San Antonio Spurs @ Portland Trail BlazersModa Center, Portland, Or
May 10, 2014, 9:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: ESPN - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
The last time the Spurs were up 2-0 in a series against Portland, it took a Memorial Day miracle to secure the edge in what was a very tight Western Conference Finals matchup. Two games into this second-round series and the gap between these two teams seems much greater.
The Spurs have handled the Blazers on both ends of the court in the playoffs, chopping off the head of their offensive attack while dominating the bench battle. Thursday night's 114-97 victory was all but sealed by half-time and, just as in that game, Portland will need to rely on a come-from-behind push to make this a series again. So far we've seen the best possible outcome any Spurs fan could've hoped for against a potent Portland attack: San Antonio has minimized the impact of Portland's two All-Stars, taken away three-point looks and gotten into the passing lane. And the Blazers have given the Spurs no reason to reconsider their strategy.
On the other end of the court, Tony Parker has been a force. After going for 33 and 9 in Game 1, Portland gave Wesley Matthews the assignment to stop TP. While he struggled from the field, the Frenchman continued to push the ball in transition and find his teammates, finishing with 16 points and 10 assists. Better yet, Kawhi Leonard is coming alive, making an impact on both ends and hitting 8 of 9 shots in Game 2.
And while Portland's notoriously weak bench is looking less effective than ever (further troubled by the fact that guard Mo Williams, injured in Game 2, won't be playing in Game 3), the Spurs bench is only growing in strength. Aron 'This Guy' Baynes made an immediate impact in Game 1, while Marco Belinelli, who barely saw the floor against the Mavs, is back in the rotation and scoring from all over.
When the team puts in this kind of all-around performance, it's easy to forget that Tim Duncan is averaging a pedestrian 10 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Really, San Antonio needs Big Fun to keep doing what he's doing: try to negate Robin Lopez on the offensive glass and help Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw contain LaMarcus Aldridge.
We've been aware of the Blazers' pieces all season -- they have four guys in Aldridge, Batum, Lillard and Matthews putting in heavy minutes and carrying a big offensive load. In Game 2, Portland's bench played a total of 46 minutes, with Thomas Robinson's two-point output taking up 14 of those minutes. By doing this, the margin of error for the starters becomes minimal, and it's impossible to overcome the kind of poor shooting night Lillard and Aldridge had on Thursday.
Can Portland hold serve at home? I don't think so. While Dallas was able to stifle San Antonio in Round 1 with various lineups and defensive looks, Terry Stotts simply doesn't have the luxury of that kind of depth or versatility. What the Blazers need is to simply do what they're already doing, but better. That means Damian Lillard creating more off the pick-and-roll, LMA knocking down those contested jumpers, and Matthews and Batum contributing big on both ends.
There is always the chance that the Blazers ride home-court energy, catch fire from deep early, and manage to get a meaningful contribution from their bench -- but I don't see all the stars aligning tonight. This game will likely be closer than the last two, but I think the Spurs will have an answer for every Blazers run and, in the end, come out with the 3-0 series edge.
Matchup to watch: Splitter vs Aldridge. No individual battle wins this for either team, but Portland's offensive success starts here. After going off in Game 1, LMA was held to 6-23 shooting, and a lot of that is due to Sprinkles's post D. It'll take a big game from Aldridge to force San Antonio to change its tactics and open things up for his teammates, but it's not like hasn't done it already this postseason.
|Game 3, Western Conference Semifinals, 2014 NBA Playoffs|
|May 10, 2014|
|Moda Center, Portland, Or|
|9:30 pm CST|
|TV: ESPN - Radio: 1200 WOAI|
|Damian Lillard||PG||Tony Parker|
|Wesley Matthews||SG||Danny Green|
|Nicolas Batum||SF||Kawhi Leonard|
|LaMarcus Aldridge||PF||Tim Duncan|
|Robin Lopez||C||Tiago Splitter|
|94.9 (12th)||Pace||95.0 (10th)|
|111.5 (2nd)||ORtg||110.5 (7th)|
|107.4 (16th)||DRtg||102.4 (3rd)|
The perspective of Blazers fans can be found here: Blazers Edge
Game Prediction: Spurs by 8.
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