AT&T CENTER – In his 13-year career, Earl Watson has played with the former Seattle Sonics, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, and today, the Portland Trail Blazers.
During his time of journeying around the Western conference there’s always been one consistent and constant dominant team Watsons faced out West – the San Antonio Spurs.
Before the Blazers defeated the Spurs for the second time this season on Friday evening, I caught up with Watson in the Blazers locker room and asked him his thoughts on how the Spurs have maintained their success in morphing from an MVP Tim Duncan post-play dominant team in the past, to today’s transition team led by Tony Parker.
“It all starts with Pop,” said Watson. “I think Pop has built a culture (here). He does a great job of getting people that fit his culture and what he believes in, and since I’ve been in the NBA, he’s been the most dominant coach in the NBA for the last 13 years, just from my experience.”
In Watson’s time of playing with different West teams, he’s seen Tim Duncan in his prime, Tony Parker ‘s transition into becoming one of the best point guards in the league, and even Manu Ginobili’s growth and the young foundation they’re building with Kawhi Leonard and some of their other youthful players.
“They just continually produce and win,” continued Watson on San Antonio, “their basketball IQ is really high, and they do a great job of moving the ball. It’s a misperception that they play fast, but they play really fast but under control. They shoot a lot of threes which a lot of people think they’re just a half court team, but they’re unique, they’re diverse, Tony comes and leads the fast break and they’ve continued to add pieces and build over the years.”
This season, Watson’s getting the chance to play with one of the up and coming young guards in Damian Lillard. Last year, Lillard scored 35 points in San Antonio and handed Popovich his worst loss at home of his career in coaching the Spurs, as the Blazers defeated San Antonio by 30 points in a regular season March game.
”He’s a ‘unique’ point guard for his ability to come into the league and be a dominant scorer immediately,” said Watson of Lillard. “At the same time, he’s learning how to be more of a playmaker. A lot of guys learn the other way, they learn how to score within the system over the years. He’s learning how to be a playmaker as he gets more mature in the game.”
“So he’s a unique personality, he has a unique skill, he’s continuing to grow, and he’s getting better and better and scoring’s not even a problem for him,” finished Watson on Lillard.
With the Blazers currently holding the number two seed in the West through three months of the season, I asked Watson if the Blazers feel like they’re an ‘elite’ title contending team.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” said Watson of his teams success. “The season is very long. We’re not like the ‘San Antonio’s’, who to me have been the most dominant in the West for the last decade-plus. “So we feel like we still have room to get better. We just have to stay humble, grow, and be hungry, and that’s our mentality.”
With 5:54 left in the fourth quarter Friday and the Blazers down 89-88, they would execute and outscore the veteran savvy Spurs 21-11 in the final six minutes to win the game. A sign, Portland is growing and continuing to stay hungry.
As Portland continues to grow, there sit the Spurs with the first seed in the Western Conference through 40 games and with the same coach who been the dominant over Watson's 13 year career – Gregg Popovich.