The Portland Trail Blazers traveled to San Antonio tonight to try to lock up home court in the first round of the playoffs, but former Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs had other ideas, downing the Blazers 116-105. San Antonio entered the game with the third best home record in the NBA and Portland’s All-Star Damian Lillard was a game time decision with an ankle injury. Lillard was given the green light to play,, but a 28-point effort from Aldridge and a throwback 7-7 performance from the 40 year old Manu Ginobili ultimately propelled the Spurs to the win.
The Defensive Chess Game
Two of the NBAs best defenses engaged in a battle of wits from the opening tip. The first quarter featured more counters than inventory day at Amazon. After Blazers head coach Terry Stotts figured out that the Spurs were willing to switch Patty Mills onto Evan Turner, Portland ran four straight possessions with Turner as the ball screener. Turner took advantage of the mismatch, posting up the smaller Mills, and converted on three of those possessions. Portland faked and slipped screens to throw off the San Antonio game plan. Sometimes it took multiple screen the screener actions in a single set, but they managed to find some day light against a Spurs defense that left few open looks. Portland led 33-32 after one.
You Want it? You Gotta Earn It
Don’t let the 65 combined first quarter points fool you -- the defensive battle was intense. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum got hot early but every shot they hit was over an outstretched arm. As the game picked up, so did the physicality of both teams. Former Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge finished the half 7-9 but he was bumped and knocked around all game. Credit him with hitting tough shots; the defense couldn’t have been much better.
Portland survived on hitting contested threes in the first half, going 7-14, but it was clearly something the Spurs were willing to live with. The key became a forbidden area for the Blazers in the second quarter, as a 13-foot jumper from Turner was the closest made field goal that the Spurs would concede in the period. Portland also mustered up only two free throws. Even so, a Lillard jumper at the end of the half gave the Blazers a 56-54 advantage headed into the break.
Spurs gon’ Spur
The three ball and those mid-range jumpers became less and less accessible in the third quarter, to Portland’s frustration. Add a few costly turnovers and it was a rough quarter offensively for the Blazers. The Spurs found mismatches at the power forward position and used the tandem of Aldridge and Rudy Gay to assault the rim. Portland bigs couldn’t stick with Gay, and Aldridge was difficult matchup for everyone Portland threw at him. Despite their struggles, the Blazers managed to keep within four points, entering the fourth quarter down by a score of 77-81.
As the clock ticked onward, Portland’s grip on the game was getting looser and every person in the gym knew it. It was only a matter of time before San Antonio was going to start hitting shots from deep, and that’s exactly what happened in the fourth. A three-possession, eight-point, solo run by Manu Ginobili put Portland in desperation mode. They couldn’t muster up a defense to slow down the Spurs, nor ultimately enough offense to stay with them. San Antonio’s lead reach double-digits before the halfway mark of the period. After that, it was all downhill against a veteran team that wasn’t going to give up the game.
Portland’s 13 turnovers were not a killer, but it’s a testimate to the Spurs aggression that 12 of those turnovers came off of San Antonio steals.
After a good showing the first quarter, Portland never again looked like they were in the driver seat. San Antonio didn’t shoot the ball especially well from deep (33%), but everything inside the arc was next to automatic. They finished the game shooting 63% on two-pointers. That has been San Antonio’s MO all season and Portland just couldnt get the Spurs away from it. Portland’s defensive effort was calculated, but the Spurs looked comfortable on that end of the floor and continued to find holes to produce good shots.
The Spurs bench manhandled the depleted Portland rotation, but it’s hard to use that as an excuse as long as San Antonio is without their former first-team All-NBA forward, Kawhi Leonard.
Portland needed 33 from Damian Lillard in order to keep this one close. It’s tough to see him play injured and not come away with a win
Damian Lillard - If Lillard had a bad ankle, but you’d never know it from how he played. He provided the majority of Portland’s outside attack, hitting over half of their made threes. San Antonio pressured him all game, which resulted in 7 turnovers, but the fact that he was almost never open makes his 33 points even more impressive.
Evan Turner - Turner was in beast mode tonight. He hit shots in iso sets, also imposing his will when he got the ball deep under the basket. Turner guarded every position on the court and did so effectively. Good game from ET tonight.
Al Farouq Aminu - Chief struggled. Offensively, 1-6 shooting and 4 turnovers speak for themselves, but for the first time in a long time, he was also at a disadvantage defensively. Aminu drew the tough assignment of guarding Aldridge. He started off strong, cutting off angles on entry passes, forcing Aldridge’s catches to come in the midpost and beyond. From there, Aminu did a good job contesting shots, even if Aldridge was able to convert a few. In the second half, San Antonio countered Aminu’s craftiness by putting the bigger Aldridge under the basket, sealing off the smaller defender. When San Antonio orchestrated high/low action to change up the angle that Aldridge was receiving the ball,there just wasn’t much Aminu could do against the much bigger forward.
Meyers Leonard - Meyers struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball, but offensively, he hit both of his threes and even added an and-one off of a put-back. Meyers’ scoring was much needed from a short-handed bench.
Former Blazers - Former Blazers Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge went to work today. The two combined for 41 and gave Portland fits all night. It was better to be a former Blazer in the game than a current one, but as far as bragging rights go...Portland still has the better record, right?
Up Next -
The Blazers travel to Denver on Monday to take on the Nuggets. 6:00 Pacific start time. At 48-32 they still hold the third position in the Western Conference playoffs race, but Utah is 1.5 games behind. The Blazers need another victory—or help from a rival—to ensure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.