--We have nothing to hang our heads about in this game. We played as well as we could play for the first two quarters and still had the game in range until Ginobili took over late. Anybody who thinks the Blazers are as good as the Spurs has a screw loose, which means we played a smart, controlled, aggressive game against a superior team and threatened them enough to make them uncomfortable. It's not exactly a moral victory but it is a sign of progress. I am willing to say right here, right now that this team is much better than I gave it credit for going into the season. I fully realize that we will have more awful nights and more stretches like the first three games of the recent road trip where we look pathetic, but the way we played tonight showed me that there's light at the end of that tunnel. The growth this year should be tangible and real.
--We showed some really nice passing ability tonight. The inside-outside game against San Antonio's defense was marvelous and yielded any number of quality shots. It wasn't just jumpers either. If you have the game taped, rewind to 4:59 left in the 2nd quarter. You'll see Zach double teamed with the ball in the post. Instead of holding it he passes out to a guard, who passes to a third player, who passes right back to Zach...now only single covered because we moved the ball. Zach makes a move and scores. Very, very nice. Our ball movement was a big part of why we shot 53.5% tonight.
--We did push the tempo some, getting the ball down the court and setting up quicker than is our norm. This ought to become a regular feature of our offense even if it is mostly halfcourt. It puts more pressure on the opposition and gives us more options.
--We did a very nice job on the boards also. It was a team-wide effort.
--I loved the energy of the following guys the minute they were put into the game: Lamarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, Stephen Graham, and Juan Dixon. All of those guys came to play and made an impact. That's a big reason we played as well as we did.
--Nate went with an odd lineup down the stretch in the 4th, playing combinations of Jack, Zach, Dixon, Outlaw, Graham, and Magloire. All of those lesser-known guys were having decent games. It did make you wonder where Lamarcus and Ime were though.
Besides Ginobili there were a couple reasons we lost:
--Our guards got in early foul trouble trying to contain the drives of their backcourt. This limited our on-point defensive aggressiveness for the rest of the game.
--We had mixed results with the zone. At times it looked great. Other times it lead to those deadly triple-teams, wide-open shots, and unopposed drives due to late recognition and rotation.
--We turned the ball over a bunch off of carries, steps out of bounds, and travels. They were all legit calls, there were just a lot of them. By the way, if you watch Tim Duncan's feet in the post he moves his pivot foot way more than the rules allow and occasionally takes three steps on his drive. That wasn't called though.
--I was way wrong about this not being Zach's game, at least in the first half. The interesting thing was, he was scoring on the move, not by standstill posting or taking jumpers. I loved this aspect of his game (made possible by our fine passing) and he just blew them away. The Spurs adjusted by moving Bruce Bowen on him in the second half. (How good is that guy anyway?) Because Bowen was quicker he was able to slow Zach down and once Zach was still he was an easy guard and didn't really score much. That isn't necessarily Zach's fault though. The Spurs are just that good against opposing big guys. In the end Zach played pretty near to Duncan statistically in every category except assists and blocks. It was a good game from Zach...maybe his best one of the year in terms of moving the ball and not getting trapped. He was also hustling down the floor both ways, which is good to see. That, by the way, is often an indicator of what kind of game he's having (or at least of how much he's putting out).
--Lamarcus Aldridge had another fine outing. He shot 50%, scored 8, and grabbed 6 boards which tied for 2nd overall in the game. He put himself in magnificent position for rebounds on both ends of the court. His follow-up dunk was the most spectacular (and how often has it been since we've seen one of those?) but that was merely the fruit of his honest labor all evening. And again, this guy gets so many points just by having soft hands and catching the ball. He's just lovely.
--Jamaal Magloire's new-found commitment to the deep low post is refreshing. He scored 9 points on 4 shots tonight. That's efficiency. Getting a few touches has also rekindled his interest in rebounding. He's becoming more of a stable defender too. He'll never be confused with a great defender, but it's good to see anyway. Maybe, just maybe, this guy has finally decided to be a Trailblazer (for now, anyway). Then again, maybe his agent called him and reminded him that guys who play 12 minutes and average 1.5 rebounds a game don't get paid much. Either way, we'll take it.
--Juan Dixon had maybe his best all-around game of the year. He had controlled aggression out there. (The first part of that equation is sometimes missing from his game.) He had 17 points, got to the line 6 times, and gave us 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. Those are pretty good numbers for him. He really anchors that second unit.
--I was also impressed by Outlaw's game. You didn't see it in the numbers, but he picked his spots and stayed active even when he wasn't scoring. The shots he took, make or miss, were aggressive, open, and for the most part wise. If he keeps playing with this attitude his game will improve over time, which is all anyone is asking at this point.
--Martell Webster and Stephen Graham also picked their spots. I'd still like to see Martell shooting more. Dan Dickau didn't have a big stat or big minute game but he finally looked comfortable in his own skin out there. You might as well be. Just play your game.
--Ime Udoka had 5 assists and 2 steals. He was a big part of the good movement. Kevin Pritchard's description of him as the "glue guy" is quite apt.
--Sergio looked to shoot and drive more when he was out there (which wasn't long). I'll take it.
--Jarrett Jack had his usual stat-filling game. He got burned a little on defense but all of our guards did. That's to be expected against guys like Parker and Ginobili. Despite the palming calls and the fouls I'll take his 12 points, 5 assists, 57% shooting, aggressive drives, and sweet jumpers. Just give the man time and he'll improve in every one of those categories.
As I read these comments over, I guess nobody had that bad of a game. I think that's accurate though. San Antonio just had more accomplished and more experienced players. Again, no shame in that.
--The crowd looked sparse on TV. I'm going to write a piece in a couple days about what the Blazers can do to help with that, but we've got to do our part too. That game was worth $20 to see. If you are in Portland and have not seen a game yet, get thee to the Rose Garden. If you have been or plan to go, invite a friend along. It'll be a good evening.
--I did hear some coordinated chants out there. Way to go on that front!
If you were there tonight and want to file an eyewitness report, send it along by e-mail and I'll post it.