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The Edge Of Desperation, The Letdown Of Success

By Jeff Koch on May 13, 2014.

San Antonio 92, Portland 103
San Antonio leads series 3-1

Sometimes it’s as simple as energy and desperation: who wants it more. Portland can surely see the writing on the wall, but badly wanted to give their great fans one last win, to hold their heads high. San Antonio would love a sweep, sure, but were never going to be able to summon the same intensity as this proud Blazers team.

Full credit to Portland: they could have rolled over, started planning vacations, but the team is full of professionals who take great pride in their work and their craft and who take the bond with their community seriously. They fought for that win as hard as a team facing the last game of their season should. Even with all of that, the game was a lot closer than the final score or ‘game story’ will allow. Portland’s defense wasn’t magically better: the Spurs just missed a lot of shots they might normally make. The shots were still there and still wide open; they just didn’t go down.

Basketball is a game of slim margins. The Spurs still ran their offense and got the shots they wanted. Up 3-0 and heading home, though, they probably too often settled for ‘good’, passing up on ‘great’. A thousand tiny little moments like this. In the 4th quarter, they had 3 wide open 3s in a row that could have cut it to single digits and perhaps given Pop reason to go for it, and they all rimmed out. (And these shots were WIDE open.) Manu fouls Batum on a made 3, and this 4-point play spearheads a 3 minute run that was basically the difference in the game. Remove this 3 minutes, and the two teams basically played even, despite the energy differential.

The Spurs defense was still solid, but Portland made some shots they’d been missing all series long, and got a lot more second chance opportunities than they’d been getting. Again, slim margins. Facing their final 48 minutes of the season, the Blazers were playing their last game of the season; the Spurs are still playing for the immediate future.

These slim margins apply to individuals, no more evident than in Manu. The difference between “Genius” Manu and “Bad” Manu is, somewhat literally, about .25 seconds. That’s the time it takes his brilliant pass to be late and turn into a bone-headed pass. That’s the time it takes for him to drive past a defender, or to miss the edge and turn the ball over trying to go behind his back. That’s the time it takes for a steal to turn into a gamble. Manu has been bad this series, but we know how quickly great can come with him.

Tony was also a slim margin behind, as well. Again, I don’t think this was Batum guarding him; I think it was more the psychological impact of success and a touch of complacency.

I knew the result of the game before I watched it. After watching it, I have little concern for Game 5. The Blazers did nothing particularly different or particularly special in Game 4, other than play with a tougher edge. The Spurs played with a duller edge. Coming home for Game 5, the Spurs edge should be quite sharp and the team should be ready for the close-out.

The Blazers saved face; now it’s time for the Spurs to finish business.

Go Spurs Go.

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