You knew it was gonna be a tough game when the Portland Trail Blazers started down 0-8. “That’s okay,” we thought, “the Blazers LIKE tough games! They’re GOOD at playing from behind! All we have to do is keep the lead at about 6 or 8… 10… 15… okay, 18… 23.. 28… um… help?
The Blazers found themselves further behind than they did in the entire Rockets series, and it didn’t even take the whole first quarter. With 8 minutes to go in the 2nd, the lead was over 20. By halftime, it was nearly 30. There was no miracle push, as every mini-run was quickly stamped out by the veteran Spurs, and the Blazers went down 116-92, falling to 0-1 in the best-of-7 series.
While there are a lot of ways to dissect a beatdown of such epic proportions, we might want to start with what went wrong so that we may try to figure out how the Blazers can fix it in game 2:
- Terrible defense on Tony Parker from Damian Lillard. I mean, just awful, awful defense from Lillard. He started on Parker, but got caught on screens like a bug on flypaper. Trying to go over the top of a screen for Lillard is like trying to do that one jump between the two buildings in the beginning of the Matrix: he just doesn’t think he can get through. There’s no other explanation for why so many other people with inferior athletic ability have little trouble treating screens as little more than an inconvenience, rather than the game-stopping wall of doom that Lillard surely sees.
- Since Terry Stotts wasn’t going to tell Lillard to just go under the screen and concede the long jumper, Wesley Matthews took a crack at him. The results, while not pretty, were slightly better… unfortunately, no matter WHO Lillard was hidden on, they were open, even if they didn’t hit their shots.
- Turnovers. 20 of them all told. And not hustle turnovers or “oops, my bad” turnovers, but really, truly ugly turnovers. Halfway through the third, Lillard was bringing the ball up, passed half court, and… just sort of lobbed the ball to no one in particular. The Spurs looked at the ball for a second like, “Is this a joke?” before taking off the other direction for some free points.
- Missing easy shots. I don’t have stats for this, but the Blazers MUST have missed at least 10 shots right at the rim, and another handful within 10 feet. Easy lay-ins would not only not go in… some of them didn’t even look like they were close. One LaMarcus Aldridge layin missed so badly he grabbed his head, as if the thought missing one more shot under the basket would cause his head to explode. I can’t say I blame him. My head was about ready to pop, too.
- Poor defensive rotation. I can’t count how many times the Spurs were stopped at the rim, only to kick out to someone who was wide, wide open. And again, this isn’t like they were whipping the ball around the whole time: it was just vanilla get-a-body-on-your-man defense that was being ignored. The Blazers usually let Robin Lopez fend for himself in the middle, and tonight you could see why. While you may be giving up a few shots at the basket, at least they’ll be contested, and at least you won’t be leaving other guys open.
The stats on Portland’s side are pretty sorrowful after Aldridge, who salvaged 32 and 14. Lillard’s 17 points came from 15 shot, and after that the only Trail Blazer with 10 or more was Robin Lopez, which itself was buoyed by 7 free throws. A brown star goes to Will Barton for going 3-3 from deep, and for hitting the Blazers’ second three of the game in 4th quarter garbage time (yes, you heard that right… their FIRST three came in the 4th quarter).
The only thing the Blazers can do is hope that mental toughness they so love to talk about doesn’t let them down next game. The Blazers won’t shoot 37% every game, or end up with twice as many turnovers as assists every game, and when the opportunity comes to put the lessons they learned in this one to good use later, they’d better be ready to do it.
The Blazers have a day off to cry, yell, knit, or whatever it is they do to get clarity back, and will face the Spurs again on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. PDT in San Antonio.