San Antonio Spurs vs Portland Trail Blazers: No brooms

Steve Dykes

So it turns out you have to play well to beat the Blazers. Who knew?

Western Semi-Final Game 4 @Portland: Spurs 103-92       Series: 3-1, Spurs

Well, that wasn't much fun.

I blame myself. Not only did I jinx the fellas pretty good before the game, but I made the mistake of watching it in the presence of my friend Andrea, at this bar I've never been to where she recently got hired.

I watched three playoff games with her last year, Game 1 of the semis against the Warriors, and Games 4 and 6 of the Finals.

Manu Ginobili shoots like 17 percent when I watch games with her. The basketball gods never fail to smite me whenever I ask if it's permissible to love another.

Or maybe the Spurs just need to play better.

They sure looked old and tired Monday night. Not physically sloppy per se but mentally so, and disengaged, the way teams often do on regular season SEGABABAs. Really they looked like how they've often looked at Portland over the years. The energy, focus and discipline was just lacking. One or two guys tried to bring it, but most of the team had that vacant, thousand yard stare thing going. To paraphrase Bret Easton Ellis' Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, the Spurs "simply... weren't...  there."

I certainly noticed in the media availability before Game 4, where Ginobili mentioned that he'd like the team to close the series out not only to prevent the Blazers from gaining confidence and momentum but more so because the every-other-day schedule has started catching up to the team, particularly when you factor in the added playoff intensity and the travel.

Gino looked quite the zombie out there, as we've come to expect by now in at least one road game per playoff series, and Tim Duncan was fairly mummy-like himself, unable to deal with Robin Lopez' offensive rebounding or his rolls to the basket. Not quite sure who the vampire was supposed to be, but there sure was a lot of sucking going on.

I suppose we as Spurs fans should consider ourselves fortunate to have Terry Stotts patrolling the Blazers' sideline. It took Stotts 'til the second half of Game 3 to figure out that maybe Nicolas Batum was his best -- i.e. only -- option against Tony Parker, and even by then the third game was a lost cause and the series was all but decided. Batum didn't shut Parker down, but his length and strength definitely bothered Parker to some degree and contributed to the Spurs getting off to a slow start.

More troublesome to me offensively was everyone besides the fleet Frenchman and his sidekick, Bobo. Duncan had trouble finishing around the basket and his jumper was flatter than a Pop postgame presser. The ball movement was decidedly lacking. Ginobili hardly tried to attack the rim at all and his jumpers weren't even close. He had no legs. The Spurs shot 3-of-18 from downtown overall, and most of them were clean looks.

Defensively the Spurs seemed surprised by the Blazers' pick-and-roll, particularly with Lopez. Portland finally got away from the Iso-heavy stuff with LaMarcus Aldridge and spread it around more, especially the way they whipped it around the perimeter. Batum was a holy terror, not just with his defense on Parker but even moreso with his uncanny touch from deep and his playmaking, pacing everyone with eight assists. Lillard also hurt them, getting to the basket more than in any of the previous three games. Neither Duncan nor Diaw was up for the challenge of stopping him and Tiago Splitter played a soft 23 minutes.

This was supposed to be the way the Blazers played in Game 3, going by the conventional wisdom. Instead, they came out tentative and nervous and were blitzed by Parker and co. to the tune of a 60-40 first half score on Saturday. Still, I think most everyone would've been pleased to be at 3-1 after four games, and considering I was expecting the series to be 2-2 after four, we're still in pretty good shape.

I expect the Spurs to come out with considerably more energy and effort at home -- Ginobili especially -- and to dispatch the Blazers in fairly routine fashion. Portland staved off elimination in front of their home fans and my sense is that if the Spurs hit them with an early punch, they'll be satisfied with avoiding the sweep, subconsciously. I don't think reserves Will Barton and Thomas Robinson will combine for 26 points on Wednesday, nor will Lopez impact the game to the degree that he did. Mostly I just expect the Spurs to shoot a heckuva lot better. For all the Blazers' aggression and the Spurs' sluggishness, the good guys still left an awful lot of points on the court with their missed open shots.

So, we've got a Game 5 and a chance to close these guys out. Peter Holt will make a few bucks selling churros to people of all genders and sizes. The T-shirt machine guns and bazookas will be simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. The coyote will do his thing to the amusement of seemingly every Spurs fan but myself.

I'll be watching, thousands of miles away.

Without Andrea, this time.

Your three stars:

3) Patty Mills (1 pt)

2) Kawhi Leonard (10 pts)

1) Boris Diaw (10 pts)

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