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This One’s On Me

By Jeff Koch on November 3, 2013.

San Antonio 105, Portland 115

And the correlative misery between my attendance at a Spurs game and Spurs’ losses keeps rolling on.

I was gifted a ticket to tonight’s game last minute, and the seat was so wonderful and the gesture so generous, I had to go, knowing full well that it almost ensured a Spurs loss. (Of course, the schedule did us no favors, either.) After witnessing the worst loss in the Coach Pop era a few years ago, I was pleased to just be in the game with under a minute left.

My favorite thing about watching games live (and this is a point I’ve made many times) is that you pay almost no attention to numbers or in-game stats, and just watch the game as it unfolds. Impressions are formed more abstractly, and sometimes reinforce the numbers, and sometimes tell a different story. So tonight’s thoughts are all in-the-moment abstractions based solely on what my eyeballs told me some 15 rows up, Spurs’ bench side:

–Numbers I don’t want to see: any shooting numbers for the Blazers against us in the last 5 years. Holy hell, the team was blazing. (One of my requirements for accepting said ticket was putting a pun in the recap: condition fulfilled.) LaMarcus Aldridge is a very good player who plays like a combination of Dirk Nowitzki and Karl Malone against us. He is the embodiment of the player type that always gives us the most trouble defensively. Tonight was no different. And Lillard must lead the league in “stand around dribbling for 5 seconds then launch a contested 3 pointer that obviously goes in” shots. Every big shot they needed, they got.

–In the second half the pace clearly picked up (and it looked like it came by mandate of the Spurs’ coaching staff), and the Spurs’ offense kicked into life a little bit. But the Blazers’ never stopped, and the game was lost because the Spurs’ couldn’t get enough stops and the Blazers just couldn’t miss shots, contested and otherwise. Sometimes it’s just not your night. This was the home opener for the Blazers and their very supportive fans, and the second night of a back-to-back for the Spurs, who most likely didn’t arrive in Portland until well after 3 or 4 am this morning.

–And boy did we start the game looking like it. The mandate of the offense is “good to great”; tonight looked like “good to…you know what, ‘good’ is fine”. We got a lot of mostly open jump shots which we happily took (and mostly missed) that weren’t bad shots, but a little bit of extra work would have probably gotten us better looks at the rim and behind the arc, rather than Duncan 18-foot jump shots.

–Our offense is having a hard time creating good looks from 3 so far this young season. Surely we are being scouted for this, as the Spurs were on the fore front of ‘changing’ offensive philosophies around the 3. But sometimes it seems like the hard close is being overly anticipated, and the offensive player is driving to no-man’s land when the 3-point shot was there. Kawhi and Danny in particular are passing up 3s I’d like to see them take. Of course, the ‘lazy’ offense is also part of the problem.

–Speaking of Danny, he was a train-wreck crossed with a catastrophe tonight. A train-wreck-astrophe, if you will. Perhaps it’s just a slump that happens to coincide with the start of the season, but he is giving nothing on either end of the floor right now, and it’s hurting the starting unit and digging the Spurs into early holes.

–Splitter, while still solid on the boards and defensively, is also a wreck offensively, contributing to these early holes. Two years ago, our depth was perhaps our biggest strength, as we rolled off 20 wins in a row until the Thunder upended us. Part of the problem was our top 6 couldn’t hang with their top 6, though we were better 1-10. Last year, we got stronger at the top (thanks in large part to Duncan’s resurgence) and a little shakier at the end of the bench, but were overall a better team. This year, our strongest play is coming from the bench, which will carry us to lots of regular season wins and is certainly an advantage, but we can’t consistently run out a starting line-up that has 2 positions featuring significantly weaker players. In all 3 games, we’ve had to play catch-up. Tonight, we never got all the way back.

–Boris Diaw is our best player thus far. He’s been great in all 3 games, and he is a pleasure to watch. People make fun of his size (which I totally understand), but he has a real smoothness and grace to him, so when he does drive, he’s a load but also very under control and efficient. Plus he’s so sneaky with the up and unders and the reverses that he seems to always get good shots. Manu has been our second best player. They are both bench players.

–Belinelli showed what he can do on the right nights in crunch time. I heard more than one Blazers’ fan asking: who is that guy? When his shot is on, he’s a huge plus offensively. And he’s got a bit of that Ginobili sneakiness on D where he might get out of position or get lost for a moment, but he’ll also get lots of steals and lots of plays where he’ll take intelligent gambles and force turnovers or bad plays.

–Patty also played quite well. His pesky defense was about the only time that Lillard felt any sort of pressure.

–Kawhi had a very forgettable night. To beat the Blazers, he needs to be the better all-around player than Batum, and that was decidedly not true tonight.

–I continue to like what I see from Ayres on both ends of the floor. He plays with a good energy and recklessness that one can afford from a 10-15 minute per night player.

–There was a play in the fourth where Manu drove, made a lay-up, and fell into two cameramen. My first reaction was to immediately look at Pop; he was not happy.

–Batum hit a heave 3 at the buzzer with the game already in hand. This is a huge etiquette ‘no-no’ in basketball. To his credit, he looked mortified on the court, even from 150 feet away, and he said all the right things afterwards. Given his relationship with Tony and Boris and Pop’s appreciation of his play, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Still, it was quite noticeable in the arena.

–It’s early, but I’m just a wee bit worried about this team. There’s just a lethargy about it. Understandable, given the end of last year, the continuity of the roster, the almost assuredness of a post-season berth. Still, the West is deeper but very even, so it’s going to be a battle each night with most teams, and the difference between the top seed and the 6 or 7 seed could only be a handful of games. Every win is going to be important, and I’d like to see the team play with some life and rhythm soon.

That’s all I’ve got from tonight. Perhaps I’ll come back with some more thoughts before the next game, but given that it was a loss, I’ll probably just forget about it and move on.

The next game is Tuesday in Denver.

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