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Every (Former) Rose (Garden) Has Its Thorn

By Jeff Koch on May 11, 2014.

San Antonio 118, Portland 103
Spurs lead series 3-0

And that thorn is the San Antonio Spurs. (Sorry, I just can’t resist rose puns right now.)

To paraphrase Zach Lowe on Twitter, The Spurs are just being bullies now. This is particularly evident in the first halves of these games, in which the Spurs have gone into intermission with 26, 19, and 20 point leads, respectively. Games can not be won in the First Half, but they can sure be lost. As Wes Matthews said after Game 1, they won the second half. Sure Wes, you made up 2 points. You’ve won every second half, actually. You even made up 5 points last night. The Spurs even looked fairly pedestrian for about 9 minutes in the 3rd quarter.

But here’s the problem with the Blazers being down 20 at the half: they scrape and fight to get it back to single digits, pushing their starters and best players to maximum effort. Then what? Does Stotts give them all a break, going to a bench that he clearly has zero trust in? Thomas Robinson and Will Barton were the only players that cracked more than 8 minutes off of the bench last night. No, he has to keep pushing his starters.

Meanwhile, even in the face of a run, Pop rests his starters. Hell, he pulled Duncan and Parker even earlier than normal in the 3rd quarter last night. By the time the Spurs had their closing line-up out there, each player was as rested as a player can be in the 4th quarter, while the Blazers were running on fumes. The Blazers fought hard, and no one is questioning their desire or effort or will. But in the final minutes of the game, each Blazers starter was pushing 40+ minutes. For the Spurs, only Parker and Duncan even cracked 30 minutes.

While the spotlight has been on the disparity in scoring between the benches, the real benefit is closing-time preparedness and energy. When you are tired, you tend to rush shots, make careless mistakes, and take short cuts, paths of least resistance. The Blazers fought hard, but certainly had some critical empty possessions no doubt brought on by tiredness. The Spurs kept relentlessly executing, running the same stuff as if it was the middle of the first quarter.

Walking off the court, and in the locker room after, the Blazers seemed liked a defeated bunch. They were referring to the Spurs as ‘champs’, and seemed in awe of their excellence. The series does seem like a fait accompli at this point. No team has ever rebounded from 3-0, and nothing would indicate these Blazers will. They just aren’t in the same class as the Spurs.

And that’s OK. The NBA, unlike any other sports league, is one in which teams are built and make progress each year. You have to learn how to win in the playoffs, and the Blazers are getting a Master Class from the Spurs right now. As I texted my deflated Blazers fan last night: “When the Blazers win the title in 5 years, you’ll point back to this series as a turning point, learning how to win in the playoffs.” And that could very well be true.

What I failed to mention was that the Spurs seem to have no plans of relinquishing their spot as the class of the West.

Go Spurs Go.

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