“You’ve got to give coach (Gregg) Popovich and his staff every credit,” said Portland Trail Blazers head coach Kaleb Canales on Monday evening, “I think they’re playing their basketball of the year at the right time.”
Coach Canales and his team witnessed what is the hottest team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won their eighth game in a row with a 124-89 performance against the Blazers. During this new winning streak, the Spurs have won all eight games by double-digits. The team was once again led by an entire team effort with six players scoring in double-figures, and a bench which produced 67-points.
“We played a championship level team tonight,” said Blazers forward J.J. Hickson, “they capitalize on our mistakes on defense and score on the other end.”
The Spurs used defense as their primary weapon in the first quarter as they held the Blazers to just 18 points, and forced the Blazers to miss every shot (0/11) from outside of the paint. Danny Green scored eight of his 18 points in the first quarter, and the Spurs’ offense was able to post 31 points on the Trail Blazers.
“They’re a well balanced team on both sides of the floor,” said Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, who lead the Blazers with a game-high 24 points.
By the time halftime came around, the Spurs were holding a 22-point lead as Gary Neal (12 points) closed the second quarter with three free throws after being fouled close to the buzzer. The Spurs used a variety of runs in the second quarter to build their lead over 20-points, Tim Duncan (18 points) and Tony Parker (13 points, 6 assists) helped Green carry the offensive load in the first half as the Spurs took a 63-41 lead into halftime.
“I thought they did a good job sharing the basketball,” Coach Canales said after the game, “any time you get thirty four assists, that’s a big number.”
The second half was all about the Spurs sharing the basketball and getting efficient shots because of it. The team shot 59% for the game and made 12-of-22 three pointers. By the time the fourth quarter came, the Spurs held a 26-point lead. The ‘Big three’ of Duncan, Parker, and Manu Ginobili had seen their last action of the night.
“We gave up three thirty point quarters and one of our goals was not to do that,” said Coach Canales after the game. The fourth quarter was the Spurs’ third thirty-plus point quarter as the team’s bench players lead the way with 33-points. Patty Mills (9 points), James Anderson (11 points), and Stephen Jackson (12 points) all helped contribute to the 35-point blow out of the Blazers.
In the third quarter, Neal took a shot to the upper body area, and would leave to the locker room. “Preliminary judgment is it’s probably a stinger,” said Coach Popovich after the game, “the x-ray was negative.”
With the win, the Spurs move to 48-16 on the season, but more importantly they have won the Western Conference for the seventh time in the franchise’s history. What is even more remarkable is that of the Spurs’ seven conference wins, six of those have been in the Tim Duncan era. The Spurs will have Tuesday off before flying back to the West coast for their final two regular season games of the season, first Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns, and then Thursday against the Golden State Warriors.
Though the Spurs are the number one seed in the Western Conference playoffs, they are still unaware of who they’ll face in round one. “Well everybody wants to know who they play,” said coach Popovich of tomorrow’s important game in which the Phoenix Suns will play the Utah Jazz. If the Jazz win, then they would automatically secure the eighth seed and the Suns would be eliminated. However, if the Suns win, they’d have to defeat the Spurs on Wednesday also and hope that the Jazz lose to the Trail Blazers later this week.
In order to be on their third eight game winning streak and win the Western Conference for the second consecutive year, in a compressed season, the team has to have a deep bench.
“That’s why we’ve had the success we’ve had thus far,” said Coach Popovich, “the guys off the bench have given us a punch most nights and we’ve come to depend on that.”