During the first half of the season it looked like the Portland Trail Blazers might actually be a team good enough to win the West, but after losing for the fifth time in six games it’s quite clear they have no business being mentioned with the San Antonio Spurs of the world, who are playing like true championship material.
Have we mentioned the Spurs are playing the best basketball in the NBA right now? Probably once or twice. This 103-90 win wasn’t the kind of performance we saw from the Spurs in their win over Chicago, but there were plenty of great basketball moments and especially of sublime ball movement to look at them and no one else as the hottest team at this stage of the season.
Like Manu Ginobili said after the win over the Bulls, the Spurs haven’t peaked yet. Teams shooting 43.2% from the field aren’t at their best, regardless of the 8 straight wins and the team looking healthy from top to bottom, which allows Tim Duncan to take it a bit easier on the offensive end, finsihing with 10 points to go with his 11 rebounds.
Duncan wasn’t the only player with a double double, getting 12 points and 10 rebounds from his frontcourt partner Tiago Splitter. Together the two did an excellent job of keeping the Blazers out of the paint. Portland scored only 32 paint points while shooting an awful 38.6% from the field. It’s not surprising to see a team that’s philosophy is based on stretching the floor only without fancy ball movement look so bad when the 3-ball isn’t falling, shooting 4-of-21 from beyond the arc.
With the lack of any paint presence aside for Robin Lopez from time to time, the Blazers didn’t stand much of a chance. Six players scored in double figures for the Spurs. Aside for the aforementioned big men, Kawhi Leonard had another very efficient performance with 12 points, 6-of-8 from the field and 9 rebounds; Danny Green scored 14 points, left alone to shoot 3’s four times too many; Patty Mills scored 15 points and Manu Ginobili, maybe the engine for the Spurs behind their recent success, added 13 in less than impressive shooting accuracy.
But even if the open shots didn’t fall, the Spurs did the right things to get there. The NBA isn’t split into two – there is more than that to styles and offensive philosophies, but it’s obvious the Spurs present something we don’t see from most of their rivals out West: The Thunder are individualistic offensively with a defense that focuses on clogging the paint; the Rockets are more of the same just with bad defense; the Clippers are a bit more varied, with inconsistency on defense despite the personnel.
The Spurs offer something the rest of the NBA doesn’t have in terms of intelligence on and off the floor, combined with a very strong defense as long as Duncan and Splitter/Diaw do their job of making the paint a rough place to be in, while Leonard and Green do their job on the perimeter. They have problems with the Rockets and Thunder, but things have changed since they’ve last met. The Spurs seem confident enough to believe that this version of their team is good enough to overcome these problems, and finish the job they fell just short of completing last year.