Well, that didn’t go well.
The Portland Trail Blazers let the Spurs dig huge hole, fell ass-over-teakettle into it, and spent most of the game trying to crawl back out. After being down 20 at the half, the Blazer got within 7 in a third quarter flurry that had Rip City screaming at their televisions and stomping their feet, only to have the Spurs to rebuild their lead well into double digits that had Rip City screaming at the television and stomping their feet. The well-oiled machine that is the Spurs easily rolled over the Trail Blazers, 118-103. Portland is now down 0-3 in the best-of-7 series, and needs a win in Portland on Monday to keep their second round rolling. The Spurs need but one win in 4 tries to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
What games and series like these do is make you think: what does the team need? How can they be better? Sometimes you can look at the individual game as a microcosm to the larger issues ailing a franchise, and with that in mind we can start with bench scoring.
The Spurs’ bench scored 40 points tonight. Manu Ginobili had 14 points and 5 assists. Patty Mills had 10. Boris Diaw had 9. Those numbers, in certain situations, can be acceptable for starters, let alone your bench.
The Blazers’ bench scored 6 points tonight. 4 of those came from C.J. McCollum in garbage time. So really, the Blazers got 2 points points when it mattered. 2. Two. Too. To. Tu. Doesn’t matter how you say it, it means two points from the bench when the game was still in question.
That’s just insane. Your team is not going to win ballgames like that. Ever.
And yeah, I get that Mo Williams‘ groin is giving him a hard time and he didn’t play and blah blah blah, but when Mo Williams is your one and only savior outside of your starting five, there’s a problem. And the Blazers have a big, bench-sized problem staring them in the face.
Some of the Blazers’ current reserves (Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, C.J. McCollum) might develop nicely. It could be that the Blazers can, organically, grow their own bench. It would fit in nicely with the eco-friendly theme they’re pushing, and I’m sure the LEED-certified Moda Center would appreciate it.
But if there is any one thing you want the Blazers to do this offseason, it’s shore up the bench, which is odd given that was the number one thing the Blazers were meant to do last year, save from finding a starting center (which they did a great job with, actually).
And while the bench is a far sight better than last year, it’s just not good enough. Not for a team that wants to get to the Conference Finals.
The second area of concern is defense. How many times have we seen Damian Lillard embarrassed by whoever he is guarding? Be it Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili to Kawhi Leonard or Marco Belinelli, Lillard has figured out how to get them all open looks. That would be sick (and would mean a lot of assists) if Lillard played for the Spurs, but, of course, he doesn’t, and instead that phrase is indicative of a brilliant offensive force who can’t play a lick of defense.
But it’s not all Lillard’s fault. When the Spurs drive, the Blazers will sag off their assignments, a lot, as if pretending to contest the shot of the driver is more important than staying on your ACTUAL defensive assignment. This is leading to tons of kick-outs for open looks, and frankly is glaring enough that I am pretty surprised it wasn’t address between games 1 and 2.
The final, and most worrisome area of improvement: confidence. The Blazers just don’t seem like themselves. When the Spurs drive and Portland wants to prevent them from scoring, instead of grabbing on with two hands and pulling down in a safe but completely disruptive manner to prevent the and-1, they seem to just give the Spurs a hale and hearty pat on the back as they fly by. Unacceptable.
The Blazers have one last chance to extend this series this Monday at 7:30 p.m. PDT in Portland.