Portland Trail Blazers @ San Antonio SpursAT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
May 6, 2014, 8:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: TNT - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
As Tim Duncan and Tony Parker walked off the court in Game 7 to a thunderous roar from the crowd at the AT&T Center, they both passed by Pop without any congratulatory acknowledgement or a "job well done" from their coach. There wasn't even eye contact. The two future Hall of Famers simply headed to the bench with their head down, fully understanding the job they set out to complete was nowhere near complete.
That laser-like focus of the Spurs switches, now, to the Portland Trail Blazers who gave viewers one of the most exciting first round series of the entire playoffs; and that's saying quite a bit since it was one of the few series that didn't even get to a Game 7. The first game of a series always brings so many questions that are almost impossible to answer until the ball tips off, mainly because a team grows and changes an incredible amount during a playoff series. This Blazers team is not the same team that beat the Clippers in their final regular season game on April 16th, just like this isn't the same Spurs squad that finished their season on the same day. Both teams have endured the learning process, struggles, and chess-like strategies that come with winning a playoff series. Things are different.
The Spurs met up with the Blazers four times this season with both teams splitting the series, 2-2. San Antonio scored over 100 or more points in all four contests, while Portland scored at least 109 points in three of the contests but put up a mere 90 points in the most recent loss to the Spurs. The Blazers came into the playoffs with the 2nd best offense and the 16th best defense (or 14th worst, however you look at it) in the league. While Portland has a pretty sound basketball team overall, the two main players that will be garnering most of the Spurs' attention is, of course, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge's game has received quite a bit of acclaim during the first playoff series because he averaged 29.8 points per game in the first round. That's a pretty impressive (and scary) amount of points, especially for the playoffs, but we should remember that the Blazers faced Houston, who's fairly relaxed on defense. That's not to diminish Aldridge's ability to make buckets, though, nor his team's ability to get him good looks. In the first six games of the playoffs, LMA was able to increase his number of shots per game, jumping from 20.6 in the regular season to 23.7 in the playoffs, as well the number of times he got to the line, which increased by three from the regular season.
Because Aldridge has become such a great mid-range shooter, those extra shots per game really make a difference. It's assumed that Splitter will be guarding LaMarcus on defense, so Tiago's (and subsequently, Diaw's) impact on Aldridge's shot selection and frequency can really dictate how this series looks. Watching the Houston series and reading Dave Deckard's Q&A has convinced me that the LeMarcus situation resembles the Dirk situation quite a bit in that the Spurs need to just contain his scoring. LMA is quicker than Nowitzki and has more of an inside game, so whoever is on him will be covering a larger area on the court than was covered in the Dallas series.
Then there's Lillard, whose playoff numbers are better than his All-Star regular season numbers across the board (again, that could be the "Houston-defense inflation"). There's no doubt that this dude can play, but I'm curious as to what Lillard looks like with a perimeter defense as good as the Spurs'. Both Kawhi and Danny are pretty lock-down and will force him to work a little harder to get some good looks. Lillard worries me much less, as someone who can tilt the series, than Aldridge does, and actually could end up being more of liability on the defensive end if he's caught guarding Tony or Manu.
The expectation of Game 1 in any series is that we most of our questions answered before the final buzzer, but if this series is anything like the first round, it's only going to confuse us more.
But hey, it's the playoffs. The seven-game series isn't supposed to make sense. If you wanted logic and order, you would have stopped watching after the regular season.
Matchup to watch: Going into any Game 1 of a series, there's always one or two X-factors on each team that step up and alleviate the pressure that's focused on the main stars. In the Mavs series, these two roles were played by Vince Carter and, yes, Rick Carlisle. What Carlisle was able to do against the Spurs had a far greater impact than what any one of his players could do. I personally think Carlisle is a better coach than Terry Stotts, schematically, but with six games worth of examples on how to give the San Antonio Spurs fits already out in the open, it would be crazy to think the Blazers' coach didn't jot down some notes. Aldridge and Lillard are going to be Aldridge and Lillard, within reason, but the Blazers won't move past this round without the rest of the team stepping up alongside their two stars. It's Coach Stotts job to make that happen on both ends of the floor. I'm excited to see what he brings to the table.
Oh, and for the love of everything grand and beautiful, don't let Mo Williams have an inch!
|Game 1, Western Conference Semifinals, 2014 NBA Playoffs|
|May 6, 2014|
|AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX|
|8:30 pm CST|
|TV: TNT - 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 4.
Line in Vegas: Spurs by 6.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and you can get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment:
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