Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
If you look directly into Damian Lillard's eyes you risk turning into a pillar of salt.
When your team shoots 52 percent, scores 106 points and still loses by 30, the absence of your leading scorer is probably not the problem.
Portland came into San Antonio and absolutely roasted the Spurs, 136-106, behind an electric 35-point, nine-assist performance from Rookie-of-the-Year-in-waiting Damian Lillard on a record-breaking night.
And it wasn't the good kind.
The 136 points is the most ever allowed at home by a Gregg Popovich team, and the second most ever allowed during his coaching tenure. The most? That came last year in Portland, where the Blazers dropped 137 against the Big-3-less Spurs.
LaMarcus Aldridge put up 26 points, J.J. Hickson had 23 and Eric Maynor scored 20 off the bench (huh?), but tonight was the Lillard show. It was just a shame his performance forced most of the San Antonio crowd to leave early.
It didn't matter who guarded him, where he took his shots or how he got there, Lillard abused the Spurs' defense inside and out. He hit three 3-pointers and finished at the rim countless times, and the Blazers outscored the Spurs 46-24 in the fourth on 65.4 percent shooting to pull away in San Antonio's most lopsided home loss of the Tim Duncan era.
Tony Parker wouldn't have saved them tonight.
"Our defense was terrible. That's not the way we play defense," Stephen Jackson said afterward. "Damian Lillard had a hell of a game and their team followed suit. We didn't play as well as we should have, but we take our hats off to them."
At this point, it's all you can do. Portland came into the game with a 28-32 record, but possessing a roster that gives the Spurs fits. San Antonio scored 60 points in the paint and committed just 12 turnovers, and that wasn't nearly enough to combat the Blazers' 61.6 percent shooting. Sometimes teams just get hot, and sometimes teams volcanically erupt in a ball of flame that fires through the atmosphere.
Once the nightmares subside, you just have to forget about these types of losses.
"That's all you can do. It was a combination of us playing bad and them playing well," Duncan commented. "Obviously we'll try to learn from it. There will be a bunch of film session involved in this one.
"But hopefully we can regroup and come back better for the next one."
Given that the next opponent happens to be the Oklahoma City Thunder — a team now just one game back in the loss column for the West's top seed — improvement would be a good thing. But it's important to react to this game appropriately. While it was poor on this night, the Spurs' top-3 defense hasn't suddenly imploded. This game was a once-in-a-career train wreck (for Duncan, at least). You couldn't look away.
"It was embarrassing," Tiago Splitter remarked, so out of sorts he was sitting in Patty Mills locker chair. "But we also know it's not common. We have a tough game coming up, so this served as a warning for us to play better, specifically on the defensive end.
"We have played good defense all year, and today we didn't. I hope we think about this one and just get better for the next game."
And Splitter's right. The chances that this is any more than an anomaly against a team that seems to explode regularly against the Spurs (wait, does that make sense?) are slim. Not that it's much of a consolation, but the Spurs' offense did play pretty well again. Kawhi Leonard was super-aggressive and Cory Joseph's 13 points matched a career high, a number he set last season ... in Portland, of course.
This bears repeating: in two games starting against the Blazers, Joseph has put up career point totals while his team has lost by a combined 70 points. Let us never speak of this again.
This is just a game to forget, to chalk up to randomness and freaky shooting nights. And please don't put this one on Parker's absence. It'd be quite difficult to argue his presence would have mattered at all.
"It happens. I've been in this game a long time ... it happens," Jack said. "It's nothing to panic over, it's nothing to try and evaluate too much. They hit their shots, they played better than us and won the game."
As Jay-Z said, on to the next oneOH CRAP THE THUNDER.