When the Portland Trail Blazers won Game 4 at Moda Center, streamers were let free from the ceiling, and it was the biggest moment in the Blazers season since Nicolas Batum cemented a triple double by shooting a 3 point shot at the buzzer in extended garbage time. By contrast, when the Spurs closed out the series Wednesday by routing the Blazers, there weren't any streamers or big celebrations, although Tim Duncan was visibly happy about the extra rest his team earned by closing out the series in 5 games.
The game started out well for the Spurs as they jumped out to a quick 8-1 lead, but then the Spurs' shooting went cold and LaMarcus Aldridge was able to play Tiago Splitter one-on-one and make some difficult shots. Lillard and Batum also contributed and Portland went on a 14-4 run and led 15-12. The Spurs picked up their defense for the rest of the quarter, and Patrick Mills came in and hit a 3-point shot, and at after the first 12 minutes, both teams had scored 19 points.
If you were really observant (I wasn't) you might have noticed that Tony Parker wasn't having much of an impact on the game. He looked like he did late in the regular season when he was conserving energy for the playoffs. He went into the locker room before halftime, but nobody seemed concerned until R.C. Buford and the team doctor got out of his seat and hustled to the locker room to join Parker.
Meanwhile, the Spurs started to pick up their defense further out on the floor. In Game 4, the Blazers were able to get comfortable and set up their offense in the half court, but during Game 5 they were kept off balance by aggressive ball-hawking defense from the Spurs as Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills were able to come away with key steals that led to quick scores. Lately, Kawhi has about once a game had a steal that leads to quick run out fast break dunk, but Wednesday he had several. He had 5 total steals in the game and most of them were the back-breaking variety. Kawhi is the Spur most capable of creating his own shot and with Parker out, he knew he had to be aggressive. The Silver and Black led at the half, 51-44.
At the half, the news came out that Parker had tightness in his hamstring and would not return. This would mean that Mills would have to play a lot of minutes, and frankly I was concerned that he might get tired. My friend Evelyn looked at him and said "he looks really fit. He won't get tired." That's not something you would have said last year. Mills always had skill, but his dedication to getting better and more fit really paid off, and the Spurs were the beneficiary.
The third quarter has been bad for the Spurs during this series. But this game was different, as the Spurs came out of the locker room with intensity and energy and showed that they wanted to close out the series. The Blazers continued to play well, but the Spurs just played with more energy and aggression. Danny Green hit some timely three point shots and the Spurs won the quarter 26-19. It would have been even higher, but the Blazers had a little mini-run to close out the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Spurs lost whatever little tentativeness and uncertainty they exhibited early in the game and put the hammer down on the Blazers. There was no joy in Rip City as the Danny Green hit clutch shots, and Marco and Patty got into the act. The defense picked up too, and the Blazers were held to 19 points in the quarter. With about 3 minutes left, both coaches pulled the plug and put in their benches. It was all gravy for the Spurs fans and they were treated to a rare Matt Bonner basket and rebound.
As the game ended, there were no streamers, just a team grateful to gain a few additional days of rest and preparation for their next opponent. They are focused on only one goal, the same goal they narrowly missed last June.
- Reggie Miller is just a terrible announcer. A good announcer will enhance your enjoyment of the game by helping you to understand subtleties of the game by pointing out things you may have missed. Most of the time what Reggie is talking about has nothing to do with what's transpiring on the court. He's just a distraction. And his voice is annoying.
- Kawhi is OK with being called 'Sugar K' but he doesn't like 'The Claw.' I find his taste in nicknames about the only thing I can criticize about him.
- Every time I've recapped a game, the Spurs have won. I was scheduled to recap game 4, but Wilco pulled me off the assignment a day before because the game was so late. I want to thank him for preserving my record.
- Manu Ginobili isn't able to produce consistently when the team is playing every other day with travel on off days. Maybe Pop should consider sitting him a game or two during the playoffs if there are too many games in a short period of time. He always has a few terrible turnovers even when he plays well, but Wednesday he had nothing and looked beat out there. If Parker misses any significant time, he's going to have to play better.