th.
The first victim was Tim Duncan who looks sweet and innocent but was getting stripped more than a newlywed bride in this game. A couple minutes into the first quarter...what's that in the hockey mask? TWEET! TWEET! Two fouls and Duncan is gone. Then DeJuan Blair got caught smoking behind the craft shed. TWEET! TWEET! More fouls and Blair is gone. Portland takes advantage by aggressively driving the lane, Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton coming strong in particular. LaMarcus Aldridge rips everybody in his path, scoring 14 in the period. At the end of one Portland leads 31-27.
Interlude: Tell me, folks, which you think more likely to falter first: Portland grabbing obnoxious numbers of steals or the Spurs excelling every time they do manage to run their offense?
The second quarter of this game belonged to Wesley Matthews. Still absent credible bigs, the Spurs had to run multiple men at the dominating Aldridge. That left Matthews open any way he cared to be. To his credit he did convert some drives along with the usual jumpers on his way to a dozen points in the period. With Aldridge in tune and Matthews playing a great second fiddle things looked rosy for the Blazers until...Marcus Camby! What are you doing down by the river with that girl? Yeah, I know she's hot but you should really think twice before...OH NO! MARCUS! LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU! IT'S...IT'S...it's too late. WHACK! Camby goes down and rolls an ankle. He's in the fetal position under the hoop and is carried off the court. X-rays would later turn out negative but he was out of this game and will be day-to-day for the next few. "That's a bummer!" said Aldridge as he cracked open a beer. Wait...cracked open a beer?!? LaMarcus! NOOOOOO! Tweet! Third foul. LMA sits. He'd pick up his fourth foul just 3:50 into the second half, meaning the Blazers would spend the two middle periods without either of their reliable bigs.
This left large swaths of Portland's second unit playing against San Antonio's second unit. San Antonio would win that battle throughout the second and third period. Despite Matthews' heroics the Spurs would lead 50-47 at the half. With no big guys available in the third and every Portland small guy save Raymond Felton (who was having such a bad game he should have been wearing the hockey mask) congenitally unable to dribble, that left the Blazers shooting long and contested jumpers. On the other end the turnovers had long since dried up. In fact the Blazers were committing more turnovers than they were forcing. Also, as it turns out and despite visual evidence to the contrary, Tiago Splitter is an innocent, sweet-faced, flaxen-haired virgin. We know this because the hockey mask guy left him alone completely. Since the Blazers were fielding a lineup in which reserve forward/center Kurt Thomas looked like a giant, Splitter had a heyday against whichever undersized opponent guarded him. He broke down the Blazers inside. Anybody who's seen the Blazers play this season knows what comes next. Portland had to over-compensate in chasing the threat, leaving the weak side open for drives and shots as well as the entire three-point arc unguarded. Portland's last gasp came from a couple of threes in the third period, enough to keep the game even heading into the fourth. But when Portland has to rely on the three to stay alive, you know they're in trouble.
That trouble came swiftly in the fourth with San Antonio hitting shots, running, and totally destroying the undersized, jump-shooting Blazers on the boards to take a lead they'd never relinquish. Not even Aldridge's return could buoy the team. The Spurs simply blew them away. Final score: 99-83, Spurs.
Aldridge, Matthews, and Wallace had fantastic individual games for the Blazers. The talent is there. But now we see how a small twist of fate--in this case the looming absence of Camby and with him any pretense to inside defense or rebounding--can totally throw Portland's chances against a decent team. The lack of ball-handling, interior scoring, and stops was pronounced tonight. We also saw that the strong parts of Portland's game are hard to bring out consistently while the weaknesses leak out fairly easily. This is the big worry for this year's incarnation of the Blazers.
People have complained in the past (mostly in hindsight) about Brandon Roy and the isolation offense as if it cost the team every time Roy went solo. Games like tonight show you that a team needs a guy who can take over a game and score when nothing else is going right. Felton, Matthews, Jamal Crawford...all have auditioned for that spot this season and failed badly. Brandon Roy gave this team a safety net that they just haven't replaced.
LaMarcus Aldridge was amazing in that first quarter and played strongly throughout the game. He kept to his strengths: jumpers, turn-arounds, and deeper posts. 12-21 shooting, 5-5 free throws, 29 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals. He made Tim Duncan look like a slouchy statue.
Gerald Wallace did his best to pick up every piece of the puzzle the Blazers fumbled tonight. In the first half he stole the ball like a madman. In the second half he rebounded like a champ. He only went 4-11 on the night but frankly that's because the Blazers' impotent offense forced him into shots that aren't his strength. 12 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals, 5 assists.
Wesley Matthews went 5-11 for that dozen points in the second quarter. He didn't score a single point outside of that period but we'll take it.
Marcus Camby played 13 minutes with 3 rebounds. He was defending well. Get back soon.
Outside of a few marvelously aggressive drives in the opening period Raymond Felton was on a different page--no, in a whole different book--from his teammates and possibly the game plan. When the offense started sputtering he tried to pick it up himself. That's always curious behavior from a point guard, more so when the point guard has been struggling on offense all season, even more so when the solution he chooses is the jumper, even more so when those jumpers just don't fall. Felton went 6-17 for 13 points. He had 5 steals. That part was excellent. His 7 assists were fine. But most of his brilliance came early and then it was just bad.
Jamal Crawford 2-11. No need to go over this again.
Nicolas Batum had 3 fouls in place of decent defense in 22 minutes. This wasn't a good night for him or any of the second unit guys.
Any bench contributions beyond this were modest.
(No) Fun With Numbers
- San Antonio 50 rebounds, Portland 36. SA 11-10 on offensive boards.
- Blazers force 18 steals and 23 total turnovers but end up committing 18 turnovers themselves. The offense just fell apart after a while.
- San Antonio hit more free throws (17) than the Blazers even attempted (14). Don't complain. The Blazers never got inside unless it was Aldridge or a fast break and both of those dried up somewhere in the second period, never to return.
- Speaking of...San Antonio 52 points in the paint. Yikes. (Portland had 34.)
- The Spurs also shot 51.4% to the Blazers' 40.5%. Not fair.
- Take away Aldridge's hoops and the Blazers shot 22-63, or around 35%.
The schedule shows no mercy. Houston tomorrow. Samuel Delambert and Luis Scola looked manageable before this game started. If the Blazers are without Camby they almost look intimidating...
Hear the other story of this game (with 93% less horror) at Pounding The Rock.
Here is a boxscore. Protective goggles are recommended.