Game 3 @Portland: Blazers 115, Spurs 105 Record: 2-1 2nd in Southwest, 6th in West Streak: 1 L
Going into Saturday night's game, if you were any kind of pragmatist you were thinking, "scheduled loss." After all, not only was it a dreaded road SEGABABA for the Spurs, one of the oldest teams in the league, but it was against a young, energetic talented club in the Blazers that had bested them in 12 of their past 17 meetings. Tim Duncan had suffered a chest contusion in Wednesday's season-opener and wasn't a sure bet to play, Tony Parker wasn't totally in game shape yet and who knows how much Manu Ginobili, 36, can be relied on in a back-to-back. Yup, all signs pointed to a loss.
The funny thing is, nobody bothered to tell that to Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. Goat Puff was pretty awesome, right from opening tip. Tim connected on a series of jumpers and was far and away the Spurs best player, as he has been the majority of nights the past 16 seasons. The Hall-of-Fame backcourt, meanwhile, was nothing to write home about, but both had their moments and at least showed up to play.
The problem wasn't with the geezers but rather the squad's other big three, the youngish trio of Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. They combined for nine points -- all from Leonard -- in 61 lifeless minutes on the court, along with five rebounds, one assist, two steals and one blocked shot.
Leonard, the team's 22-year-old wunderkind, made news earlier in the day when he confirmed that he had signed on with Nike's "Jordan Brand" division of sneakers and apparel. I don't remember Michael Jordan having too many games where he finished with 9 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist. Gregg Popovich played Leonard for only 9:45 in the second half and it was hard to blame him.
Splitter, whom the Blazers were reportedly interested in signing in the off-season, couldn't ignite his trademark pick-and-roll game at all during his 18 minutes of floor time and was equally useless in his own end, where despite his best efforts LaMarcus Aldridge hit one jumper after another on him. Pop tried using the more mobile Duncan on Aldridge in response and the Blazers countered with a bunch of layups by Robin Lopez against the (vertically) undersized Boris Diaw.
Green has been in a funk since, oh, Game 6 of the Finals and contributed three missed jumpers and one block to the cause in 17 minutes. There seems to be a league-wide mandate to not leave him open at the three-point line, though he doesn't look to be moving to spots with much urgency and the Spurs' creators haven't been looking to set him up much either. If Green doesn't get it going soon though, he's not going to stick in the starting lineup, not with quality options available in Ginobili and, more likely, Marco Belinelli.
Overall, it's just hard to get worked up over this loss because the Blazers mostly just shot the ball ridiculously well from 15 feet and out. While it's true that not as many of their shots were as contested as Pop would've liked, Portland still stroked it far better than one would expect. Their 55.6 percent mark for the game was not at all the residue of one endless layup line, Lopez excepted. The Spurs only had 12 turnovers, they held the Blazers to just seven offensive rebounds and 19 free throw attempts. I think Pop would've been happy with all of those stats if you presented them to him before the game. I'm not sure how many teams would've beaten Portland on this night.
What's galling Pop, I suspect, is that there just wasn't enough grind from the Spurs on either end. They settled for "good enough," on possessions time and again, taking okay to good shots on offense instead of using ball movement and man movement to get great looks. They settled for closing the paint off to the Blazers and giving them open shots, instead of contesting those, too. It was the kind of effort that might get them wins against Sacramento or Utah, but not against a team of shooters like the Blazers. There simply isn't an excuse to allow anybody 115 points, no matter how hot they are, especially with Duncan in the lineup.
The good news is that Duncan is back and didn't look at all the worse for wear after his early setback. It's the kind of trade-off we'd take every time, no questions asked: a loss with Tim back to form, rather a meaningless early season win and more concern about his health. Let's just hope some other fellas besides him show up at Denver on Tuesday.
Standard Duncan Quote:
"We're gonna win games and we're gonna lose games. It's just how it goes. We're gonna use the entire 82 games to put a team together and have everybody on the same page once the playoffs start. We're gonna win some games and we're gonna lose some games and we're not going to freak out about it."
By The Numbers:
20,028: Attendance at the Moda Center (nee Rose Garden).
18,643: Number of them who spent at least part of the game on their smartphones streaming the Portland Timbers game versus the arch-rival Seattle Sounders.
55.6: The Blazers' field goal percentage (50.0 for the Spurs.)
55: Bench points for the Spurs. (Starters managed only 50.)
8: Free throw attempts for the Spurs in the game.
12: Three-point tries, out of 94 field goals attempted, for the Spurs. Unfortunately, this wasn't because they shot a bunch of layups.
13: Losses to Portland out of the last 19 meetings.
11: Points for Nicolas Batum, thanks to a half-court three at the final buzzer, which he attempted with the score 112-105 at the time. Pop said he wasn't mad afterward, calling Batum "a good kid." Really? Congrats on the triple-double though.
0: Combined points, rebounds and assists for Danny Green in 17 minutes. Almost as hard to do as a triple-double and way classier.
Sequence of the Game:
How listless were the Spurs in this one? Well, with seven minutes to go in the third, Parker stripped Damian Lillard from behind, leading to a fast break dunk for Leonard. Kawhi frantically yelled for someone to pick up his man, Batum, but no one did, leading to an easy dunk for the Frenchman on the other end.
A few minutes into the game, the cameras captured Pop angrily telling his players to "re-post it" off an in-bounds pass. His signal for "re-posting it," is a vaguely inappropriate one.
With a few ticks left in the first quarter, Wesley Matthews gave Ginobili a hard shove in the back since the Blazers had a foul to give. Manu responded by catching the in-bounds pass and drilling a 22-footer in his mug with 0.1 seconds left.
Tweets of the Night:
Kawhi didn’t even need his gargantuan hands for that one. Grabbed the steal with his face.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 3, 2013
This game needs a Purge. Refs swallow their whistles for one quarter. Rule of law is abolished. Let Baynes punch people.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 3, 2013
Manu catches a pass with his fingertips, then throws it away. Full Manu.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 3, 2013
I already cut him from my fantasy team because I am cruel. MT @ThaNardDawg: It seems like Danny has regressed a little bit this year…— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 3, 2013
@manuginobili the NBA's most exciting passer ... not always the greatest, but always exciting— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) November 3, 2013
Please, no ... is Bill Land going to yell 'Mama Mia' every time @marcobelinelli makes a 3?— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) November 3, 2013
Your Three Stars:
3. Boris Diaw (7 points): The land walrus equaled his season-high of 14 points with a variety of pump-fakes, spin moves and other crafty old fat guy moves. He also had five boards, four assists. On the negative side, he tied his season-low with just 14 points and had zero craps given on defense.
2. Marco Belinelli (3 points): The Italian Stallion had 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter during the team's futile comeback effort. Marco also chipped in with four dimes, three boards and the ugliest "Euro-Step" attempt I've ever seen, leading to an offensive foul call. It was so bad, it should've counted for two fouls.
1. Tim Duncan (5 points): 24 points for Big Fun on 12-of-23 shooting. How eager was he to return to action? He put up seven shots in the first 6:12 of the game. It's the most field goals he has attempted since last Dec. 18 at Denver, when he took 25 shots in a 112-106 loss. Interestingly, Duncan didn't get even a single free throw attempt all game and it must be said it wasn't his finest defensive outing either.
Next Up: @Denver (0-2), Tuesday, Nov. 5
The Spurs conclude their three-game road trip at Denver, where the Nuggets were routed on Friday night by these same Blazers, 113-98. Denver held Portland to just 42.7 percent shooting, but the Blazers hit 14-of-22 from downtown (63.6 percent) and had 16 offensive boards while playing at a breakneck pace in the thin air, putting up 103 shots. Nate Robinson led the Nuggets with 24 points in that one, while Ty Lawson added 21 and no one else did much of anything. The Nugs are starting J.J. Hickson over Kenneth Faried for some reason and are missing both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler with injuries. It's asking a lot to expect them to lose two straight home games, but the Spurs are catching them at a good time and both teams will be well-rested going into the game. I predict a win, with Green and Leonard both getting hot from deep.