From the lofty heights of the Game 6 win against the Houston Rockets, the Trail Blazers plunged into the icy depths of a series in which they never really had a chance. The Spurs were too good, too often. The relatively inexperienced Blazers found themselves bailing water instead of steering the ship. Portland's crew sweated their way through the first half tonight, pumping furiously in an attempt to remain buoyant. The game hung by a thread at halftime but the ship rolled at the start of the third period and dreams of a miracle comeback sank into the night.
Both teams got off to a shaky start in this game. San Antonio missed all kind of jumpers in the first period. Portland's defense looked strong, allowing the Spurs mid-range tries the Blazers were comfortable with. It was the best defensive quarter the Blazers had posted all series.
Sadly the effort was scuttled by Portland's own miscues. Faced with elimination, the Blazers flat refused to take a quarter that the Spurs were offering them on a platter. Portland missed 4 of 7 free throws in the first. They followed up excellent defense by allowing San Antonio 6 offensive rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge made strong moves but didn't finish often enough. Portland's three-point shooters couldn't connect when wide open. It was like watching a short-stacked poker player fold pocket queens against a 10-6. With the cards seemingly in their hand the Blazers didn't step up to their moment, didn't follow through on their advantage.
The silver lining to the first-quarter cloud was the 19-19 score. In previous games limp efforts from the Blazers resulted in a quick, 15-point deficit. You got the feeling that if the Blazers could just wake up, this game would get interesting.
Sadly, Portland's bench couldn't keep the Spurs in check at the start of the second, ceding layups and threes in generous doses. Turnovers accounted for the layups, failing to close out for the triples. This theme would continue through the rest of the game for starters and reserves alike. As the Blazers stopped forcing the Spurs into inefficient shots, San Antonio's offense began to rev up. Portland remained in a daze. Aldridge scored but continued to miss good looks. Nobody else could keep a handle on the ball. The Spurs netted 32 in the period to Portland's 25, taking a 51-44 lead into the half.
Once again the lack of a double-digit deficit provided Portland consolation. The Blazers had suffered through a tough half but they had weathered bench minutes, survived turnovers and blown shots. Trailing by 7 didn't seem fatal. It almost looked like a blessing.
Tony Parker leaving the game with a hamstring strain in the second period provided an extra sliver of hope. The Spurs would function in Parker's absence, but he was THE nemesis--a constant energy-sink--to Portland's defense in this series. Not having to worry about him might ease the burden on that end of the floor. That could be enough to turn the game around.
If blessings and hopes were to be fulfilled, Portland needed to come out and make a statement in the third period. With enough intensity and drive they could keep close and put doubt in the Spurs' minds heading into crunch time. The Blazers had capitalized on those situations all season long. If they could stay on San Antonio's heels, another notch in their belt awaited.
The Spurs squashed that plan in the opening 90 seconds of the third period. Needing to assert control, the Blazers instead watched Tim Duncan hit a jumper. Then they turned over the ball and hacked Tiago Splitter to prevent a layup. The Blazers missed a layup themselves, then Patty Mills sank a jumper off a screen. Finally Portland turned over the ball again and Kawhi Leonard rammed home a rim-shaking dunk on the ensuing run-out. Out of 7 possible pivot points at the opening of the third, all 7 went to the Spurs. This resulted in the dreaded 15-point lead. Portland never recovered.
With offensive continuity and poise a distant memory--with already-faint hopes spiraling down the drain after every turnover and missed shot--the Blazers went on to score 19 points in each of the final two periods. That wouldn't have been enough had their defense been masterful. As it turned out it was only passable, particularly at the arc. When the final horn sounded--more mercy than tragedy--San Antonio walked off with a 22-point victory and a ticket to Round 3, the Blazers to a well-earned vacation.
You don't have to delve deep to find the weaknesses in Portland's game tonight. Aldridge had 21 points on 21 shots. Damian Lillard scored 17 on 18 shots. Lillard shot 1-4 from beyond the arc. The two only attempted 6 free throws between them.
As a team the Blazers scored 82 points on 81 field goal tries. If you can find the extra points Portland so covets in those numbers, you're a better analyst than I. No matter what else happens, 1 point per attempt won't sustain the Blazer offense.
To that you can add on the following:
- Nicolas Batum shooting 1-6 from distance and pairing 5 assists with 6 turnovers
- Will Barton shooting 2-9
- Portland's bench scoring 8 points total
- The Blazers firing 5-19 (26%) from three-point range to San Antonio's 43% clip
- Portland shooting 41% overall against 47% for the Spurs
- The Blazers managing only 7 offensive rebounds. Even after shutting off the first-quarter tap they allowed San Antonio 9
- Portland shooting 11-17 (65%) from the foul line after shooting 82% during the season
- Portland committing 18 turnovers for 20 Spurs points compared to 8 TO's and 5 points going the other way
- The Blazers allowing 33 fast break points and scoring only 6
Add that up and you get either "Wow!" or "Ouch!" depending on your perspective.
Portland had a few good moments. Batum grabbed 12 boards. Wesley Matthews shot 50%. Robin Lopez threw his body around. But all of the positives together didn't outweigh the massive list of shortcomings. Perhaps the Blazers expended all their energy in the spirited attack of Game 4. By comparison this wasn't much of an outing to close the season.
Looking back, the Blazers were way over their heads in this series from its opening moments. The Blazers hardly showed up and never had a chance against the experienced, determined Spurs. As it turned out the big finish against Houston wasn't the beginning of something magical but the cap to a really good year, the last hurrah for the underdogs before the big boys brought the hammer.
You have to give San Antonio credit. Anybody who lived through the Drexler Era in Portland knows the difference between a team that's ready to win big and a team that hasn't made it yet. (Recall the contests between the Blazers and David Robinson's Spurs or Kevin Johnson's Suns teams for examples.) San Antonio is that ready-to-win team. The Blazers aren't there yet.
Even crediting the opponent fully, you still have to cast a critical eye on Portland's lineup. The door was open tonight, at least for a while. The Spurs did not bring their "A" game early. Game 6 was a live possibility. But the Blazers couldn't make inroads. They lacked confidence, they lacked adaptability, they lacked live bodies off the bench, and eventually they lacked the energy and will as well.
The Blazers were not a player or two away from beating the Spurs in this series. They might have been a player or two away from winning one more game, plus another year of experience away from not handing repeated blowouts to the opponent. But the distance between the Blazers and one of the truly elite teams in this league was so vast as to be immeasurable.
The Blazers had a really good year. 54 wins and the joy of sending Dwight Howard and James Harden packing will provide the enduring memories of 2013-14, not this second-round loss. But the gap between Portland and San Antonio will influence the off-season plan more than 54 wins or the Game 6 shot will.
Last summer we wondered if Portland had a foundation. They've now staked a claim to such. But the Spurs just knocked down any pretense to walls, furnishings, and anything past rudimentary plumbing. The Blazers might be comfortable building on their existing framework, but if their designs include a championship they better plan on plenty of work and a few trips to the hardware store. They're not ready for the high-rent district yet.
Trying to remedy that will be the work of this summer and beyond. Let's see how they do.
I'll reflect more on the season as a whole tomorrow. It'll be a pleasure to put into perspective the wins, a 5-seed, unexpected playoff glory, and a campaign that created a whole new generation of Blazer fans. After that, of course, we'll keep going all summer through the draft, free agency, Summer League, and beyond! The Blazer season comes to a close each year, but the Blazer's Edge season never does. The talk never stops here. We'll feed your Blazers addiction until 2014-15 dawns and we all go crazy again. As a matter of fact, we're going to crank it into higher gear this summer than we ever have before, so stay with us tonight, tomorrow, and beyond!
Timmay's Last Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review of the Season Everybody in the community should lift a round of applause to Tim, his fellow mods, and all the folks who come to discuss games with such passion and humor.
Pounding The Rock one more time. Been fun chatting with you guys!
Last Thought: If you wore Blazers gear around town at any time over the past month, put that stuff on tomorrow too. Win or lose, the light still burns.
--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard