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Freaky Friday Leaves Blazers at a Loss

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For one half the Blazers flipped the script on the Spurs. Then reality set in.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

By NBA standards a 110-94 loss is pretty close to blowout territory. The Portland Trail Blazers lost to the San Antonio Spurs by that exact margin on Friday evening. Though it looked like a comfortable—maybe even blowout—win from the Spurs perspective, Portland will take comfort that the game was actually well-played. For a while the Blazers made the Spurs look human. Portland even led at halftime before coming apart down the stretch. It wasn’t a win but it wasn’t humiliating either. The way the season has gone for the Trail Blazers so far, they might want to take it.

Game Flow

The first half of this game felt like watching Terry Stotts and Gregg Popovich stuck in a remake of “Freaky Friday”. The Blazers played very Spurs-like while building and maintaining an early lead. Portland was tenacious on defense, forcing 13 turnovers in the first half and holding San Antonio to 25 points or less in the opening quarters. Portland also shared the ball well and limited their own mistakes. C.J. McCollum led the Blazers with 15 points in the half and Maurice Harkless added 10. Meanwhile the Spurs looked uncharacteristically out-of-sync. If it weren’t for late buckets by perpetual thorn Manu Ginobili the Blazers would have held a double-digit lead throughout the half. Instead they had to settle for a 52-47 halftime lead.

The spirit-swap reverted in the locker room at intermission; the remainder of the contest belonged entirely to the Spurs. Even without their best player in Kawhi Leonard (who sat out the game due to illness) San Antonio eviscerated the Blazers with a championship-caliber arsenal. After coughing up the ball like hairball-infested cats in the first half, the Spurs committed only three more turnovers the rest of the way. 25 points per quarter morphed into 33 and 30. Pau Gasol started going to work against the smaller Mason Plumlee in the paint. The Blazers couldn’t crack the conundrum posed by Gasol and Tony Parker in the two-man game. Ginobili hit a three to reclaim the lead for his team with 3:48 left in the third. Before you could say, “Kiss Cam makes me queasy nowadays” San Antonio gained control and ran away with the game. They never looked back, eventually pulling away by 20 late in the fourth.

Analysis

The 16-point loss threatened to evaporate much of what Portland did well, focusing scrutiny on what they didn’t.

The Blazers shot 45% from the floor tonight, but that statistic is misleading. For much of the evening the offense struggled. When the points counted most it was non-existent. Portland’s early lead depended on the Spurs’ early mistakes. When San Antonio woke up and started taking care of the ball those opportunities disappeared. The offense went with them.

Without Damian Lillard the Blazers lack guys who can break down the defense off the dribble. The list begins and ends with McCollum, who scored 29 points on 10-19 shooting but was held to just a single assist tonight. Portland struggled to get into any kind of groove offensively and lack of diversity in the playmaking department was part of that.

Portland shot only 6-20 from downtown, a paltry 30%. Danny Green matched their production by himself, going 6-8. The Spurs rained down 11 of 22 three-pointers, outclassing the Blazers at their own game.

Meyers Leonard might have helped with the three-point shooting but he did not play much before the fourth quarter when the outcome was already decided. Coming off a strong game against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, one would think he’d been due a chance at a follow-up. It wasn’t in the cards.

Leonard may have also been a decent counter to San Antonio’s size. Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the rest of the Spurs thoroughly dominated Portland on the boards. The Spurs ran up a 48-25 edge, including an 11-2 advantage in offensive rebounds.

Aldridge was otherwise a non-factor most of the night, taking only three shots and scoring eight points as Portland paid him more attention this time around than in last Friday’s loss to this same team. For the second-straight game the Blazers double-teamed a star. Unfortunately for Portland, San Antonio takes advantage of that strategy far more than DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings did. When the Blazers made like Lex Luthor and said, “You’re not gonna beat us today, Superman!” LaMarcus just casually stepped aside and let the rest of the Justice League handle business.

Individual Notes

C.J. McCollum had his shot going but he was pretty much alone in that regard. He netted 29 points on 10-19 shooting from the floor but managed only two rebounds and one assist on top of it. The Spurs were probably happy to let C.J. get his and just stay home against everybody else.

Maurice Harkless had a nice first half but disappeared in the second. He totaled 12 points and 3 steals. He had a couple nice finishes around the rim in traffic but his scoring continues to be opportunistic more than deterministic. Moe also responded somewhat cryptically to a reporter’s postgame question regarding the root of the team’s troubles, first saying he would answer off-camera and then refusing to answer at all.

Allen Crabbe played 33 minutes but took only 9 shots, scoring 11 points. That’s not going to cut it as a starter. For a team as hungry for offense as Portland is, it is frustrating that a shooter with Crabbe’s skills isn’t getting off even 10 shots in 30+ minutes.

Evan Turner struggled to get his shot going, scoring 8 points on 3-11 shooting. San Antionio crowded the paint and didn’t leave much room for him to operate in his wheelhouse. This led to some tough looks for ET. He added four rebounds and three assists.

Al-Farouq Aminu played good defense against Aldridge but was not very good elsewhere. He scored six points on 2-9 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

Mason Plumlee didn’t leave a big mark on this one either: just eight points, five rebounds and six assists. He was outmatched on the boards all night and wasn’t allowed to get to the hoop in the pick-and-roll.

Shabazz Napier got into the mix for a stretch during the first half where he scored 8 points, but he ended up going 4-10 and missing all five of his three-point attempts. Napier definitely has the speed to beat defenders off the dribble but hasn’t shown the ability to create for others. At the moment his offense appears to be largely one-dimensional.

Links and Such

Boxscore

Video Recap

Pounding The Rock I’m sure got a good scare out of this one...

What’s Next

The Blazers are off to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Sunday, New Years Day at 4 p.m.

Blazer’s Edge Night 2017

Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!

-- Ryan Rosback | ripcity.rosback@gmail.com | Twitter