This was a fantastic, fantastic game. I know the loss was a bummer for folks but we played 45 minutes of really fine basketball. The last three fell a little short but even then we weren't awful. The Spurs were just better. That's why they're the Spurs. That's OK. This was still one of my favorite games of the year...maybe THE favorite. Sure it was more fun seeing us dunk all over Charlotte and win against the Lakers twice and Cleveland once, but this was so hard-fought, so defensively intense, so well-executed that it's hard not to love it from my perspective, especially after being treated to games like the ones against Sacramento and Seattle last week.
Spurs 99, Blazers 94
--Where to start? Probably by saying this was our best, most coordinated defensive effort all year--certainly when you take into account the caliber of team we were playing. I know the Spurs ended up with 99 points but remember that at least 12-15 of those came in the last couple minutes of the game. We were on pace to hold San Antonio below 90. The same can be said of field goal percentage. They ended up at 48.7, which ain't good, but for most of the game we had them in the low forties. We did reasonably well on Duncan (his 24 points weren't helping them win). We did a little less well on their perimeter guys in the fourth quarter. I think we got tired a little bit. But for the most part where we needed help, we got it. When it was smart to play defense one-on-one we did that. Other than Ginobili and Finley late nobody really got started for them for most of the game. And they really only had that one huge run at the end. The rest of the time when they'd threaten we'd force misses.
--Even better than the defense was the rebounding. We beat them handily, which is a feather in our caps. We beat them on the defensive boards and massacred them on the offensive end for a final margin of +7. That as much as anything kept us steaming ahead.
--Even more surprisingly, the offense was really, really good! We shot 50% against the Spurs. Let me say that again: WE SHOT 50% AGAINST THE SPURS. And hold onto your hats, because that ain't all. We beat them in ASSISTS! Do you know how difficult that is for any team, let alone one that can't seem to find its own sneakers half the time? We also beat them in FREE THROW ATTEMPTS! We were generally more aggressive and took it to the hole a bunch. That is also a major achievement! If you read through the Gameday Open Thread you will find example after example of us putting on smart, aggressive teams plays and individual moves. We shot 80 times and I don't think there were 10 bad shots in the whole game. It was beautiful to see. Plus we only had eight turnovers! We shot 36% from the three-point arc and had we made just one more the final outcome might have been different. What more could you ask for?
--If you want to nitpick at anything, it has to be our 10-20 free throw performance. Jamaal Magloire at 4-8 and Martell Webster at 1-4 were the chief offenders. But you have to praise them for being aggressive and deep enough to get to the stripe along with chastising them for missing once they got there. In a way it was as much of a good sign as a bad one.
Obviously I'm struggling to find a lot of things we did wrong. That tells you what kind of game it was.
--Zach only had 14 points tonight but he played a wonderful game on both ends of the court. Not once do I recall him getting toasted on defense (though to be fair he wasn't guarding Duncan but the much lesser offensive threats San Antonio puts out there beside him). He had 12 rebounds. His 8 defensive rebounds doubled the production of anyone else on the team. He never held the ball once. He didn't put up ill-advised shots when the offense was running well through other people. He made some really nice passes that facilitated other people's scoring and he only turned the ball over once when he forgot not to loop it clear across court over every defender present. It was a nearly flawless game from him...a team game. Give him credit.
--You should also be dancing in giddy glee over the job Lamarcus did tonight. The only stat that you'd raise an eyebrow at is his rebounds. He only got four. But he was matched up with Tim Duncan one-on-one all night which dominated his attention. And by the way, how many did Duncan get? Only eight...below his season average. Nate showed a lot of confidence in Lamarcus putting him out there all alone against one of the best players in the universe and Lamarcus responded. The double teams were few and far between. Mostly Lamarcus stayed in front of Duncan, made him work for his shots, and didn't foul him. (LMA had only two personal fouls for the game. Who escapes their meeting with Timmy that unscathed?) Know how many dunks Duncan had tonight? Zeeee-ro. Putting it conservatively, Lamarcus did GREAT! Very few in the league could have done better, let alone rookies. I wouldn't be surprised if Timmy and Lamarcus passed in the hall afterwards if Duncan would have shook Lamarcus' hand. Oh...and by the way Lamarcus shot 7-11, ended up with 14 points, and his distance shooting kept the Spurs' big men out of the lane, freeing room for the guards to operate.
--Brandon Roy: 19 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 turnover. He was a surgeon out there offensively. He made all of their guards and most of their big guys, including Duncan a couple times, look bad. He was responsible for the great ball movement. Be really, really glad we have this guy. The only thing you mighty quibble with was his slightly leaky defense, but that's an issue with our entire backcourt.
--It was a nice game for Outlaw too after he settled down and stopped missing long jumpers. He ended up 4-8 with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks (including a spectacular one on Duncan) from the weak side. All of this in 16 minutes of playing time.
--Jarrett Jack didn't have as large of an effect on the game as it looked like he might at first. He came out firing and moving but kind of got lost in the shuffle later as Brandon took the lead more. Still I have few complaints about his game. He didn't hurt us.
--Ime shot 6-8 tonight and at one point looked like he'd never miss. I loved his offensive aggressiveness and his defense was pretty darn good as well.
--This would be one of the games Sergio fans could point to and say, "He's back!" He was all over the court tonight with 6 assists and 7 points on 3-5 shooting in just 14 minutes. He was the spark plug out there.
--Fred Jones and Jamaal Magloire gave us good, veteran efforts--Jones with 2 steals, 3 boards, and a block, Jamaal with 6 rebounds and 8 free throw attempts--each in limited minutes. They filled their roles well and didn't stick out as doing anything counterproductive.
--I hope we took a lesson late in the game when San Antonio began switching on everything and we ended up with several mismatches where Roy drove on Duncan. Tim Duncan is one of the best defensive players in the league and he couldn't begin to handle it. Don't you think it's just as hard, if not harder, for our more modestly-talented guys? We need to find a way to deal with picks that don't end up in such mismatches.
--I hope the guys take away the positives from this game instead of the one negative of not winning. I'd love to see this kind of effort in every game from now on. That would be real progress.
Final Thought: Over in the diaries, in one of the many talks we've had this year about winning, losing, and the possible benefits of each, some wise man said that (since we're unlikely to make the playoffs) if the basketball gods were kind they'd let us play wonderful, cohesive team ball and wring absolutely everything we could out of every single game, but it wouldn't hurt in the long run if we did end up falling short and getting...say...the 5th overall pick instead of the 10th. That's exactly what happened tonight. Yes, I would have much preferred to win. We all would have. But really, for this year's team if you're going to lose this is exactly the way to do it. If it hadn't been the Spurs and if they hadn't been on this run we would have won this game. But no harm, no foul that we didn't.