Actually "met" may be the wrong verb there. The Spurs showed up. I'm not sure who was wearing the Trail Blazers uniforms but I suspect it might have been Charles Barkley, Shaq, and those "Mmmmm!" people from the Wendy's Chicken Sandwich Commercial. Or maybe it was the lady who's always getting her salad stolen.
"Tony Parker, did you steal my salad?"
"Yes, and your lunch money, your mom's lunch money, the ball, your momentum, your confidence, 98% of your dignity and self-respect, and Game 1 too. Plus I left so much bad juju on your uniforms that you're going to have to burn them now."
That was pretty much the story of Portland's 116-92 loss to the Spurs tonight. If the Blazers ever had a chance it died when they got outscored 29-16 in the first period then followed up with a 36-23 laugher in the second. This wasn't a matter of things not working. For most of the half the Blazers didn't have things to work. Every weapon the Blazers brought to bear the Spurs stole, crumpled into a wad, and tossed over their shoulders into the 5th row.
If you're just joining our playoff coverage, this is normally the part of the recap where we meticulously detail the flow of the game. That's easy tonight. Portland's game flow was circular. Whether it rotated clockwise or counter-clockwise depends on which side of the equator you live on.
The Blazers came out of the gate gun-shy, combining missed jumpers and turnovers into a sickly stew that paralyzed their entire offense. Their shots came contested. Even when they saw daylight they bricked. The rare three-point or layup attempt missed as badly as the mid-rangers.
How bad was it? Junior Varsity players are told to never let the defense force them to pick up a dribble until they're ready...until they're in the correct position to pass or shoot. Every Blazer who handled the rock tonight seemed to take 7 dribbles, 3 steps, and then freeze. The Blazers didn't employ play calls as much as they cradled the ball, motionless and looking for somebody else to come and get it. The offense was a disaster.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, their purchase on the other end of the court was just as tenuous. The Spurs scouted Portland's defense well. Whatever you want to say about Portland's effort or heart or defensive talent, the Blazers have trouble dealing with screens. The Spurs weren't even subtle exploiting this shortcoming. High screens...cross screens...curl screens...screen-kabobs, screen creole, screen gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple screen, lemon screen, coconut screen, pepper screen, screen soup, screen stew, screen salad, screen and potatoes, screen burger, screen sandwich. That- that's about it. But that was plenty enough to get Tony Parker 13 points in the first period alone and 33 for the game. His eruption forced the Blazers to send help. At that point the Spurs had the Blazers where they wanted them. San Antonio either hit Tim Duncan for a nice mid-range pop or found abandoned three-point shooters. Either way they ran up the score like they were trying to make the BCS and there wasn't a damn thing the Blazers could do about it.
As if all of this wasn't bad enough (and it was), the Spurs also managed 9 offensive rebounds in that knockout-blow of a first half. Getting that many of your own misses is hard when you're shooting 65% from the field to begin with. It's doubly hard when you're the San Antonio Spurs, proud owner of the 26th most prolific offensive rebounding production in the league. (sigh)
Over the last few days our pre-series coverage has highlighted several critical factors in this matchup, but chief among them were three:
1. The Blazers have to put pressure on San Antonio's defense with their two stars, bending the coverage to make space for supporting shooters.
2. The Blazers have to prevent San Antonio from doing the same in return. The team that can single-cover the opponent will have a huge advantage. The team that rotates, helps, or (God forbid) scrambles will be vulnerable.
3. The easiest, and perhaps most significant way to frustrate the Spurs would be for Robin Lopez and company to pry an advantage on the offensive boards. Those rebounds and the resulting second-chance points are Portland's bread and butter. The Spurs don't get many O-rebs and they hate it when other teams do.
To their credit, the Blazers gave the first tactic a solid try. They got the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard plenty in the early going. The problem is, they did nothing else: no picks, no cuts, no movement...nothing but isolation basketball with everybody else watching. When Aldridge and Lillard failed to convert, San Antonio's defense barely had to move. Every Portland pass ended in the hands of a covered guy...those that weren't outright turned over to the waiting defense, that is. Failure cascaded upon failure. The Blazers never found their reservoir of creativity, determination, or any sort of back-up plan as bad shots gave way to worse.
Meanwhile the Spurs made a mockery of Portland's scrambling defense on the other end, swinging Point #2 so solidly in their favor that the pendulum embedded in the wall. When San Antonio's defense barely has to move and Portland defenders can't even find their men anymore for all the fires they're dousing, the Spurs are going to win.
When Point #3: Offensive Rebounds--San Antonio's potential weakness, Portland's potential secret weapon--also went in the favor of the Spurs, this game wasn't just done, it was burnt and had to be thrown out. Coach Stotts called the obligatory timeouts, implored his guys to stick with it. They were short interludes in the drawn-out slaughter. Neither Stotts nor the late Jack Ramsay himself could have saved this team tonight. Gordon Ramsay would have had trouble changing the outcome.
Portland's 65-39 deficit at the half became a 116-92 final score. The Spurs shot 51% to Portland's 38%. San Antonio fired 44% from the arc to 25% for the Blazers. The assist total ran 21-9 for the Spurs, the steal total 12-6 for the Spurs, the turnover total 20-12 for the Spurs. Points in the paint, fast break points, and points after turnovers all favored the Spurs as well. The Blazers drew 6 more foul shots and made 5 more free throws than San Antonio. That was it for significant advantages.
The consolation, obviously, is that the series is still 7 games long. Speculating that the Masters of the Post-Season will get overconfident with this win is folly. But the Blazers won't be as under-confident as they showed tonight. All season long Portland has operated far better when the odds seemed stacked against them than when they were flush with success. If anything's going to make them feel like the neglected, disrespected underdog, tonight's game would be it.
Do not short the Spurs by attributing this loss to Portland's bad play alone. The Blazers missed their shots because the Spurs defended them impeccably. But Aldridge and Lillard will get more chances to break that defense and find open teammates. Those teammates and their coaches will likely figure out that straight iso-ball--though understandable given the course of Portland's last series--is not the best approach against the Spurs. Things will change.
Just like the Blazers couldn't come into this game expecting a win because of their heroic efforts against the Rockets last Friday, they can't come into Game 2 expecting a loss because of tonight's debacle. The door that slammed so hard tonight will open again with a 0-0 score on Thursday. Until then it'd probably be best for the Blazers and their fans to put this game behind them and focus on the task ahead.
Stay with us for continuing coverage, including the Media Row Report from San Antonio with quotes from the Blazers themselves, more Fraternizing With the Enemy, more Videocasts, more random thoughts on Twitter @DaveDeckard, and tons of mind bleach for this debacle and fresh anticipation pointed straight towards Game 2.
Boxscore (You probably shouldn't.)
Timmay's Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review (Hope you like gallows humor.)
Pounding The Rock will bring you the Spurs point of view. (But make sure you can handle the heat if you visit.)
And speaking of Twitter (@DaveDeckard), here are your Tweets of the Night just to show you what you've been missing:
Blazers must have read Roy Hibbert's motivational book on the plane ride.
— David Deckard (@DaveDeckard) May 7, 2014
Blazers: "You can take our three-pointers! You can take Game 1! But you cannot take our... aww, screw it. They took everything."
— David Deckard (@DaveDeckard) May 7, 2014