Tonight at 7:30 p.m. PDT, the Portland Trail Blazers will try to avoid getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals. In what has been a lopsided series, the Trail Blazers need a win in order to save face. After the dramatic finish of the first round series against Houston, Portland has yet to compete with the San Antonio style of play.
Saturday night was the best chance to make this series relevant for the Trail Blazers. It was their first game back at home, in front of a crowd that has embraced the “Never Say Die” mantra. The Spurs came out like they were the team desperate for a win and gave the knock out punch in the first half. Trailing by 20 at halftime, the Trail Blazers attempted to climb back in the game and successfully cut the lead to single digits, but this Spurs team never faltered.
Where has Portland’s mojo gone? What happened to that buzzer-beater swagger? They have been outplayed and outmatched this entire series, and it’s been on display for the entire world to see. After the excitement and thrill of Damian Lillard‘s miraculous three-pointer to win the first series, many expected the Trail Blazers to come in and compete against the reigning Western Conference Champions. The Spurs had just gone seven games with the Mavericks and the series preview against the Trail Blazers convinced most that it would be a toss up. Boy were they wrong.
Sadly, the Trail Blazers struggles have been emphasized by the superb play of the Spurs. As much as I hate seeing this, it might be good for the Trail Blazers in the long run. They are still young and have a bright future. This clear gap in play and pedigree will hopefully open up the eyes of the front office and allow them to see the needs of the team. I’m not completely writing the Trail Blazers off tonight but I am being realistic and chalking the series up as a loss. Let’s just hope when we talk about the series at the end, we aren’t using the word sweep.
Things To Watch For
Can The Trail Blazers Bench Step Up?
This has been a topic in almost every game preview of this series. The Spurs bench has been out of this world. The Trail Blazers bench has been non-existent. Jabari Young, who covers the Spurs for The San Antonio Express-News, broke down the scoring by the benches in this series:
— Jabari Young (@jabari_young) May 11, 2014
How embarrassing is that? The Spurs have score more than 43 points (the Trail Blazers total for the series) off the bench in all but one game. How can Portland expect to compete with those type of numbers? With Mo Williams ailing from a groin injury, Will Barton had a chance to step up and prove his play is for real. Instead, Barton was 0-2 for zero points in 11 minutes of play on Saturday. Who can the Trail Blazers rely on? The answer so far is no one and it will need to be addressed in the off-season.
Who Does The Small Things Better?
Small things lead to victories in the NBA. Rebounding, free throws, and turnovers are just a few areas that can determine the outcome of a game. The most frustrating part of this series has been the Trail Blazers inability to win the battle of the small things. Let’s start by looking at free throws. The Trail Blazers finished the regular season with the best team free throw percentage in the NBA at 81.5 percent. The Spurs finished fourth in the league with a team average of 78.5 percent. In game 3, the Spurs were a perfect 25-25 from the charity stripe while the Trail Blazers were 23-31. That’s eight points they gave away. Obviously I wouldn’t expect them to be perfect but again, it’s the small things that help you win games. The Trail Blazers had 14 turnovers that led to 22 points. The Spurs had seven turnovers that led to 11 points. Those are points the Trail Blazers could have avoided giving away. If the Trail Blazers can win the battle of the small things, they will definitely be closer to winning a game in this series.
Will The Trail Blazers Put Up A Fight?
Once a team falls behind 3-0 in a seven game series, there is no coming back. The Spurs would be the first team to ever lose a seven-game NBA playoff series after holding a 3-0 lead. This game is all about reputation and the fans. If the Trail Blazers want to be viewed as a legit contending team, they will have to win tonight. Losing a series 4-1 looks so much better than a 4-0 sweep. Tonight’s game will possibly be the last home game of the season for the Trail Blazers. The fans have stuck by their sides all season long and deserve a win. Any player will tell you that the fans provide energy for them. Let’s see if the Trail Blazers can muster up a win for Rip City tonight.