The Portland Trail Blazers are down 0-3 to the San Antonio Spurs in this second round playoff series. No team has ever fully recovered from that deficit in the best-of-seven format. It seems as if the time has come to call it a season and concede to the better team (though you’d be hard-pressed to find quit in this Portland squad). Make no mistake, the Spurs are probably better. They have picked the Trail Blazers apart with surgical precision for three straight games now. However; it’s not over until the proverbial, fleshy female hits her high note.
Just two seasons ago the Spurs dropped four straight games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals after leading the series 2-0. That Thunder team was able to burn the Spurs because they were younger, faster, more athletic, and they made the necessary adjustments to take advantage. This Trail Blazers team is younger, faster, and more athletic, while the Spurs’ core is two years older than they were the last time they were “too old.” There is a crack in the door; Terry Stotts has to stick his shoe in.
Unfortunately, there are a few major differences between 2012 and 2014. These Trail Blazers, while improving at an impressive rate, are not as good as the Thunder were two years ago. They are close enough that a bold Blazer Maniac could make that point debatable, but far enough removed that I wouldn’t be swayed. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and company were practically their own All-Star team, even when the conglomerate was merely budding.
The Spurs are also deeper than they were in 2012. Yeah, a lot of the same faces have stuck around like Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner, and Danny Green, but now they are developed enough to contribute effectively. Not a single Spurs starter averaged more than 30 minutes per game this season, because the bench was able to suitably alleviate them. The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, played every starter more than 30 minutes per game this year (three more than 35). Those figures have only increased in the postseason and have been a big part of why running and gunning hasn’t been a viable option.
So the order is a tall one for Portland. They have to win four straight games against the best team in the NBA without burning their starters out. I’d give them about a 3 percent chance of making that happen, but it’s better than nothing. First things first, let’s see if they can take one game and avoid the sweep. Game 4 is here in Portland tonight at 7:30 p.m. PDT. Most of the pressure is on Stotts. He has pretty thoroughly discovered how not to beat the Spurs, so there have to be some drastic adjustments. I would undergo some Game of Thrones level torture (relax, it’s not a spoiler) before telling anyone to emulate Scott Brooks, but perhaps reviewing recent history could be beneficial.