With Kawhi Leonard missing his second consecutive game with stomach trouble, it was a reasonable expectation that the Spurs defense would disappoint tonight, but for most of the first half, the biggest problem for the Silver and Black was turning the ball over. The Blazers, who had Damian Lillard sitting out with a sprained ankle, were happy to take advantage of these gifts. Portland also got solid contributions from Moe Harkless, Allen Crabbe and Shabazz Napier who provided some scoring punch when McCollum had to sit with foul trouble.
The second half was a different story. The intensity picked up on both sides of the ball for the Silver and Black and they made Portland pay for every mistake. They equalized the game in the third and put it away in the fourth behind great efforts from Jonathon Simmons and a rejuvenated Tony Parker, who continues to play well of late. Kyle Anderson made critical plays on defense and grabbed defensive rebounds to limit the Blazers to one shot per trip. Perhaps the best performance on both ends of the floor was by Danny Green, who scored at key moments of the game and disrupted the Blazer offense late with his quick hands and long reach.
LaMarcus Aldridge hit the first basket of the game for the good guys. Tony Parker followed by snaking amongst the trees in the lane for a layup. Portland attempted to neutralize Aldridge by doubling him, which evidently worked as they got him to turn the ball over. After a three from McCollum, the Blazers led 19-11 five minutes into the game.
As the quarter wore on, the Blazers were able to score easily. The defense, without Kawhi Leonard, surrendered open looks, and Portland largely made them pay. Even when McCollum had to leave early with foul trouble, Shabazz Napier went on a scoring run. It looked like the visitors were going to run away with the game, but a hustling defensive play from Jonathon Simmons kept the deficit from expanding. The Spurs had turned over the ball nine times in the quarter and trailed 32-22. It could have, and probably should have, been worse.
Gregg Popovich tried a funky lineup early in the second quarter: Dejounte Murray in an unusual three guard lineup with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The experiment was a failure – they had trouble scoring and defending, but at least the Blazers weren’t able to extend their lead. After a timeout, Parker was replaced by Simmons, but the team was still a little discombobulated. Even worse, CJ McCollum, who had missed much of the first quarter with foul trouble, started to heat up.
But about halfway through the quarter, the defensive intensity picked up for the Spurs and they began to chip into the lead. Kyle Anderson made key plays and rebounds. After a Danny Green triple, the Spurs were within four with just under two minutes left in the half. But the careless turnovers continued and the Spurs threw away opportunities to even up the score. San Antonio turned the ball over again with seconds left in the half, but Napier missed a wide open three point attempt as the clock expired. The Trailblazers led by five at the half, but it could easily have been much more.
The Spurs came out of the locker room with a sense of purpose – no doubt their ears were stinging from a stern Popovich lecture at the half. An Anderson steal, a Green triple and a Pau Gasol hook started the second half for the Spurs. Tony Parker hit a layup to knot the score up at 54. But the Blazers weren’t done yet, Crabbe made a short shot to put the Blazers up by a couple, and McCollum followed with a pair of free throws. Danny Green answered with a triple. The teams fought evenly through much of the quarter, but the Spurs kept fighting and a Ginobili three with 3:48 left finally put the Spurs ahead 69-67. On the next trip down the floor, Simmons extended the lead with a wide open triple. David Lee sank a scoop shot and the Spurs led 80-73 after three.
LaMarcus opened up the quarter with his most open shot of the game to extend the lead. A Lee steal led to a Simmons break out. Ed Davis wrapped him up under the basket and he hit one of two free throws. Simmons then hit a triple to extend the lead to 13 points. Patty Mills stole the ball and tried to get the ball to Simmons under the basket, but the pass was off target. Amazingly, Jonathon hustled to the ball and dove to deflect it off a Blazers player, preventing a turnover, but sliding into the row of cameras at the baseline for a perfect glamour shot.
Jonathon Simmons didn't quite get the alley oop pass, but he had some fun trying. pic.twitter.com/kRLuvsYJDf— Mark Barrington (@MarkBarrington2) December 31, 2016
Danny Green got the ball on the perimeter, faked a pass and drained the shot.
I bet Danny talks smack like, "Haha did you see that go in? That was neat."pic.twitter.com/5L38JnWWRj— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) December 31, 2016
Danny’s defense was big too, as he disrupted the Blazer offense by poking the ball loose and making it hard for them to execute.
Danny Green has scored tonight, but these defensive plays show how valuable he is. pic.twitter.com/qLAUbhQ2R0— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 31, 2016
Tony Parker, looking fresh, started to percolate. His defenders were laying off him after all of his drives to the basket earlier in the game and he took advantage of the space, hitting a midrange shot and a three-pointer. Anderson’s defensive efforts made a difference too, as the Spurs continued to pull away.
When Tony Parker took a hard foul in the face from Moe Harkless with three and a half minutes left, Pop went to his bench, taking Aldridge and Parker off the floor. The Spurs bench kept up the intensity as Dejounte Murray and Simmons worked together to put an exclamation point on the win with a spectacular dunk.
JSimms fastbreak dunk:— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 31, 2016
Landing: ∞ pic.twitter.com/oG5QN5GPvr
- Mason Plumlee has the worst-looking free throw shot in the league, but he hit three of his first four shots from the line.
- The nine turnovers in the first for the Spurs were the most for them in a quarter this year. It didn’t feel like an aberration; they’ve been doing this for much of the last month. Most of the turnovers were unforced.
- LaMarcus only ended up with three shots, as Portland shut him down for most of the game with double teams.
- Portland plays much better defense with Lillard not in the lineup. That’s not a big surprise since Damian is a terrible defender, but their defensive intensity is much improved when they know that every player is going to hold their own.
- The Spurs have been getting away with slow starts and sloppy play at home against bad teams, but they need to improve if they want to compete with the elite teams in the league.
[no it wasn’t]
Well, that’s it for 2016. The Spurs did pretty well, racking up a 27-6 record so far, but it’s just the beginning. Despite the gaudy record, they showed in tonight’s game that they still have a lot that they need to work on and improve if they want to go anywhere in the playoffs this year. The good news is that they have considerable time to do that, and Coach Pop probably has a plan. The next game is New Year’s Day at 5:00 pm against the Hawks, who are in the middle of the playoff pack in the East.