It’s hard to tell whether missing San Antonio Spurs players are injured or just being rested. Does it matter? The Portland Trail Blazers made the most of the opportunity, led by both LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard en route to a 108-95 win.
Aldridge and Lillard each scored 23 points against a Spurs team that had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter sitting this one out. Until midway through the third quarter, led by Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, things went quite well for the Spurs, but eventually their problems on offense and especially defensively whenever Lillard got into the paint were a bit too much to overcome without so many key players.
Besides his 23 points, Lillard grabbed 10 rebounds and added six assists. Not all of his passes went directly to the scorer, but almost every time he blew by a defender it forced the Spurs defense to scramble, almost always leaving a shooter open. Wesley Matthews, with 14 points, hit two of his three 3-pointers that way. Nicolas Batum helped move the ball to open shooters, finishing with 6 assists as well, while Aldridge did most of his scoring on his own, also grabbing 14 rebounds and hitting 10-of-21 shots.
It’s exactly these kind of games that make the Spurs so good later on in the season. Popovich forces his second-tier players to step up which makes this team so dangerous when they’re playing in full strength, with everyone having confidence to take crucial shots, and teammates have faith in each other. It probably takes a special kind of chemistry and blending, not to mention personalities, to make it work, but it’s funny how almost no one around the NBA is trying to emulate their success by simply imitating them.
The Blazers aren’t the Spurs. They run on superstar blood and rise & fall with their lineup. Their bench does seem improved at times, getting 11 points from Chris Kaman and 7 from Thomas Robinson, but on other nights it does feel like a complete waste of time to go to any options that aren’t called Aldridge-Batum-Lillard-Matthews-Lopez. The Blazers’ bench players did pretty well in this time, but it continues to be an inconsistent, unpredictable factor of their game.
Someone from that bench will have to step up for Robin Lopez who broke his hand in the third quarter and will be out for ‘a while’, which means at least six weeks and probably more than that. Lopez has been averaging 9.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game this season, and it’ll be up to Kaman, Joel Freeland and even Leonard Meyers to make up for his contribution, splitting his minutes and hopefully the same amount of points and rebounds three ways.