Portland Trail Blazers @ San Antonio SpursAT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
May 8, 2014, 8:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: ESPN2 - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
It took me only one game to buy into the idea of the Dallas series being just the right punch in the mouth for San Antonio to transition into tip-top playoff mode. In Game 1 against Portland we saw a Spurs team play with a competitiveness and sense of urgency that only the experience of a close seven-game series can bring about. It's only once you've been that close to death that you truly understand and appreciate what it takes to continue living, and the San Antonio Spurs "continued living" all over the Trail Blazers in the first game of the Western Conference Semifinals on Tuesday night, gaining more and more air in their lungs while Portland had the air knocked out of theirs.
It was a little odd watching it go down the way it did, though. I've grown to expect San Antonio's offense to carve up opponents' defenses, so the Spurs' scoring success didn't surprise me. What surprised me was the fact that Portland's players on offense seemed to be shocked at how they were constantly surrounded by dudes in white jerseys. Blazer players appeared to briefly freeze when they got the ball as a Spur defender crowded them. There were a few instances where ball handlers picked up their dribble early in the possession, then struggled to find anyone to pass it to. There was utter befuddlement by Portland's offense; and this was an offense that came into this series with the 2nd highest offensive rating in the league: averaging 111.5 points per 100 possessions. In Game 1, the Spurs held the Blazers to a 94.9 offensive rating and forced 20 turnovers.
The Spurs best defensive weapon was putting extreme pressure on LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard early in the game, and they should continue to do that in Game 2. When an offense depends so heavily on two players, it's difficult for the rest of the team to compensate when those guys are struggling. Wesley Matthews is the team's next leading scorer behind LMA and Damian, but he and the rest of the team aren't skilled enough to make up for the lost points when their top two scorers are stifled. Aldridge and Lillard were eventually able to combine for 49 total points (53% of the team's scoring) in the game, but 32 of those points came in the second half of a blowout game, rendering the final two quarters as "garbage time". Eliminating those early points from the Blazers' two All-Stars allowed San Antonio to quickly put the game out of reach.
Portland's offense also isn't accustomed to having all of their shots being contested, as pointed out in an article written by Ian Levy on FiveThirtyEight. In their first series against Houston, there were no games where the Rockets contested more than 52% of the Blazers' field goal attempts. In Game 1 of this series, San Antonio contested over 70% of Portland's shots. I wouldn't expect the Rockets to understand or buy into this mindset, but shooting a basketball with the intention of making it go into a hoop with a Kawhi Leonard-sized hand in your face complicates things. San Antonio's ability to fight through screens, rotate quickly, and close in on shooters will discourage even the most potent offenses. With the Blazers' scoring vibe-ing off of the performance of only two players, San Antonio has found a pretty effective way to cripple Portland's point production.
But with all of this being said, you would be an insane person to expect another blowout of the Blazers. In a seven-game series, a team is allowed to have a poor performance in one game and still recover to compete in the series (see: Game 2 of the Dallas series). This team and their two star players still deserve an incredible amount respect from the Spurs, and shouldn't be taken lightly until Mo Williams starts booking his offseason vacation to Cabo. It's imperative that the Spurs head to Portland with a 2-0 series lead because, as we have seen over the past week, anything can happen in the Moda Center.
Matchup to watch: The Spurs beat the Blazers in pretty much every aspect of the game on Tuesday night, but none more important than the bench production. The reserves from San Antonio outscored Portland's bench, 50-18. And Manu only had 2 points! Much of that came from someone we've come to expect to perform well (Patty Mills, 10 points), someone we've been waiting on to perform well (Marco Belinelli, 19 points), and someone we haven't even thought of since the playoffs started (Aron Baynes, 10 points). With a team lacking in depth as Portland, this is the type of series that Pop can confidently send in some of the reserves in order to get our old guys some rest and know that the level of play won''t drastically drop off. We may not have Baynes throwing down put-back dunks in every game, but the fact Pop sent him out there early meant this is a good matchup for him. How the Spurs' bench performs against any Blazer not named Lillard or Aldridge will play an enormous factor in this series.
|Game 2, Western Conference Semifinals, 2014 NBA Playoffs|
|May 8, 2014|
|AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX|
|8:30 pm CST|
|TV: ESPN2 - 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 7.
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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