Life is very different as you move up the playoff ladder. The San Antonio Spurs are used to the rise in difficulty, while the Portland Trail Blazers have a lot of catching up to do, especially after getting torched by Tony Parker in a game 1 116-92 humiliation.
Everything that seemed so natural and easy against the Houston Rockets in the first round didn’t work. The Spurs don’t play much iso basketball and don’t make things easy on the perimeter unlike the lazy defending for too many minutes the Blazers got used to seeing against Houston. It might be the difference between players, but it’s mostly the difference between Gregg Popovich and Kevin McHale.
There was hype about the rivalry we might see between Damian Lillard and Tony Parker. It wasn’t even close. Lillard seemed a bit stunned from the occasion, while Parker looked perfectly natural in it, scoring 33 points to make it two consecutive huge games for the point guard following the game 7 beatdown of the Mavs. Parker scored 12 of those points when Lillard was guarding him, 10 of which came in the first half.
The Blazers did settle down in the second half, but they went into the locker room behind by 26 points. Wesley Matthews moving to guard Parker made a huge difference, but it was a bit too late. Lillard himself became calmer, scoring 17 points eventually, while Aldridge had a big game with 32 points. However, the Spurs didn’t allow any transition points (only 3 for the Blazers all game) and were too good on offense in the first half to care about the dip in form later on.
While the Spurs didn’t use Danny Green that much (played only 15 minutes), it was rough for Nicolas Batum against the other perimeter scourge of Kawhi Leonard. Leonard scored 16 points to go with 9 rebounds and 4 steals while limiting Batum (not on his own) to 3-of-12 from the field and only 7 points. For the Blazers to make this series even remotely interesting, it’s going to have to be about more than just Aldridge and Lillard, who will have better games.
The Spurs are what the Blazers want to be, aspire to be. A team that moves the ball well and doesn’t have to rely on just one player shining. The Spurs got 50 points from their bench, including 19 from Marco Belinelli, 10 from Patty Mills in only 12 minutes and 10 more from Aron Baynes. Tim Duncan had a double double in just 24 minutes with 12 points and 11 rebounds, as the Spurs once again didn’t need to overuse anyone.
The Spurs-Mavs series, excluding game 2 and the final one was tight all the way through. The Blazers and the Rockets were involved in one of the best first rounds we’ve seen in years. Getting hammered like this in the first game was something of an anti-climax to those looking for a closer battle, but when it comes down to it, the Blazers rely on things that can’t be counted upon, which is mostly shooting. The Spurs aren’t perfect, but they make their own luck by playing basketball that doesn’t need a great day from anyone to be successful.