Well the Spurs again failed to get a win versus a plus .600 team, GSW's recent winning putting them over .600 excluded. It's never fun to lose, but losing this game sucked. It did. The Blazers for some reason have owned San Antonio lately. It started well before this season. Portland has beaten the Spurs 13 of their last 18 games dating back to Halloween 2008. The Blazers haven't won a playoff series in 14 years. They made it three straight times from 09-11, always losing easily in the first round, and were 26 games under .500 the last two seasons.
The Trail Blazers got off to a hot start this season. It helps when you play the easiest schedule by far out of the entire West. In fact, they're the only team in the West that's played a schedule where their opponent's win percentage was under .500. It's easier to rack up wins when you get to play 17 games against the Leastern Conference out of your first 38.
It's about to get a lot tougher for Rip City. Their next eight games are against Denver, Minnesota, Memphis, Toronto, and on the road at Dallas, Houston, OKC, and Golden State. I'll be interested to look at the standings at the beginning of February. I expect the Spurs will have a couple of game cushion at least.
That all said. Man, Portland is really good. They've got a ton of offensive weapons at their disposal. Damien Lillard is a bad man. Outside of my Manu-homerdom I'm not sure there's a guy in the league I would rather have taking the last shot than that cold-blooded assassin. LaMarcus Aldridge is playing the best ball of his career, and guys like Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez make them a very difficult team to cover. To make matters worse they also have Spurs-killer Mo Williams.
Looking at the Spurs' record at home this season, they are only winning 72% of their games at the AT&T Center, while winning 83% of games on the road. Strange. When you also factor in SA's record to Portland over the last six seasons, as well as being down two of their best seven players (not that I think the Spurs would have won this one with a full squad), I expected a loss tonight. Pop's ejection gave me hope, and then Manu's absolute brilliance had me thinking we would win this one. Not tonight...
J.R. Wilco and I were talking the other night and he was fearful of the Blazers and the particular matchup issues they give the Spurs. The Spurs give up the mid-range, and Portland just eats those looks up. I was less fearful, and I still maintain that OKC will be the toughest hurdle to clear if the Spurs are to get back to the Finals, but after tonight the Blazers have my attention. Defense is still king as far as I'm concerned, and the defense the Spurs played tonight wasn't good enough, but I don't think Portland is among the truly elite in the West, that still belongs to just SA and OKC.
Tonight though, the Trail Blazers convinced me they are right there on the cusp, getting better, getting dangerous. While I don't think that a jump-shooting team is suited to the slower, physical style of the playoffs (GSW, anyone?) Portland is now a team I hope the Spurs can avoid in the postseason.
The two teams played to an even 27-point tie at the end of the first. The first eight minutes of the game saw the Spurs' offense looking pretty good and they held the Blazers to 5-12 from the field while forcing three turnovers. The end of the quarter saw Portland on a 14-7 run. Manu hit a three to tie the game before the quarter break. Boris did a good job on LaMarcus when he was tasked with that tough cover, as he took a charge and stole the ball from Aldridge while making life for the Portland big man uncomfortable. LMA didn't get the ball in the spots he wanted, and when he got the ball Bobo was there, playing good D, holding LMA to just four attempts and two buckets.
Both teams started the second quarter cold. They combined for seven points in the first 3:20 of the period. After shooting 52% in the first, the Spurs' shooting was at just 43% a little over halfway through the quarter. They finished 7-20 from the field in the second and found themselves down five entering the half. There were also some turnover issues that contributed to the disappointing quarter. To make matters worse, Matt Bonner was headbutted by Thomas Robinson, so hard his nose was broken, and no call was made. That's just not right.
The Spurs started the third quarter shooting cold again. The Good Guys were down by 10 five minutes into the quarter before Pop lost his mind as Aldridge was allowed to bully his way against Boris in the post. The refs were letting LMA push-off and slam his shoulder into the chest of Bobo as he pleased. The officiating tonight was bad. It wasn't bad in Portland's favor, as they were robbed of a couple of possessions the Spurs should not have had (Kawhi standing out of bounds to "save" one comes to mind), it was just bad. You've never read me complaining about the officiating, and in no way am I saying it had any impact on the game's outcome, but there were bad calls both ways all night and it wasn't fun to watch.
Following technical free-throws after the ejection the Spurs were down 12. We've seen the Spurs respond well to Pop getting tossed on many occasions. Extraneous G knows how to fire up his squad. The Spurs had the deficit in single figures when Manu checked back in with 5:47 left in the quarter. Manu then went off. I mean, this was one of the best five-minute stretches I've ever seen him play. The 35 year-old outscored the Blazers 18-8 by himself to give the Spurs a one-point lead heading into the deciding quarter.
If there is anything good to take away from this game it has to be the way that Manu played. Not that we didn't know, but that guy is one of the all-time gamers. He sported the least amount of hair ever tonight, presumably because he did better in the wind tunnel with less, and he's still got the drive, the talent, and the will. That makes me feel confident going forward.
After Gino did everything for the Spurs to get them back in the game, including that awesome layup to end the third, the Spurs played the first half of the fourth close with The Manu getting some rest. With five minutes left in the game and the Spurs down one Ginobili checked himself back into the game. Those seven minutes on the pine cooled him off, and the Blazers knocked down a slew of shots before Wes Matthews' three put them up nine with just 1:24 to play. That was the ballgame.
Lot's of credit to the Blazers, who didn't let the raucous AT&T Center and Manu's explosion rattle them. Very impressive.
Check out the always passionate Blazer's fan perspective at Blazers Edge.
Next up the Spurs get a cupcake. The completely horrible Bucks come into the Alamo City to battle the Spurs on Sunday. That should be an easy win, and then the Spurs get two days off before they get another chance to beat OKC on Wednesday.
- Final Score: Spurs can't get past Blazers, lose 109-100
- Full Coverage: San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers
- Kawhi Leonard will sign autographs at Academy on Saturday
- Are the Spurs using the right lineups?
- J.R. Wilco on the Phil Naessens show about why so many Spurs fans want to trade Matt Bonner