Relax Rip City, it’s not over yet, and here’s why…
Remember that First Round series against the Rockets? It was a nightly nail biting, heart stopping, up and down, back and forth, ridiculously action packed extravaganza that wouldn’t be decided until the literal closing seconds of each game? Yeah, me neither.
The opening stanza of Game 1 Portland v. San Antonio, definitely has a way to put a stop to the movie style storyline the Trail Blazers had been tracking on since Damian Lillard’s shot and top play on his, and maybe even the Portland Trail Blazers’, career highlight reel. Game 1 against the Spurs was more like the movie Hostel. For those who don’t know the movie, the cliff notes go as such (note massive spoiler alerts throughout); group goes to X place has fun, slowly they end up kidnapped and taken to an undisclosed location where they are locked up. From there deviant millionaires pay an exorbitant sum to have their way with an unsuspecting, and most definitely unwilling human being in the most obscene and egregious ways possible- mostly involving sharp and/or blunt objects and soft flesh. That’s essentially what paying customers witnessed in San Antonio- an unwilling prisoner being tortured and teased by millionaires, all because they could. The Spurs have experienced it all- shock upsets, championships, championships lost, etc. so they came out and did what those who can buy anything do- whatever they want to do. There was one exception though, the Spurs and company skipped right to the part where the poor sap (played by the Trail Blazers) was chained up and imprisoned in some foreign, abandoned warehouse, stolen from a paradise lost (Game 6 final shot anyone?) about to tortured. There would be no enjoyment for the Blazers or their fans to revel in before the pain started.
For the opening 12 minutes Tony Parker played the part of sadistic, amateur surgeon- carefully peeling back the skin, errr defense to expose its weaknesses only to leave that area alone and instead opt for the blow torch to the eye. This is course being 15 foot jumpers that seemed to have the same effect on Portland defenders as our poor tortured prisoner had with the blowtorch- both with looks of pain and agony and both clearly not expecting or understanding what was going on.
While Parker continued to poke, prod, break, burn, snap, and tear apart the Blazers en route to 13 first quarter points, Portland tried everything possible to escape. Much like a prisoner who’s since had his eye burned out, the Blazers managed to shoot 2-9 on shots within 5 feet of the rim. Let that sink in. Men who are the premier athletes in the world, paid millions of dollars precisely because of how good they are, managed to put a ball into a hoop that is roughly twice the diameter of the ball from 5 feet or less away 2 out of 9 times. At this point I’m wondering what is worse, the torture inflicted by Parker and the Spurs or the self-inflicted pain brought on by the Blazers. In Hostel terms, this is a lot like the prisoner taking a bottle of rubbing alcohol and dumping it on his now burned out eye (yes you should be cringing wholeheartedly right now thinking about that), or after escaping the clutches of the torturers managing to run blindly off a cliff to your impending doom. For reference sake, the Spurs shot 7-9 from 5 feet and in, while shooting just a shade under 50% from the 5-19ft range, at 5-11.
While the Spurs were carving the Blazers apart from all over the floor, Portland countered with painful mediocrity. Here’s how Portland’s shooting broke down in the 1st quarter; 2-9 from less than 5 feet, 0-3 from 5-9ft, 0-1 from 10-14ft, 3-5 from 15-19ft, and 0-5 from 20 feet and further. Essentially, the prisoner didn’t really need the torturer all that much, he or they, did more than enough damage on their own.
The 2nd quarter wasn’t all that much better for Portland. However, having been numbed after seeing such a brutal display- an utter lack for humanity in general- to most fans it didn’t LOOK nearly as bad as the first quarter. On paper the Blazers rebounded, well they didn’t rebound that well as the Spurs beat them on the offensive glass 4-3, but they played a bit better. They shot a respectable 45.5% , moved the ball to the tune of 4 assists, and managed to get a few points cheaply at the free throw line, at 3-4. This sounds more like the prisoner trying to get his bearing and find his way out of impending doom. Wait. What’s that? The Spurs shot what in the 2nd quarter? Oh. Remember all that hypothetical impending doom? Yeah, it hit already. The Spurs shot a ridiculous 63.6% while also hitting 4-5 from distance and the free throw line for a staggering 36 points. At this point our prisoner has had an eye burned out, a hand hacked off, and is crawling around the room with a severed Achilles. At this point all that’s left is for our dysfunctional millionaire to grab the gun and end this all mercifully.
Greg Poppovich, is not merciful. A former Air Force Intelligence Officer, a cut throat, no nonsense, basketball savant- if you were creating a coach in a laboratory, you couldn’t replicate his genius if you tried. Even with a 26 point halftime lead, Pop had all of his starters save Danny Green play 8+ minutes of the 3rd quarter. Portland, ever the survivalist, countered by getting LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard going for the first time in the game- combining for 19 points in the period, 11 of which came at the free throw line.
In the movie, the hostage after a thorough beating eventually wiggles his way free. Battered and broken he finds his way out of the decrepit building and back to his hostel and semi comfortable surroundings. With survival foremost and revenge secondary our prisoner is just trying to get out of dodge. As luck would have it, the prisoner stumbles upon those that originally kidnapped him. Taking what has been given to him, he takes his Euro compact car and presides to run them over, back up, rinse and repeat. This is essentially what the Blazers did to Thiago Splitter and anyone else designated to guard Aldridge in the 2nd half. After what was easily his worst half of the playoffs, LaMarcus came out more than aggressive. His backdowns had force and determination. Where in the first half he was bumped off his spot on his patented turn and fade, and knocked off balance on his drive to middle- he was the one now initiating the contact. He either opened up space to get his shot off cleaner or drew fouls and trips to the line. Rinse and repeat. Aldridge ended up with 19 points ( 6-8FG/7-8FT) and 9 rebounds in the 2nd half- for all intents and purposes it looked like Aldridge went to Coach Stotts and said give me the ball so I can figure these guys out. For the most part that’s exactly what he did.
The 4th quarter was mostly garbage time, and a bit of a reprise for the Blazers as they managed to outscore the Spurs by one in both the 3rd and 4th quarters. This is where the "why it’s not over yet" comes into play.
The Blazers just took what could be described as the Spurs best punch (at least we all hope so) for the first half of that game. Clearly the Blazers can’t, in its current form, handle that kind of blow. While it can be argued that the Spurs put the game in cruise control to start the 2nd half, I don’t believe Poppovich would let that happen. As great a coach as he is, and with Portland’s known ability to come back into a game, my guess is he had his guys ready to go. I think Portland finally settled into the game, albeit much too late, and they started to see and feel where pressures were coming from. Offensively, Portland sensed where they could attack and exploit the Spurs, and were actually fairly successful. If the Blazers can start Game 2 with that ability they may be able to trade punches with the Spurs, much like they did against Houston, until crunch time where it could go anyone’s way. Clearly that’s asking quite a bit from an inexperienced team in the playoffs against arguably one of the top 3 coaches of all time, who also happens to have the greatest power forward ever, and 2 other potential Hall of Fame caliber players in Parker and Ginobili. That’s just it though, with everything that San Antonio has, they just threw it all at the Blazers in the first half. Portland just exacerbated things by missing layups and wide open jumpers. Hat tip and credit to the Spurs is indeed deserved and rightly given- however while the Spurs were using a scalpel to cut away at the Blazers, Portland was busy patting themselves on the back with a mace while walking across broken glass barefoot.
Bottom line, if Portland comes out and plays their game at their tempo-, and doesn't allow the Spurs to dictate the game- oh and Tony Parker isn’t doing this to you every time down court, the Blazers have a chance to go in and possibly steal a game.
As always; questions, comments, and/or concerns please feel free to point them out (let's be honest, it's not like I have to ask for mistakes to be pointed out here).