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Sorry Portland, But My Basketball Heart Lies In San Antonio; Thanks For Putting the Game on TV For Me, Though

By Jeff Koch on December 12, 2010.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

Portland 78, San Antonio 95  //  20-3  //  1st in the West

The post-game reports are already abuzz about the Spurs defensive acumen this game. Watching the game, it certainly had the feel of a vintage championship Spurs team performance: clogged passing lanes, deflected passes, great rotations, lots of one-on-one from the Blazers players, shots jacked up as the shot clock expires. It’s nice to know that that Spurs team still lurks inside this new offensive juggernaut, and that when the winter thaws and the games slow to a crawl, we can still compete at the highest of levels.

Which isn’t to say that our offense was bad; it was pretty good, actually. Portland has a couple of big bodies to clog the lane and stop penetration which can throw off most team’s offensive plans. But we still moved the ball well, attacked when we had the chance, and shot the 3-ball at a plus-50% clip, which will usually spell a win for us.

To me, the true star of this game was our bench against their bench, particularly George Hill. At the beginning of the season, I worried that Hill’s slump was more than just a slump, and that he might regress from last year’s improvement. These last handful of games have hopefully put that fear to rest. For the last few games, he’s not only been a spark off the bench: he’s been our best player, period. Much like Ginobili was coming off our bench in year’s past. Today he led all scorers with 22 points, and was second only to Tim Duncan in registering a +22. More importantly, he changed the complexion of the game every time he came in, giving us a lift and pushing us past the Blazers.

All in all, this was one of our more complete games of the season against a pretty good team, even if it wasn’t one of the more visually exciting ones. NBA betting odds place us now as the underdogs against our next rival. From about midway through the second quarter until the early stages of the 4th, we maintained about a 10 point lead. The Blazers were able to cut it to 4, and we pushed it as high as 14, but neither team was really able to get any better than that. Finally, in the middle of the 4th, we pushed the lead and put the game to rest. That’s what good teams do; they sense the moment when the game is there to be won, and they take it.

Recent analysis shows that point differential is a prime indicator of true team greatness and post-season success. In 2007, when the Mavs raced out to 67 wins and seemed the favorites to come out of the West, John Hollinger of espn.com had the Spurs #1 in his Power Rankings based mostly on our great point differential. As you should remember, that Summer we won our 4th Championship. I mention this because our point differential is very good this year, 3rd in the league at +9.64, only trailing the Celtics and the Heat by decimal points. Over these last five games of our homestand, our point differential is +16.2.

Our homestand ends Wednesday night against the Bucks, who are having a fairly disappointing season after lots of early season buzz following last year’s surprising playoff performance against the Hawks. Looking a little beyond that, the rest of our December is brutal: a home-and-hom with Denver, at the Magic, the Lakers at home, and at Dallas to close out the month, with Phoenix, Memphis, and Washington in there for good measure. The next couple of weeks will be a great test for this team.

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