Stephen Jackson made it short and simple Friday night after the San Antonio Spurs were annihilated at home by the Portland Trailblazers 136-106, as Portland came into San Antonio having lost their previous seven road games.
“Damian Lillard had a hell of a game and their team followed suit.”
“He was pretty special,” added Spurs head Coach Gregg Popovich after the game, “He bided his time in the first half and in the second half, Lillard just took over and we just couldn’t stop him.”
“He was great,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan (18 points) after the loss, “the game just got away from us.”
Lillard led the Blazers with 35 points (25 in the second half), nine assists, and two steals. Aside from Lillard, the Spurs couldn’t stop Portland’s frontcourt of LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points) and J.J. Hickson (23 points, 11 rebounds), while guard Eric Maynor came off the bench to provide 20 points for the Blazers.
“They had a great shooting night,” continued Popovich, “they shot the hell out of it. That’s a bad combination if they’re doing that and we’re playing poor defense.”
Here are five key points from the Spurs’ loss where the opposing team earned just its 9th road win of the season and shot 62% in San Antonio.
1. Lillard’s the real deal
Before the game even tipped off, Popovich said Lillard, though a rookie, was already a great player. In his last win against the Spurs, Lillard scored 29 points on the Spurs while Tony Parker was playing.
Friday Lillard showcased why he’s not just a one-dimensional type of player. Whether it was knocking down 3-pointers off of screens, hitting contested mid-range jumpers, or slicing into the Spurs’ defense for and-1 plays, Lillard could not be stopped in the second half when he became aggressive.
As Popovich said after the game, Lillard bided his time until the second half. In the third quarter, Lillard scored 11 points. He would follow up the fourth quarter with 14 points.
There’s no question he’s the clear cut favorite for Rookie of the Year. His coach, Terry Stotts agreed it might have been his best game of the season.
“In the context of the game, probably. The fact that it’s against San Antonio on the road,” said Stotts, “that’s tough to do.”
2. “Our defense was terrible.” – Stephen Jackson
"Our defense was terrible,” said Jackson after the game, “That’s not the way we play defense.”
“We have played good defense all year,” added Tiago Splitter, “and today we didn’t.”
The Spurs’ defense could never get consistent stops all night long no matter what lineup was put in. The Blazers not only set the mark for the most points the Spurs have given up this season, but it was the most points a Popovich-coached team has ever given in the AT&T Center.
The least amount of points the Spurs gave up in a quarter, 27. The most, 46 in the final quarter of the game. The Blazers also knocked down 13-of-21 three pointers and turned the ball over just 10 times on the night. They out-rebounded the Spurs 38-29 and dished more assists (27) than San Antonio. They had four players score 20 or more points on the night, while one of their stars, Nicolas Batum only had to take five shots for two points.
3. The Aldridge/Hickson pick-and-pop
In the first and third quarter, an area where the Spurs’ frontcourt defense was exploited again was against the pick-and-pop plays by the Blazers. The Spurs’ frontcourt players have shown that they have trouble recovering on big men who can stretch the floor as evidenced by Luis Scola recently when the Phoenix Suns won in the Spurs’ last loss. Aldridge scored 12 points in the first quarter, Hickson scored 10 points in the second quarter, and Aldridge added 10 more points in the third quarter, mainly by getting easy pick-and-pop jumpers or by making a smaller Spurs guard defend them.
The Spurs must be cautious of a negative chip in their armor in the playoffs if they play teams (though there aren’t many) who have big men that can consistently hit the pick-and-pop jumpers. The two teams in the West that come to mind are the Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Serge Ibaka).
4. Offense not so spry without Parker
Though the offensive numbers looked decent for the Spurs: 106 points, 52% shooting from the field, and 60-52 in points in the paint. When you watched the game, the Spurs just couldn’t get any consistency on the offensive end because of their inability to stop the Blazers on the defensive end. A telling sign was that the team only assisted on 22 of their 44 made baskets. With Parker out, the Spurs have had to rely on more 1-on-1 sequences, as opposed to their machine-like ability of sharing the ball and slicing a defense apart.
5. Flashes of what Kawhi can become
Though there weren’t merely any positives for the Spurs, one player who looked to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor was Kawhi Leonard. Leonard finished the game with 16 points, but he showed confidence in attacking Batum by going to the basket and drawing fouls and even making jumpers. Two of his spectacular plays were a leaping dunk in the open court and when he almost dunked fully on Hickson.
Thunder visit Spurs Monday
"Hopefully we're a little more focused coming into Monday," said guard Danny Green after the game. Monday, the Spurs will host the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Spurs now hold a 1.5 game lead over the Thunder, but Monday’s matchup will put the two teams closer to battling for the top seed in the Western Conference. Green had one thing to say as motivation for Monday, "We don't forget what happened last year."
Where San Antonio stands
Here are a few stats showing where the Spurs stand in certain categories in the NBA.
Season record: 48-15
Home Record: 25-4
Vs. teams below .500: 25-5
Vs. the Western Conference: 22-5
In losses by 10 or more points: 28-5
As Parker heals: 2-1
(Photo: Spurs.com – D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images)