This was always going to be a tough test for the Spurs.
The Portland Trail Blazers strengths are a weird matchup for San Antonio and it’s hard to know whether or not the coaching staff will be able to scheme their way around it on any given night. As we saw on Saturday, and have seen a few times this year, the duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum simply ask a lot of really tough questions of the Spurs defense. Even on a night where everyone was generally pretty locked in on D, Lillard still went off for 34 points. It’s almost something we need to factor in as a given at this point.
The key for Spurs against this team is always going to be whether or not they can limit the damage elsewhere and score enough points to where a Lillard fireworks display becomes a non-factor. McCollum’s exit in the third quarter obviously disrupts the sample set here, but you can only beat the team that’s in front of you and there was still a lot to like from the way they attacked things defensively tonight.
They didn’t shut Lillard down, but Derrick White, Patty Mills, and a host of others worked him hard and made sure he earned every point he scored. Jusuf Nurkic, for the second time this year, was annoyingly effective but even he seemed to be getting his points within the context of the game plan the Spurs were executing. They wanted to let him shoot jumpers and so he did. They went in this game, but I think the Spurs coaches simply decided that was something worth living with. Everyone else on the Blazers didn’t play poorly, but they were never really able to fully get going and that was enough. The Blazers are a really good offensive team and I think if a genie came down before tipoff and told us that they would only score 103 points in this game, we would all gladly take that in a heartbeat.
It’s silly and dumb to put too much stock in one game. There’s too many variables that on any given night can skew things one way or the other. In fact, if you had a mind to, you could probably learn just about anything you want from just about every game you watch. Do you want to find 10 plays that show the Spurs are terrible defensively? You can. Do you want to find 10 other ones that show how the Spurs are maybe the greatest offensive team of this generation? We can queue that up for you. A single game in this league is nothing. The Warriors lost to the Suns the other night; what did we learn from that?
So yea, this was a good win, but it is hard to put too much stock into it until we place it in the broader context of San Antonio’s recent run of form. Eight straight wins, regardless of who the competition was, is extremely hard to do. It takes a lot of talent, sure, but more importantly it takes a lot of focus and effort and a genuine desire to be better. In the wake of their disastrous February, I’m not sure that you could’ve asked for a better response from this group of guys. They easily could’ve wilted on the vine and fallen into a malaise through the end of the season. Maybe they would “luck” into the 8 seed again and get swept by the Warriors for their trouble. Hooray.
But no. These Spurs did not go gently into that good night. They got home and re-grouped, rounded into shape, and quietly decided to become the team that no one wants to see come playoff time. Beating the Blazers at home in March isn’t anything to get too riled up about, but it’s getting harder and harder to ignore just how consistently well this group has played for two and a half weeks.
It’s exciting. Are you excited? I’m excited.
- DeMar DeRozan continues to look like he’s settling into a nice little groo ve within the offense. He’s been shooting the ball so much better lately, but tonight his shot wasn’t really dropping and he still found a lot of different ways to be effective. I obviously haven’t been closely watching DeMar for his entire career, but at least based on our time with him this season, the surest sign that he’s feeling good is when he’s able to stay in the flow of the game without the help of his surefire jumper to back him up. He was active on defense, he grabbed 8 boards, and, most importantly, he never stopped attacking. 9 of his 21 points came at the foul line. I don’t know if he’s feeling physically healthier right now or what but this has been his best stretch in a Spurs uniform since the first month of the season.
- Speaking of DeMar settling into the Spurs system, look at how beautiful this Hammer play is from the 4th quarter. He gets the ball out on the wing and dances his defenders around Davis Bertans before turning Maurice Harkless around and charging down the baseline. He tip-toes under the basket, always a threat to lash up and under for a quick layup, while Bryn Forbes runs off a weak side screen from LaMarcus. DeMar hits Bryn in the corner and adds a fun wrinkle by letting his momentum carry on out to provide a quick little screen while Bryn drains his three. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 different players out there who were not on the Spurs “beautiful game” 2014 championship team running a picture perfect Hammer set in crunch time. Big wheel keep on turning.
- Jakob Poeltl had his hands full with Jusef Nurkic in this game, but he still put together another great performance. The team just looks a little more comfortable with him at the 5. He runs around setting screens, grabbing rebounds, and generally just getting in the way of his opponents. It’s wonderful. He’s essentially become a sure thing to finish around the rim and, oh by the way, I guess he’s just an elite shot blocker now too? Hey Jakob, did we just become best friends?
- CJ McCollum is a great dude and a great player and him getting hurt is just the pits. Get well soon CJ.
- MARCO WATCH: The play that I want to highlight here didn’t directly involve Marco, per se, but it was interesting to watch his spirt briefly infect Davis Bertans like a virus for a brief, magical 3 seconds. Let me explain. So Marco whips around a double screen at high speed, dribbling with his left hand on the inside of his body. You know, like a psycho. He then abruptly comes to a stop in no mans land, just inside the three point line, and throws his arms up in the air as he’s wont to do. Poor Jake Layman bites on this nonsense and, while he’s in the air, Marco tosses the ball over to Davis and things start to get weird. Well, Weirder. Marco starts his cut to the basket before the ball has even left his hand and, in doing so, essentially makes Davis an unwitting accessory to his basketball crime. There is absolutely no angle that makes sense for Davis to get this ball back to Marco. Theres a defender in the way and three more guys collapsing into the paint on him. It would be insane to even think about this pass and yet the boundless enthusiasm and confidence radiating off the number 18 jersey can be a siren song to even the most level headed of guys. Davis winds back and attempts to fling a pass through about 4 different dimensions of space and time and the ball chooses to manifest along a different path. Instead of slotting in to Marco, it slams into Rodney Hood’s arm before bouncing off right into the waiting hands of a wide open Bryn Forbes. Forbes, of course, had been open the whole time and would have probably been more than happy to except a traditional chest pass from Davis, but who would want that? Life’s too short. Bryn calmly nails the three and the Spurs take the lead. Just like Marco drew it up.