The Portland Trail Blazers lost their season-high 4th game in a row to the San Antonio Spurs 103-90. The now 42-23 Blazers play the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans at 5:00 p.m. PST Friday. What’s worse: LaMarcus Aldridge went down with a back contusion, taking minutes to get up before having help to limp away. He did not return.
The first half was not a sight to behold for Blazers fans. The Spurs went up by double digits very early, only to allow the Blazers the slimmest of leads before going on a 9-2 run to end the first quarter.
The second was a whole lat of Spurs’ lateral movement to confuse the Portland defense and find the open man. Lillard looked like he hurt his back, Mo Williams wasn’t even playing, and LaMarcus Aldridge looked about as confident as a snake on a buttered tree branch. San Antonio was relentless on defense, and body language really told the story: The Spurs were popping and skipping while the Blazers were plodding and sulking.
I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: any advantage Damian Lillard thinks he gains by galumphing up the court and trying to surprise the defense with bursts of speed is far outweighed by the lack of urgency and misdirection he conveys in his body language. It affects the urgency and energy which which the Blazers play, and it also affects the balance of confidence between the two teams, not to mention the referees, who are less likely to give you calls if it doesn’t look like you’re working hard (read: James Harden and his fabulous, high-energy flops).
The second quarter ended fittingly enough, with the Blazers trying to get clever by going into a zone for the Spurs’ final possession, only to allow a WIDE open three by Boris Diaw. The Blazers faced a 56-40 deficit at the half. The Spurs were also winning the rebounding battle 33-18 at the half.
The third quarter’s biggest play came on a simple foul. Aldridge caught the ball on the left block, and turned to the middle like he had done uncountable times before. As he put the shot up, Duncan shoved him a bit with his arm, and Aldridge got caught on Aaron Baynes on the way down. His feet went from under him, and he landed square on the small of his back. Aldridge writhed in pain, flexing his hands, and even after an extended commercial break, he was only just making his way off the court using Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver for support, moving very, very slowly. It didn’t look good, especially for a player who’s had hip problems in the past.
Without their best player, the Blazers seemed to be in trouble. They put together a run to close the game to within 6 with 5:30 to go. The Spurs pushed back, extended the lead as Matthews got called for a technical foul for complaining after a no call, and whose emotions were “rewarded” by a Matthews blocking call that was pretty clearly an open-court charge on Tony Parker.
The Spurs were 37-1 when leading after three, and took a 73-64 lead heading into the fourth. They then went on a 9-0 run, and that was pretty much the game.
Before going down with what was called a “back contusion,” Aldridge was looking hesitant and unsure of himself, as if all of the gains he had made over the last year and half to become a serious MVP candidate had dissolved because of a short-term injury. It’s puzzling. His stats said 14 points on 6-11 shooting, but the eye test said “second banana.”
Damian Lillard is hurting himself by playing so low key. It’s not working for him, and it’s not working for the team. He needs to get comfortable playing with urgency, because he’s missing out on calls and bringing the energy of his team down by keeping his fire buried down so deep. His 23 points came on just 9-23 shooting.
Wes Matthews, on the other hand, works about as hard as anyone on the court at any given time. The team needs his passion to transfer to a few other players. He finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Nicolas Batum continued his torrid rebounding with 14, but the Blazers need more from him on offense, especially from deep where he was just 1-4. He added 13 points to his contributions.
Robin Lopez was never able to get the position he needed to be effective, and was limited to 4 points and 6 boards with 2 blocks.
Dorell Wright had a brilliant game off the bench, including another one of his patented “draw-the-foul-on-a-three” plays. He was confident both outside and in, and you wish he could just bring what he brought tonight consistently. He ended with 10 and 6.
Nicolas Batum recently quipped that the Blazers “aren’t having fun.” The ESPN announcers repeated this at least three times during the game. It’s one of those things that you really wish weren’t true, but is.