Inside the victory: Spurs 111, Blazers 109

Minus Tony Parker (rest), Tim Duncan (rest), Kawhi Leonard (injury), and Aron Baynes (injury) in Portland on Wednesday, Patty Mills put on an encore performance with 13 points in the fourth quarter to help the Spurs hold off the Trail Blazers, who were missing LaMarcus Aldridge, 111-109.

For the Spurs, they would start their 24th starting lineup of the season, while the Blazers were changing their starting lineup for the first time this season. Mills led San Antonio with 29 points, Marco Belinelli scored 20 points, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green both scored 16 points each, while Tiago Splitter returned from a four-game injury absence with 15 points, and Boris Diaw finished being the Spurs’ sixth player in double figures with 11 points.

Damian Lillard (31 points), Mo Williams (19 points), and Wesley Matthews (18 points) would also keep the Blazers on the Spurs’ heels as San Antonio held on to win the game, by making free throws. For a full recap, visit Spurs.com. Here were some key points in the Spurs’ 40th victory of the season.

Mills thrives once more in fourth

After scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter the previous night in Los Angeles against the Clippers, the Blazers knew Mills was the player San Antonio looked to run their offense through in the fourth. The Blazers put Nicolas Batum on the assignment of defending Mills, but it didn’t make too much of a difference, as Mills scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting the fourth. It’s seemed tough for the Blazers to contain Mills on the night as he had already scored 16 points going into the fourth. He clocked 4.9 miles per hour in the game, the fastest of any player on the floor. He also threw two assists, two “hockey” assists, and two free throw assists, one critical to Splitter late in the fourth quarter. Mills continued to stay in a comfortable shooting zone even when defended, as he shot 9-of-17 (53%) on contested shots. Without Duncan or Parker, Mills was the player with the ball in his hands most of the night, as he touched the ball a team high 76 times, while playing only 29 minutes in the game. It’s not like Mills just took a ton of shots either, as he came in second on the team with 45 passes. For the game, Mills shot 13-of-26 from the floor.

During the Rodeo Road Trip, Mills is averaging 19.0 points, shooting 52.8% from the field, and 40.5% from 3-point range in just 22.4 minutes per game. He bumped his fourth quarter average during that stretch up to 8.4 points, 66% shooting, and 50% from 3-point range in an average of 7.3 minutes per fourth quarter.

Belinelli provides outside scoring

After knocking down 3-of-6 three pointers the night before against the Clippers, Belinelli shot 4-of-6 from 3-point range against the Blazers for 20 points. Leaving Belinelli open with more than 4 feet of separation is a dangerous gamble, as he shot 5-of-6 from the floor on uncontested baskets. Belinelli was also key in the win in some of his non-scoring plays, as he showed late in the fourth quarter – beating Lillard (Slam Dunk Participant) in a jump ball to help the Spurs hold onto their lead.

Green boosts Spurs’ lead in fourth

After going scoreless in the third quarter, Green helped the Spurs open the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run, as Green scored six points two minutes into the fourth quarter, by knocking down consecutive 3-pointers. Green was so confident in his shot on one of his made three’s, that he made it while dribbling the ball up in transition. For the game, Green scored 16 points, made 3-of-7 three pointers, and had a key role defending Batum throughout the night, as Batum finished with eight points on 2-of-8 shooting, and four turnovers. Though he did have a turnover late in the fourth quarter, the Spurs trusted Green in handling the basketball as he touched the ball 58 times (3rd most on the team) and threw 44 passes, second most on the team. On consecutive nights, Green also ran the most miles in the game, as he clocked 2.7 miles ran. Green also shot 3-of-4 on contested baskets.

Whereas Green and Belinelli didn’t share the court together as often when Kawhi Leonard was healthy, the duo has found a way to complement each other, as they’ve each been the Spurs’ primary shooters from the outside while sharing the floor together.

Ginobili productively eases into form

In his second game back from injury, and in only 19 minutes of action, Ginobili provided a productive and efficient effort with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, he shot 4-of-5 from the free throw line, and 6-of-10 overall. Ginobili did all this while running just 1.4 miles in the game, while he made 5-of-6 contested baskets.

Diaw continues to guide offense in Parker’s absence

Aside from scoring 11 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, throwing 2 assists, stealing the ball twice, and blocking one shot, Diaw continued to play the role of quarterback for the Spurs, as he touched the ball the second most on the team (63 touches), and delivered the most passes (46). With Parker out, the Spurs’ offense begins when Diaw receives the ball at the top of the post and as he waits for players to make their cuts, he finds the best option for the play to get rolling through. Because the typical box score doesn’t show distinct numbers, the new Player Tracking data shows you just how instrumental Diaw’s presence is on the team.

Leonard could return Friday vs. Suns

During the game, word came out via David Aldridge of NBA.com that Leonard was expected to rejoin the lineup on Friday as the Spurs face the Suns. In his 13 game absence, the Spurs have gone 8-5 without Leonard. When he does return to full form, it will be interesting to see what type of effect it has on players like Mills, Green, and Belinelli, who have been thriving offensively and getting comfortable with more possessions and responsibility with the ball in their hands.

Trade deadline approaches Thursday

With the NBA trade deadline approaching Thursday at 2 PM CST, you can probably expect the Spurs to stay quiet at the deadline. Though their roster’s been injury stricken over the last two months, they’re second in the Western Conference and just 10 victories from another 50-win season. Keep in mind, this team hasn’t been able to build any consistency, as they’ve used 24 different starting units. If the Spurs can get fully healthy and have time to build come consistency, especially while incorporating the new roles of players like Mills, Green, and Belinelli, it would be quite surprising if they decided to trade one of their current key role players Thursday.

Where San Antonio Stands

·         Regular Season: 40-15 (2nd in the Western Conference)

·         Road Record: 22-7 (1st in the NBA)

·         Vs. Opponents with +.500 records: 14-12

·         Vs. the Western Conference: 24-9

·         Without Kawhi Leonard: 8-5

·         Rodeo Road Trip: 6-2

(All Stats and Player Tracking data via NBA.com)

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX and the 2013 NBA Finals.

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