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Free Throws, Threes Send Blazers to Another Spurs Loss

Portland played better today than on Friday, but gave up too many extra points.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The lottery-bound Portland Trail Blazers weren’t about to beat the playoffs-seeking San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon. Nor did they. Portland fell _113-92 in a game that featured more energy than execution. The loss keeps the Blazers in the battle for the 5th-worst record in the league and a better position in the 2022 NBA Draft, but the game also had some interesting points.

If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are a few other notable things.

Interior Defense

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak when it comes to Portland’s interior defense. It’s hard to watch these players make essentially correct moves and rotations in the lane, mostly for naught. The Spurs looked down and Portland’s defenders and said, “Yeah? Now what?” With just a little size and intimidation, this defense would look better than it has in years. It’s not there, of course, so the actual effect is limited.

Exterior Defense

The criminal part about the above paragraph is that the Blazers are sacrificing nearly all pretense of covering three-pointers in order to pursue their lane-first defensive scheme. San Antonio was WIDE open at the arc all game long. This is a riddle the Blazers have failed to solve no matter what lineup they used this year. You’d despair of it being possible if other teams didn’t manage it.

A general lack of length and lateral speed is likely the culprit. The few Blazers who combine both don’t have enough experience or infrastructure support to make it count. These qualities should be high on Portland’s list this offseason if they plan to make any statements on the defensive end.

San Antonio shot 14-42 beyond the arc today. That’s a mediocre percentage, but the three became their lifeline whenever they needed to push ahead. The fact that they attempted 42 shows you how wide open they were.

What Can Brown Do For You?

Greg Brown III-Pointer was hot tonight, shooting 4-5 from distance. His three-point shooting was one of the only consistent factors on offense for Portland. He’s sporting amazing-looking goggles now. They appear to have transformed him from Clark Kent into Superman. If Brown III develops a bankable outside shot, insert wide-eyed happy expression here.

Not Picky

Lack of big men and lack of continuity have conspired to rob Portland of one of their best weapons: the screen play. Gone are the days when Jusuf Nurkic would set a good pick up top to set up multiple scoring lanes. Drew Eubanks is Portland’s best option for screen setting, and half the time his guards don’t use it well. When Eubanks is out, screens are practically nonexistent. That leaves Portland players going iso against the opposing defense. They just can’t do that. When the opponent is silly and sends help, the Blazers make the right pass, getting a good look. But it doesn’t take opposing defenses long to figure out they don’t need to help, as approximately zero Blazers scorers can create space one-on-one. When everybody stays home defensively, Portland doesn’t have the means to make them move and the offense goes pfffffftttttt.

Free Throws

As if the advantage at the arc and defensively weren’t enough today, the Spurs also shot 23-30 at the foul line, giving them a +13 advantage in points off of free throws. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Portland. They might have held it close shot-for-shot, as San Antonio’s offense came in fits and starts. But Portland’s defenders got handsy and swipesy. The refs didn’t let them get away with it at all. Those extra points for the Spurs were too much to overcome.

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Boxscore

The Blazers head to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder at 5:00 PM, Pacific on Tuesday night.