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Remember, Remember, The Oklahoma City Thunder

By Jeff Koch on May 9, 2014.

Portland 97, San Antonio 114
Spurs lead series 2-0

These are texts I received from dear friends and Blazers fans during Game 2:

“Blazers are good. Spurs are WAY better.”

“They are so good.”

Even after two games, Blazers fans seem to be accepting their shortcomings in the upgrade in class of competitor. This isn’t about a team not playing well or slumping; this is about a team playing their hardest and just having no solution for the team they are facing, no extra gear to match the level of competition. The Blazers are learning what the playoffs are about from the team that has taught so many before them.

But this series is far from over, and being up 2-0 and looking so dominant terrifies me, as it should most of us. If not, you’ve successfully suppressed the memory of 2012, and I commend you. If you’ve forgotten, the Spurs went up 2-0 on the Thunder in dominant fashion at home in the Western Conference Finals, capping off a 20-game win streak and looking completely unbeatable. 4 games later, they were out of the playoffs. These Blazers are not those Thunder, and I don’t expect a repeat performance. But the Blazers are very good at home, and the Moda Center might be one of the 2 or 3 toughest buildings to play in. And that crowd will be fierce. I think the Spurs need to get one of those two games and finish this thing off in 5. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs were a historically great road team this season and have, at times, looked better on the road than at home. I think the team revels in the chance to play in hostile environments, and they will be ready to play.

More thoughts from Game 2:

–The Blazers made their big switch, putting Wes Matthews on to Tony Parker and switching Lillard on to Danny Green. For sure, Matthews played a lot better defense on Tony Parker, but I do think a lot of it was fool’s gold. As Jon Barry pointed out on the telecast, Parker was still getting a lot of the same shots as wide open as Game 1, he just missed them. It happens. And it’s not like the offense was struggling, ratting off 70 points in the first half. Parker is quite happy being a distributor and racking up those assists (probably scores him more points with Pop any way), and the Spurs offense looked no worse for the wear.

An interesting wrinkle that Pop threw in was bringing Manu in a lot earlier into the game (about the 8-min mark in both halves), which then forces Lillard to guard Manu. This doesn’t end well for Damian. While Manu is not as quick as Tony, he is taller (and Lillard is pretty short to begin with) and trickier, and it’s quite the lopsided match-up. Manu really got going in the first quarter.

–The issue in this series going forward is the Portland defense. It just has no answers for the Spurs offense. Even in the second half when the score was way down, it seemed to be more the Spurs getting sloppy and complacent being up so big again and less anything to do with the Blazers defense. The Portland offense is good enough to go off, but so is the San Antonio offense. The difference right now is on D, and that one team is playing it and the other isn’t.

–Speaking of D, hey look, Tiago Splitter is having himself another series. Maybe he is a pretty good player after all? Once again, he has exceeded all expectation guarding the other team’s primary scorer. What’s even more impressive is just how locked in he is mentally, how hard he is playing, and how much he is just dominating rebounds, the paint, and all ‘hustle’ categories. He had a typical Tiago offensive game last night, missing a bunch of gimmes, but it almost doesn’t matter. If he brings this effort and quality on the defensive end, we’re near impossible to beat.

–As a team, the Spurs are also doing a fabulous job just completely shutting down the paint and the rim. Both Lopez and Aldridge are repeatedly getting turned away, and the Spurs are just gang rebounding like never before. All layups will be earned and felt.

–That Mavs D must have been something special. Freed from it, Marco and Patty are just going off in the daylight they are seeing. But Kawhi was also pretty well stuffed by the Mavs, and he has exploded offensively against the Blazers. If he is this forceful a two-way player for the remainder of the playoffs, this team is special and even better than last year. Kawhi is in full destructo mode, wreaking absolute havoc on both ends of the court. The Blazers have no answer for him. Most teams don’t.

–If Will Barton is your great surprise and hope off the bench, you’re probably not a deep playoff team. This again, speaks to the wonder of Pop. Think of how many games every player on this team, 1-15 played, how many important moments they were involved in. Marco has a bad series, he’s still ready in Round 2. Baynes gives us huge minutes off the bench in Game 1. Bonner played some key moments in Round 1. Ayres and Josepth are ready. This is a product of the regular season. Portland (and many other teams), have their rotations set pretty early in the season and have their players they trust. As a result, Stotts probably doesn’t feel comfortable throwing out new players or trusting any key moments to deeper bench guys. The bench battle is already a slaughter, and now Mo Williams is hurt; who is Stotts going to use? Will Barton? OK. He’s hit most of his 3s in two games, but I don’t think the Spurs are worried.

–While Manu was good at the beginning and the end, I thought he played pretty poorly in the middle. He was driving and just looking for fouls and trying to sell them, but the refs weren’t buying. As a result, it led to floor imbalance and the Blazers able to get some fast break points or get something in secondary transition with the Spurs not properly matched.

–The Blazers made a nice little push at the end to cut it to double digits, and this might be the best possible thing for the Spurs. Actually having to work to win a game at the end is a necessary skill to keep sharp, and perhaps this will make them better prepared for what is coming Saturday and Monday in Portland.

Game 3 is Saturday night and should be great. Expect Portland’s best shot, because it might be their last.

Go Spurs Go.

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