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Portland Steps On It; San Antonio Runs Out of It

By Jeff Koch on December 14, 2012.

I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating, especially given the Spurs amazingly difficult early season schedule: games are not played in a vacuum. Yes, these NBA teams travel in luxury most of us can not even dream about, and have not a professional care in the world outside of playing a game for a few hours every couple of days. But I would challenge anybody to traverse 4 time zones in 6 days, doing their job, and see how they feel at the end of it. (To not even make mention that these are actual human beings, with all the personal issues and traps therein.)

Last night’s game was one of those games when you just had a feeling the energy would be a step below where it needed to be. Watching the game live, it was pretty obvious that the Spurs were sluggish, cutting corners on offense, taking the easy shot rather than attacking the rim or making an extra pass or two (or overpassing, rather than having to create for themselves). Against a young team like Portland, sometimes a veteran team like San Antonio can still will their way to a win. And it almost happened. But there were just a few too many sloppy plays and missed opportunities to get it done. And with rookie Damian Lillard going off, we didn’t have enough (or any, really) counterpunches.

Lillard abused Parker on offense, and Parker didn’t play his usual game to take advantage of Lillard’s naïveté on the other end. Quick point guards really can’t be stopped by anybody (PGs often get too much criticism for bad defense, when defending PGs is almost entirely a team objective), but there was really no line of defense once Lillard got by Parker and his tired legs. Once Lillard’s shot from outside got going, it was good night Spurs.

I’m quite surprised that Pop played the rotation the way he did. I would have expected deeper bench players like Bonner, Mills, De Colo, and Anderson to get heavy minutes, particularly considering how well they played in Miami under similar circumstances. But all of the key players played over 30 minutes, and early in the 4th, we had a variation of a closing line-up in there. I remember thinking “wow, it’s way too early to already be going for the final kick”. And maybe it was, as the Blazers pulled away late as the Spurs clanked shots off the front of the rim, threw passes into the crowd, and just finally exhausted even the fumes.

I wonder if Pop’s decision to play the line-up the way he did was another subtle snubbing of his nose at the league. Last night would have been a golden opportunity to sit some players again–based on the Spurs’ schedule, and not the NBA’s. But in the wake of what happened a few weeks ago, it would have been cataclysmic to do that again. So maybe Pop went the other way, as if to say: “See what happens when I play my key veterans big minutes in back-to-back games at the end of a road trip? The team sucks, and the basketball looks like crud.” Never put anything past Pop.

One nice development of the last few weeks is the increased play of Duncan and Splitter playing together. They seem to be getting more comfortable with each other, and learning how to share the floor. This will be vital in the playoffs if we come up against any team with two dominating big men, like LA or Memphis.

At least we’re back home Saturday night against Boston. What’s that, you say? After that game we have a back-to-back on the road against OKC and Denver, two of the toughest arenas to play in in all of the league? Yeesh.

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