Well, J.R. Wilco. Imagine running into you. In the playoffs. It's like that thing where Lando Calrissian and Han Solo meet and growl at each other, then end up hugging like old friends. Except it'll be reversed. Our sites start out as old friends and veterans of many conversations, then in about 2.5 games we're going to throw up dukes and start hating each other.
This is the first time the Spurs and Blazers have met in the post-season in the new millennium and the two teams couldn't be in more different places. The Spurs are the old dog, veteran champions, 3 titles in 4 Finals appearances in the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili decade of dominance. The Blazers are going, "WHOOOOOO!!! SECOND ROUND! Man, the hotels are WAY fancier here! Look! Little soaps!" So tell me, grizzled veteran, how do the Spurs enter this series? How does it feel to be a Spurs guy watching this? Do you still get nervous and excited or is advancement just an expectation at this point? What's going on in that silver and gray San Antonio heart of yours?
It's always the same, Dave. I start the new playoff series feeling either somewhat affectionate or at least slightly ambivalent towards the opponent, but as the games wear on those semi-positive feelings evaporate and are replaced by a deep-seated animosity that chokes and blinds -- making it hard to say anything complimentary or see anything worthwhile in the team trying to oust the Spurs.
I didn't really think this through until now. Honestly, until you mentioned us probably being at each others throats by the middle of game three, all I thought about the Spurs meeting the Blazers in a playoff series was, "I get to frat with Dave!" Well, I guess I might as well enjoy it while I still can and cross that bridge of mutual hatred when we come to it.
And that is the bridge that Han and Lando never had to cross because, after a little carbon freezing and a daring escape and an incredible rescue, they got to combine forces and fight the Empire. Unfortunately the Spurs and Blazers will never get to pull together to take down Miami, but I guess a couple of fanbases can dream until episode VII comes out next year.
The first thing you need to know is that, while those little soaps are cool and all, experienced travelers just dump those in the luggage to bring home for the kids to play with. That stuff will just dry your skin out -- you should bring your own cleansers with you wherever you go. A word to the wise is sufficient.
As for the Spurs, they enter the West's semis in much better shape then you'd expect a bunch of graybeards to be in after being drug through a seven game series against the hated divisional rival. Tony Parker is in better shape than he was to begin the playoffs, no one else is injured, and there are murmurings among the cognoscenti that the Mavericks may have even prepared San Antonio for Portland somewhat.
As a Spurs guy, I'll watch this series with the same set of emotions that I've had for the past couple of years -- the same I'll have for the rest of this and next year: optimistic melancholy and grim joyfulness. A perfectly apportioned cocktail of feelings with which to appreciate the last of a vintage that we'll never see the like of again. And of course I still get nervous and excited just like every real fan does. The first round had my stomach in knots.
How about you and your expectations? In the playoffs and through to the second round without having to go to seven games like everybody else did has to feel good right? Especially with the way Dame stepped up to close it out. And I know you've got to fell somewhat confident now that the Trail Blazers are playing better again and your "perfect matchup" the Spurs are the opposite number. Tell me what you see happening in the series, and whether you'll consider this year a success even if this is as far as you make it.
Getting to the second round is an expectation-breaking success for Portland, period. Most pundits, myself included, had them in the scrum for the 7th and 8th seeds. Those that didn't predict that predicted worse. They raised slightly above with the 5 seed, well and good. But then everybody had them losing in the first round, same as the pre-season predictions. They didn't. They re-defined their season with that Game 6 wins and it can't be defined back no matter what happens against San Antonio.
That said, I don't think anybody's content yet. The manner of the first-round victory and the fact that it happened against Houston-one of the two toughest natural matchups for Portland in the conference-opened everybody to the possibility of more. Nobody's going home happy until that possibility gets explored and fought for. The "happy" part will only come later, in retrospect. If the Blazers do lose this series everybody will be bummed in the short term.
About the confidence, I don't know. I think the Blazers are confident they can play with anybody and, on a given night, beat anybody. I know their fans feel the same. I know they're confident about the way the last series ended and about taking down Houston. But I'm not sure anybody's confident about winning Round 2. I doubt they're unconfident either. Hopefully they're just ready to fight.
This is a tricky thing. You want to take the energy, momentum, and lessons from Round 1 and carry them over. This is particularly important for guys like Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews who basically learned to beat the stuffing out of their opponent and take no prisoners. They'll need to channel that energy into playing the Spurs...not getting into flagrant territory but fighting to own the lane, the glass, and the ball. They have to be ready to knock San Antonio's block off if necessary. At the same time you have to adjust to your opponent, not get carried away.
Also you have to find the balance between letting the confidence buoy you and getting caught looking back, being proud of yourself for something that happened last Friday, expecting that miracles will happen every series and bail you out of every situation. The Spurs won't be having any of that. Portland gets zero credit for anything that happened before Round 2, Game 1. If they don't remember that, they're in trouble.
The best way for Portland to upset the apple cart would be to take Game 1. Game 2 would be a decent consolation prize. I have a hunch the Spurs will be willing to play by the numbers if they have to, that they won't feel pressured until they lose a home game. If Portland loses Games 1 and 2 then San Antonio has the advantage until at least the end of Game 5, if not clear into Game 7. That's too long to let the wise old owls remain settled.
What in this series would trigger your worry-meter? Or would anything short of struggling in an elimination game? Or even better...is even a small part of you worried already? If so, why?
My worry-meter isn't triggered until the Spurs fall behind in the series, and a Game 1 loss doesn't count. That's why I said my stomach was in knots last series -- it happened in Game 4, with the Spurs down 2-1 and the game on the line in the 4th. After being up by 20 points shortly after halftime, the Mavs had tied the game and any slip up would mean a 3-1 hole for the Spurs. The last 6:22 of last Monday's game had my worry-meter just about maxed out, but Ginobili and Diaw made the plays the Spurs needed and Monta Ellis' layup bounced out and San Antonio pulled the series even.
And of course a small part of me is worried already. I'd have to be a robot to be completely without concern at this point. (You can see how secure I am about the death of all those Spurs=Boring and Spurs=Emotionless Robots memes if I'm bringing up an automaton metaphor on my own.) The Blazers are a group worthy of being worried about. Lillard and Aldridge are scary dudes. Your offense is a thing to behold. Portland's recent dominance over San Antonio makes it difficult to imagine the Spurs rocking and rolling as they have all year, and the first round -- besides Game 7 -- didn't exactly inspire confidence in Joe SpursFan. But they play the games to see what happens. And tonight we're going to get a Game 1.
I can't wait.