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Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs: Bench Provides Silver Lining in Storm-Cloud Game

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The Spurs summarily disposed of the Blazers tonight but a couple of young bench players registered fantastic outings.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the San Antonio Spurs tonight in a 110-96 contest that was, for all intents and purposes, a blowout....though it never quite felt like one. The Spurs made some pretty plays but they didn't run away with the game in any obvious fashion. Instead the Blazers' defense sprung a leak in the first quarter that never got patched, leading to a slow intake of water which eventually sunk the ship beyond rescue. Portland never gained control of the court for more than a couple plays straight and didn't win a single quarter. San Antonio never looked rattled. The game went in one direction; for the Blazers, that was straight south.

Various ailments plagued Portland's play during different parts of the game. Defense was the constant. Portland allowed San Antonio 35 points in the first period. The first unit couldn't cover the three-point arc, uncharacteristic lethargy keeping them just short of Spurs shooters. The second unit couldn't cover anything as Spurs guards broke down individual defenders and passed anywhere they pleased. Those trends continued and Spurs posted 60 at the break, 91 at the end of the third quarter. Their overall 45% field goal clip looked average but they fired 11-29 from the arc and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. 16 Portland turnovers led to 25 Spurs points after, 17 off the break. As you might guess from those numbers, San Antonio was first to almost every contested ball tonight.

On the bright side, Portland's offense clicked well. The Blazers shot 50% from the field, though only 32% from behind the arc. That might have been enough had any offensive rebounds come their way. Portland totaled a shocking 2 O-rebs in 48 minutes. Normally that's half a center's worth of production for them, not the whole team for the whole game. Portland attempted 74 shots while San Antonio lofted 94. Getting out-attempted by 20 is not Trail Blazer basketball.

Between the turnovers, the Spurs winning the hustle plays, a rebounding deficit, a large three-point deficit, and getting up 20 fewer shots than the opponent the Blazers never really had a chance.

There's not much to the analysis in this one other than...

A. The Spurs are good.

B. The Spurs weren't going to give this one up after losing the last meeting between these teams in triple overtime. (Plus looking up at the Blazers in the standings and hearing how the guard may be changing in the West.)

C. Portland's defense just isn't the same with Chris Kaman in the game as it is when Robin Lopez plays. That may seem obvious but it bears repeating. It's shown up in small ways over the last couple weeks but it showed up big time tonight. The rotations aren't the same. The rebounding isn't the same. The confidence isn't there. And the Blazers can't win with offense alone...at least not against good teams,

D. When the Blazers don't play with verve and energy, they have a hard time making up for it. Everybody needs to remember what makes this team great. It's not the talent, it's how the talent operates and meshes.

If the listless loss was a cloud, a couple of bench players provided one heck of a silver lining.

Meyers Leonard hit every shot he took, took only smart shots, gave his all on defense, dove to the floor after loose balls, and even set some credible screens. We've been hard on Leonard in the past (for good reason). Even during his recent, decent performances the praise has been a little tongue-in-cheek, like seeing your little brother explode for an unexpected dunk and wondering where it came from and if he'll ever do it again. But Meyers wasn't anybody's little brother on this night. He played the way the game is meant to be played: with energy, with authority, with intelligence, and within the team framework. This may be my favorite Leonard outing ever. If he's going to play like this--especially standing out as an island with his teammates not following suit--he deserves legit credit. That was not just an NBA-type performance, that was a good NBA-type performance. Following on the heels of a really nice couple weeks, the bar has now been raised. Leonard deserves equal footing, and equal respect, with everybody else on the team. We've always said that it's the responsibility of every bench player to play so well that Coach Stotts can't possibly DNP him anymore. That moment has arrived for Meyers. Congratulations, Mr. Leonard. Here's to many more nights like this.

CJ McCollum may not have quite reached that point yet, but he played a great offensive game. He hit 7-10 shots for 17 points and it could have been 20 if he would have hit his free throws. That's not bad for 20 minutes. Like Leonard, McCollum played with authority, within his own skin, within the offense. His points didn't come from a random outburst of CJ Ball. The opportunities opened, he took them, he made the Spurs pay for giving them to him. Well done.

Unfortunately Nicolas Batum continued his mini-implosion, coughing up 5 turnovers against 2 assists and 5 points. Wesley Matthews continued his struggles as well, attempting 4 shots and making but 1. Steve Blake produced his usual assists but every other aspect of his game seems limp at this point.

The Blazers face the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night in a 6:00 Pacific start. On paper this is the hardest game of the current 4 bracketed by the Clippers and Kings. It'd be ironic for the Blazers to come out ahead in the face of their most difficult challenge, but let's hope they do just that.

Boxscore

The Instant Recap with more on the game and reaction to it.

Pounding The Rock can finally get that Blazers monkey off their back.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge