I Think the Boys Were Nervous To Play In Front of Me
San Antonio 86, Portland 99 // 40-8 // 1st in the West
Playing–and beating–the Spurs has cache again. As the Blazers seized control late in the game last night, the energy in the building was electric. When the lead grew to double digits and we went to time out, the crowd stood through the entire time out. The Blazers have great fans regardless, but there was definitely something different about last night’s game. The Blazers seemed particularly up for the game, a chance to take on the best team in the league. The crowd brought it with every whistle, every great play, every seizable moment. Afterwards, leaving the arena, you would have thought the Blazers had just knocked the Spurs out of the playoffs. My friend got two separate texts proclaiming “best win of the season!” This was a big game for the Blazers, going against the Spurs; we’ll see a lot more of these as the season continues.
My favorite part about going to a game live is that there are no talking heads and no constant barrage of in-game stats to shape your narrative. It’s all the eyeball test. Every so often you can look up at the stats and proclaim, “Aldridge has 16 first quarter points?!?”; or, “We have 14 more 2nd chance points than them and we’re still tied?” In the time that exists between those moments, you just watch each possession, building into each momentum shift, building into each quarter, then half, until the story of the game is told.
Last night’s story, for the Spurs: we stunk.
Tony Parker: really stunk. Bad.
Tim Duncan: stunk.
Richard Jefferson: had a moment or two, but mostly stunk.
Manu Ginobili: tried really, really hard, had some typical Manu plays (both ways), but kind of stunk.
DeJuan Blair: had 3 offensive rebounds on the first possession, played a good first half, then disappeared.
George Hill: stunk.
Gary Neal: really stunk, after being named to the Rookie team for All-Star Weekend.
Antonio McDyess: sneakily stunk.
It was just one of those nights, a confluence of down nights from the majority of the roster against a team hungry for a statement win. It happens. I wish it didn’t happen when I paid $130 for 10th row Center Court seats, but what can you do?
Despite our stinkiness, we still had a chance going into the 4th Quarter. But the Blazers took control of the game and won it. LaMarcus Aldridge had a game for the ages in a late All-Star Reserve Selection push. 40 points, 11 rebounds. He just tore us apart. He fits the mold of the player that seems to give us the most trouble: long 4s who can shoot with range. Think Amar’e, David West, Dirk Nowitzki. We know that Duncan does not like to defend that far out, and the Spurs defensive system is designed to pack in the lane, close off the rim, and dare you to shoot 18 foot jump shots. So when we run into a big who can, they tear the team apart. On the pick and roll, the Spurs big will usually hedge, leaving his responsibility in order to cut off the lane from the driving player. If said driving player dishes it back out to the man who set the pick, they will almost always be open for that shot. And Aldridge can make that shot at an impressive clip. Our secondary rotations and close outs were late, and Aldridge feasted on that shot all night.
The Blazers won the game on defense, though. We scored 34 points in the second half, and I’m surprised we even got that many. Every open shot was closed out on; every lane to the basket sealed off. Every offensive possession was a struggle, and we relied way too much on Manu to create everything for us. Sean Elliott talks a lot about how our offense hums when there’s lots of passing and little dribbling; last night was the “other” type of game: too many people dribbling into the lane with no purpose, too much holding the ball, no passing or reversing the court or breaking down the defense as a team. Uncharacteristically, too many players tried to be the hero and make the big play that could get us back into the game, and we totally abandoned the sublime team ball that is so amazing to watch and root for.
The Road Trip only gets harder, as we play the Lakers in Los Angeles Thursday night for a marquee TNT game. Let’s hope that we can regroup and avoid starting the Rodeo Trip 0-2.
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