“When you figure that out you tell me and I’m going to use it because nobody has been able to figure that out yet.”
That was Gregg Popovich’s response to a question on how and why Portland plays so well against the San Antonio Spurs. After a 115-105 loss to the Trail Blazers on Saturday night, Portland continues its trend of bringing it when facing San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers have now gone 13-5 against the Spurs over the past 18 games they matched up, and the answer as to how they do it is pretty simple… they just make their shots.
And I know you probably read that and went “duh, idiot”, but there’s really no in-depth analysis to it. Portland finished with 42 points off of mid-range shots. San Antonio finished with half that. It all started when LaMarcus Aldridge opened the game up by hitting 5 shots, all of which were pretty impressive mid-range jump shots over either Duncan and Splitter, and went on to finish the game with a stat line of 24 points, 7 boards, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. He set the tone for Portland, got the crowd behind them, and took the momentum and ran with it.
The starting 5 for Portland just had the hotter hand, and there really wasn’t much Pop and crew could do to stop it. Lillard finished with 18, 7, and 7. Nick Batum had a triple-double. Wes Matthews dropped 20, and Robin Lopez had 6 of his 12 points in the 4th quarter, all of which seemed to be daggers to the Spurs comeback’s heart.
But what did I mean with my seemingly-moronic analysis of “they just make their shots”? The Spurs finished the game with 52 points in the paint. Portland finished with 32. The Spurs had 12 points off of 3’s, Portland had 18, and then added 17 points from the free throw line. What this means is Portland had 48 points from the midrange area. What this means is, Portland HAD 48 POINTS FROM THE PLACE YOU ARENT SUPPOSED TO GET 48 POINTS FROM. Why don’t you want points from there? Well, it makes more sense to get it in the paint for higher percentage shots, drawing fouls on the big men, or drawing defense in for a dish to the 3 point shooter. Basically, Portland’s offense essentially went Dirk on us. When teams hit midrange j’s like the Blazers, you really can’t do much about it without creating a hole in the defense somewhere. Usually, though, teams avoid the midrange shot because of what I mentioned earlier.
For San Antonio, the offense just wasn’t there when they needed it. Portland was giving the Spurs the exact same midrange shots they were getting, mainly on the pick defense. Every time a San Antonio big man would screen for the ball handler, Portland’s defender would go under and leave an open off the dribble shot. Parker, Green, Leonard, and Neal all missed these shots. Heck, the Spurs missed a combined of 21 midrange shots. Funny how Portland matched that in makes.
Tim Duncan played exceptional, though, basically matching Aldridge’s stat line for the night. This is a positive sign for San Antonio, due to the fact he left the Spur’s season opener early in the game with a chest contusion. He also sat out against the Lakers. The most disappointing performance for the Spurs was Kawhi Leonard, who only played 26 minutes and was cold the entire night. He would go on to finish the game with a game-worst -11 in the plus/minus category. He only had 9 points on 4-9 shooting, and was outshined by Batum. Danny Green didn’t help either, going 0-3 and only taking one 3-point shot all night.
There are 79 games left, though, so we shouldn’t be too concerned. After all, Portland was just on fire (not literally). They made difficult shots, and San Antonio didn’t. These are the types of losses you’re okay with in the regular season. The ones you can’t do much about, because when a team’s hot, they’re hot. The main thing to take away from the loss is Tim Duncan looked unaffected by his injury. The Spurs did have 24 turnovers, which we MUST cut down, but we also forced Portland to turn it over 32 times, so again… this is a loss to live with. Let’s just hope the kinks get worked out eventually, but I mean… We are talking about Popovich here, so I’m sure we’ll see him fine-tune the little mistakes by the season’s end.