If you're anywhere near the pragmatist I am, before this five game homestand even started you saw the Blazers on the schedule, sandwiched between the back-to-back tilts against the Thunder and Clippers and the galactically-televised rematch against the Monstars coming up and you had this thought:
Indeed, Admiral Ackbar. Indeed.
As much as the team gives platitudes to "taking them one game at a time," I think if you were to offer them some green-dyed shots of sodium pentothal they'd admit that there was some looking ahead to the Warriors immediately after they finished off the Clippers on Tuesday. It's not that the Blazers are pushovers. They're not, by any means, and the backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will steal a couple of games against somebody in the first round. But they are a young club, with obvious holes and defensive shortcomings, and it was evident pretty quickly that the Spurs wouldn't have to work very hard to score.
The story of the game was Tony Parker, who was brilliant with 18 points and a season-high 16 assists. He was coming off a couple of rough outings against OKC and the Clips, with a combined six points on 1-of-9 shooting, along with nine assists, but he was in command from the outset against Lillard, whom he destroyed in the second round of the 2014 playoffs on the way to the Spurs last title.
The Wee Frenchman had a couple of layups and four helpers in the first quarter
four and four again in the second, and then he exploded in the third --as the Spurs do-- with a couple more buckets and eight assists as part of San Antonio's 39-point third period which turned a two-point game at half into another runaway.
What was unusual about the performance was how effortless all involved made it look. This game in no way evoked flashbacks to "The Beautiful Game" YouTube clips and subsequent playoff run. There was no ball pinging from man to man from one side of the court to the other back and forth until finally someone sprung open. It was so much simpler than that. Parker got one screen, got a bit of room, a big rotated over, and voila, LaMarcus Aldridge was wide open from 15-17 feet.
I mean, you would think that the Blazers would be somewhat familiar with Aldridge's work, given the past nine years. Yet their bigs were content to give him open jumper after open jumper.
Nine of Parker's 16 assists went to Aldridge, six on mid-range jumpers and another on a short floater, to go with a pair of pick-and-roll dunks. He got Tim Duncan a pair of easy ones
on the pick-and-roll as well and three wing jumpers to Kawhi Leonard off easy curls. By now the team's playmakers are well versed in where Aldridge's sweet spots on the floor are and the former Blazer continues to get better and better at timing his cuts and screens to spring open to those areas of the floor where he feels most comfortable.
Occasionally people rotate on him too aggressively, and then it's a party.
Parker confirmed the obvious after the game, saying "I love playing with [Aldridge], I know exactly where he is going to be."
It was a far from perfect performance from the home side, which was to be expected. In truth the Spurs played one dominant quarter, one decent one and a couple of poor ones to bookend the game. Gregg Popovich called several time outs to harangue players for defensive miscues and half-hearted efforts, from Manu Ginobili to Kyle Anderson to even Parker. The tongue-lashings came when the game was close and then even more frequently in the fourth quarter, when it wasn't. He made it clear that such play wasn't acceptable, regardless of situation and the players mostly nodded along in agreement, knowing full well that human nature would serve as a futile defense.
You kind of understand the argument from both sides. Popovich understands full well that such sloppiness and lack of focus simply won't do against the Warriors whereas the players just want to coast and catch their breath before having to lock in for 48 minutes on Saturday.
It's hard to find much of anything to complain about right now, to be honest. The Spurs have gotten through the first four games of the homestand unscathed both physically and in the loss column. Parker got himself going at just the right time, as did his countryman Boris Diaw, who gave the club some quality second quarter minutes, scoring seven of his nine points, including an and-1 off a misguided Danny Green attempt at a cream-oop.
Leonard, meanwhile, only had three quiet shot attempts ... haha...
and you hardly noticed him out there
in the first half, but exploded for 11 in the third quarter. He finished with 22, making all four of his triples because of course he did, as the starting front court combined for 27 in the period and 14 of the Spurs 16 buckets in the quarter were assisted.
The Blazers tried triple-teaming Leonard at one point, and that proved sub-optimal.
When the starters sat, Patty Mills rescued what was an otherwise lackluster bench.
The Spurs are a machine right now, with two main gears rolling along and the other assorted nuts and pulleys working in fits and starts. They've strung together a bunch of B/B-plus performances and for them that's plenty.
Whether it will be on Saturday remains to be seen.
Your Three Stars:
1. Tony Parker
2. LaMarcus Aldridge
3. Kawhi Leonard
Up Next: Vs. Golden State Warriors (61-6)
Finally, an easy one after this stretch of playoff teams. Not sure I'm gonna even bother going to this snooze-fest. Anyone want my credential?