The first quarter started exactly as expected when the Spurs face the Blazers: with LaMarcus Aldridge punishing them with his outside shot. Duncan answered with a couple of dunks but contributed to the team's sloppy start with two early turnovers. Things got a little better on defense with Splitter subbing in for Blair and actually contesting Aldridge's jumpers, but the offense remained stagnant and mistake prone, which played right into the hands of a Blazers team (22nd in the league in pace) that likes to slow things down.
Facing a shallow bench, the Spurs' second unit showed its offensive acumen late in the first an early in the second by scoring 20 straight points, but some timely three pointers from Luke Babbit, Damian Lillard and Sasha Pavlovic allowed the Blazers to weather the storm. Portland went on a little run to finish the half, but the Spurs answered and went into the break down four, 49-45.
The first half was pretty brutal for San Antonio offensively despite, or perhaps due to, shooting a lot of free throws. The slow pace, bad spacing and continuous breaks prevented the Spurs from getting into any kind of offensive rhythm, as exemplified by the measly 20% shooting on three pointers in only five attempts.
Gary Neal addressed that problem quickly in the 3rd with a couple of quick threes, which were probably his only two positive contributions of the night. With Parker starting to attack a little more instead of allowing Batum's length to affect his aggressiveness, it looked like the Spurs could get the momentum they needed to break out of their offensive funk and be re-energized after a lackluster first half effort.
Unfortunately, Aldridge took advantage of some mediocre (at best) defense from Diaw and responded with two quick buckets to put out the fire. After that, there was a barrage of jumpers that fell for the Blazers but not for the Spurs. When the dust had settled, Portland's lead had peaked at nine. A Splitter layup cut the lead to seven, so going into the final quarter it was Blazers 76 - Spurs 69.
With the offense unable to get going, the Spurs turned to their Big Three and their team defense for answers. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili combined for 16 of the Spurs 21 4th quarter points and held the Blazers to 22 points for the period, but it was just too little, too late for a Spurs team that seemed to have nothing left in the tank.
- In case the game breakdown wasn't clear enough, this was a very, very ugly game. A lot of interruptions due to fouls (30 combined), a lot of turnovers (33 combined) and some very poor three point shooting. The Spurs usually manage to come out on top in this type of games despite preferring high scoring, high pace affairs, but when the other team shoots 48.4% form mid-range (that number was in the 60s for most of the game) it's almost impossible to survive. Lillard and Aldridge both went 5-10 on 2-point jumpers. That's a ridiculously good shooting night form there for LMA and on par with what Lillard hits. The Spurs seem content with conceding those shots and it came back to haunt them.
- The Blazers' length bothered the Spurs throughout the game. They took away the easy pass forcing the Spurs' playmakers to try cross court skip passes that often resulted in turnovers. Batum did a good job on Parker, up until the 4th quarter. In the first three periods, Parker shot 4-10 and only four of those attempts were at the rim.
- Duncan and Splitter played solid games, combining for 28 points and 13 rebounds, but they were the only Spurs bigs that contributed. This would have been the perfect game to go small but, alas, our small forwards are hurt.
- Ginobili got a lot of flack both on Twitter and the Game Thread but he wasn't nearly as bad as some think. There was some buzz about how he's old, but missed free throws and bad passes are not a sign of age; they are a sign of fatigue and/or lack of rhythm. His drives and cuts might not look as good as they did a few years ago, but they are still effective. Four of his seven shots came at the rim and he converted on three of them. He also went to the line six times. The turnovers were ugly, though, and are a concern. Manu will not look like 2005 Manu ever again, but he's far from a liability for this team.
- Green and Neal weren't really a factor aside from some timely threes. Gary's six boards are nice but when the Spurs' designated shooters go for a combined 4-16 form the field (3-11 form deep) it's hard for the team to get the space it needs to execute in the half court. Mills provided some energy in limited minutes, and I wouldn't have minded seeing a little more of him.
- Nando was playing well, pushing the pace and doing a little bit of everything (one point, one rebound, one assist and one steal in five minutes) until he got caught looking at the ball and allowed a back door cut. Pop pulled him and he didn't see the court again. I think it was a mistake and Pop should give De Colo a longer leash, but Pop has little patience for rookie French point guards.
- Splitter defended Aldridge as well as he could be expected to. He limited the All-Star big man to 50% shooting and forced him to commit four turnovers, three of which were charges that Tiago embellished. In the 18 minutes where both were on the court Aldridge scored only eight of his 22 points. A really solid job on defense by Tiago, who also pitched in 12 points, seven boards and three assists. There are some improvements needed on pick and roll coverage, defensive rebounding and help defense, but Splitter is having a pretty good season and this game was further proof of that. Now start hitting your freebies again, Sparkles.
It was ugly, it was a loss, but it's over. Like Pop said, "such is life. Go to dinner." The Spurs go back home to face the Celtics on Saturday. Let's hope for a better outcome.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the legendary Blazer's Edge.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats