It's just one game. It's just the first game. Sometimes teams play great while others have an off-night. It happens. With that said, what a fantastic start to Round 2 by the San Antonio Spurs! Tuesday night, the Spurs absolutely demolished the Portland Trail Blazers, 116-92.
The Spurs picked up right where they left off Sunday night and did little wrong as they demoralized the Blazers. The Spurs jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead and never trailed in this one. Tony Parker once again led the way for the Spurs, scoring 13 first quarter points while setting the stage for a Spurs blowout win.
Honestly, there's not much to critique about the Spurs' performance. They were great in every facet of the game. Offensively, the Spurs only turned the ball over 12 times. The Spurs' guards, especially Tony Parker, were able to get to the paint whenever they wanted and the Portland defense was never able to make the Spurs even remotely uncomfortable. The Spurs moved the ball as well as they had all season to shoot 51% from the field and 44% from three.
Defensively, the Spurs may have played their best game of the year. Game 7 of Dallas was something special, and this continuation of that performance surpassed it. The Spurs once again defended with the energy of five Patty Mills. The Blazers had trouble generating open looks all night. The Spurs on and off ball pressure was intense and allowed them to come up with 12 steals, forcing the Blazers into committing 20 total turnovers.
The Spurs bench had a huge impact on this game, even though Manu Ginobili had an off-game. Manu was probably the only thing that didn't go well for the Spurs this night. Despite Manu's 0-6 shooting from the field with three turnovers, the San Antonio bench outscored Portland's 50 to 18.
Things were going so well that even Marco Belinelli was able to catch a ride on the Spurs' momentum. Marco finally played a good game, leading the bench with 19 points, shooting 7-9 from the field. Patty Mills chipped in 10 points and Boris Diaw scored 6 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and dished 3 assists in 20 minutes.
Even more of a surprise than a great game from Marco was what Aron Baynes did in real playoff minutes. Tim Duncan picked up two early fouls and Gregg Popovich rolled the dice on Baynes. He could have gone with Bonner or Ayres, as he did against Dallas when the team encountered foul trouble, but he decided to go with Baynes tonight. Aron made Pop look like the genius he is by scoring 10 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and playing solid, physical defense without fouling too much in 15 important minutes.
Tim Duncan had his usual quiet, efficient performance ending the night with 12 points and 11 rebounds. For those of us who were concerned about whether Tiago Splitter would be able to defend LaMarcus Aldridge as effectively as he had Dirk Nowitzki in Round 1, the answer seems to be a resounding 'yes.' Although Aldridge finished with an impressive line of 32 points and 14 rebounds, most of that came after the game had been decided. Tiago and the Spurs defense held Aldridge to just 13 points on 17 shots in the first half, and even though Reggie Miller is pretty sure that Aldridge 'figured out' the Spurs defense in the second half, I disagree. When both teams were competing, the Spurs defense was extremely effective and I think that's all that matters heading into Game 2.
Danny Green didn't score, missing all three of his shots, but he only played 15 minutes and not much was needed from him Tuesday night. With Marco finally remembering how to play basketball, Pop gave Belinelli 28 minutes most likely hoping to instill some confidence in Marco that will pay off in future games. Kawhi Leonard looked fantastic scoring 16 points, grabbing 9 rebounds and generating four steals. Several times he found himself with a smaller defender and immediately took them to the block. His confidence is steadily building and he's looking for his shot much more often than he used to. This will only help the Spurs as the series progresses.
So everyone for the Spurs played pretty well, offensively and defensively they looked unstoppable tonight. I think it's important to note that the catalyst for this performance was Tony Parker. He finished with 33 points and 9 assists and completely dominated his point guard matchup with Damian Lillard. Regardless of who Portland had assigned to him, Tony made his way to the paint with ease where he destroyed the Blazers defense from the inside out. His play took control of the game's momentum and the Spurs rode it to victory.
When Tony Parker plays as aggressively as he did in Game 7 against Dallas and now Game 1 against Portland, this San Antonio team reaches the pinnacle of elite basketball. It's absolutely the best this team can play, and I haven't seen a team in the NBA that has the capability of staying with the Spurs when it happens. I don't know if this is a switch that Tony can throw whenever he wants, or if planets are aligning in some galaxy far, far away.
I keep wondering why this version of Tony took so long to show up. Did he really get suddenly healthy during his day off between Game 6 and Game 7? Well, let's just enjoy the win and hope we see this version of healthy, aggressive Tony again in Game 2. That'd be nice.
To be fair, there's no way the Spurs were completely responsible for the Blazers' terrible performance. Portland shot uncharacteristically poor and had trouble holding onto the ball. While the Spurs defense was fantastic, the Blazers normally make more threes and hit more contested jumpers. It's what LaMarcus does, after all. The Blazers seemed unready for the moment and after the Spurs dominated the first quarter, the Blazers played stunned until halftime. By the time they snapped out of it, it was too late.
As we are all very aware of, the Blazers normally are a very tough matchup for the Spurs. They always seem to play abnormally well against San Antonio, and it's just about always a frustrating viewing experience. They were beating the Spurs before they were actually good, so now that they are good, they're even more scary.
Here are some stats from @TrailBlazerPR, just to drive this point home: "Portland's 14-7 regular season record vs. San Antonio since 08-09 is best among NBA teams. Miami is the only other team with a winning record at 6-5. Aldridge has shot 56% from the field in his career vs. San Antonio (25 games) his best mark against any team in the NBA. Damian Lillard's 26.3 scoring average during his career against San Antonio (7 games) is his highest against any team in the West. Mo Williams has shot 51% FG and 47% 3-PT in 24 career games vs. San Antonio, his highest marks vs. any NBA team."
Heh, that's crazy. As I said, they are abnormally good against the Spurs. Well, I bet this game knocked some of those numbers down a bit. I just want to remind everyone that this Blazers team is very dangerous. Regardless of how great things went in Game 1, I think we can expect Game 2 to be a close contest. The unfortunate thing about a near flawless performance is there's not much to take from it. The Spurs are going to be sitting ducks in terms of Game 2 adjustments. The Spurs will probably have none while I'm sure the Blazers will find several things that they can improve upon. Either way, it's a great start for the Spurs and the fact that there's only a single day off probably benefits San Antonio because they can keep their rhythm heading into Game 2.