LaMarcus Aldridge was welcomed with a mixed chorus of boos and cheers as he took the court at Moda Center tonight for the first time since he left the Portland Trail Blazers for the San Antonio Spurs.
The Blazers lost a lot of talent in free agency this summer, with Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum all going to new teams. But they still have a strong starting lineup led by the talented guard duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They also have two young bigs who have a lot of potential with Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee. Al-Farouq Aminu rounds out the starting lineup.
The Spurs started out with Tony Parker guarding Damian Lillard, an alignment that held for most of the game. Lillard was able to use screens to generate space to get off shots even though Tony chased him all over the court. C.J. McCollum also was able to use his speed and agility to find open spots of the floor and exercise his fluid shooting motion.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd, the Trail Blazers surged to an early 18-10 lead with scoring from all five players on the floor. Tim Duncan put an end to the run with a timely jumper with 5:33 left and the Spurs outscored the Blazers 18-6 for the rest of the quarter as the Spurs bench came in and energized the Silver and Black. Rasual Butler was the first small forward off the bench, taking the role that Kyle Anderson had been filling for most of the season so far. The coaching staff's confidence in Rasual was rewarded a timely three-point shot with 22 seconds left in the quarter on an insane cross-court assist from Manu Ginobili.
The second quarter opened with Boris Diaw being guarded by Aminu. Taking advantage of the size mismatch, Boris used his ample behind to maneuver Aminu under the basket, and since no Blazer came to help, Diaw casually flipped the ball into the basket. There were a couple more defensive errors from Portland in the quarter, like the time that Danny Green spun past a Blazer at the three point line and was able to put in a sweet Gervin-esque finger roll to put the Spurs ahead 36-28 with 8:06 left in the quarter. Danny has been pretty icy this season so far, but tonight he had a good game behind the arc, starting with a three-point shot at 5:28 where it looked like Noah Vonleh contacted him on the elbow, having the potential to turn it into a four point play, but then Portland head coach Terry Stotts disagreed with the call loudly enough to earn himself a technical foul.
The play had the potential to be an extremely rare five-point play, but after Kawhi sank the technical free throw, Danny missed his free throw, so the play was only worth four points, which increased the Spurs lead to 42-32. Lillard quickly answered with a deep three, and the Blazers stayed in range behind solid play from Lillard and McCollum. It would have been even closer, but Lillard, who shoots free throws at a 90% clip, missed free throws. At the half, the Spurs had a seeming comfortable 58-46 lead.
The second half started with an energized home crowd. The Spurs, as Spurs fans have come to expect, came out of the locker room a little lacking in energy and focus. Lillard continued gunning and he hit two quick threes in the first two minutes. Aminu hit a three and with 5:18 left, Mason Plumlee showed off with an athletic dunk to bring the Blazers within two at 66-64. After a miss by Boris Daw, Damian Lillard was fouled and hit two free throws. Unfortunately for the Blazers, on the second free throw, Meyers Leonard got sandwiched between David West and Kawhi Leonard and separated his shoulder. Lillard had to take a quick foul to get Leonard out of the game, and he was replaced by Allen Crabbe.
Not a good sign for Blazer fans. Meyers Leonard out with dislocated shoulder. Looked to be in a lot of pain. pic.twitter.com/lV8M2Jtycn— Craig Mitchelldyer (@craigmdyer) November 12, 2015
With their 7-foot sharpshooter missing from the lineup, Portland was limited for the rest of the game both on offense and defense. Gerald Henderson, in his first game this year, was able to come in and hit some shots, and he looked very good for the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge, despite still drawing boos every time he handled the ball, continued to score and contribute on both ends of the floor, and the Spurs built their lead back to six and led 81-75 as the third quarter ended. Manu had a big impact towards the end of the quarter as he distributed the ball and disrupted the Blazers offense.
The fourth started with David West playing center and he had an impact distributing the ball, with assists to Danny Green and a laser outlet pass to Rasual Butler.
Danny Green fed Kawhi to a driving dunk, and at the end of it, he was undercut by Mason Plumlee, and he landed awkwardly, grabbing his arm in pain.
Spurs fans all held their collective breath, but after a short examination from Dr. Duncan on the bench, Kawhi went back into the game. His arm is fine, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
Boris got isolated on C.J. McCollum and used his bulk to back him all the way to the basket, for an easy flip shot.
Boris say: First I turn my back to you, then I dribble toward you and score. You can't stop, no? https://t.co/OrUxZBvPE1— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) November 12, 2015
In the closing minutes, Pop had had enough of Lillard's scoring, and told Kawhi Leonard to guard him. From that point on, Damian could hardly even hit free throws. Meanwhile, Manu Ginobili drove the ball to the basket and was able to draw a foul from Aminu and a goaltending call from Plumlee on the same play. That took the lead to 10 with 2:35 left and after another block from LaMarcus and a layup from Tony, white flags were waved, and the end of the benches got out there for the last minute. The Spurs ended up winning 113-101.
The Spurs improved their record to 6-2 and are first in the Southwest division and second in the Western Conference behind the undefeated Golden State Warriors.
- Kyle Anderson didn't get onto the court until garbage time. He's played well in the last few games, but Rasual Butler has played perhaps just a little better. Or maybe Pop's just messing with us, and Kyle will be first off the bench for the next game.
- Boban Marjanovich wasn't active for the game, but he was wearing a pretty weird looking ensemble with green pants. He's going to give Tim Duncan a run for his money as the most casual dresser on the team. Leave it to Boban to have an impact on the game even when he's not on the active roster.
- Matt Bonner finally entered a game this year. The Spurs are 1-0 in games where he plays this season.
- Tony Parker looked about as good tonight as he has looked the last couple of years. He didn't score a ton of points, but he looked quick and had plenty of lift on his jump shots. He seems to pick his spots now, but he can get off shots at the basket that he didn't seem to be able to do last year.
- Whenever I write these articles, I never feel like I give Tim Duncan enough credit. He's pretty much at the heart of everything the Spurs do, but what he does seems so effortless that his game rarely calls attention to itself.
- Speaking of Tim, he passed Robert Parrish to take 7th place overall in career rebounding in the first half of tonight's game. As fans, we are so privileged to see this guy pass milestone after milestone in his storied career.
- Mason Plumlee is just a terrible free throw shooter. I don't know why teams don't employ a hack-a-Plumlee strategy, because he makes DeAndre Jordan look like Calvin Murphy.
- At the end of the game we saw a lineup with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together. Pop doesn't play that lineup much but it was very effective.
Spurs vs. Philadelphia 76ers, Saturday 7:30 PM CT, AT&T Center. Could be a trap game ...