The San Antonio Spurs are back, ladies and gentleman.
After struggling through the first six games of the NBA Playoffs, and nearly taking themselves out of it, the Spurs that were seen in the regular season have resurfaced, and at the right time.
Now standing behind back-to-back 24-point playoff victories, the Spurs have taken a 1-0 series lead over the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. There were some likely heroes, but also, some very unlikely heroes leading to the 116-92 victory.
Surprise Positive: Aron Baynes
The big-bruiser from New Zealand checked into the game with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter after Tim Duncan had picked up his second foul and Tiago Splitter had just sat as part of the rotation. Little was expected from Baynes, who had only played six minutes total so far in the playoffs. Instead, he came in the game and immediately made his presence known. By the time the first quarter had ended, Baynes tallied up three rebounds (two offensive) and four points (all second chance opportunities). His defense was solid as well, and he helped lead the Spurs to a 13-point first quarter lead. By the end of the game, he recorded 10 points on 5-7 shooting and seven rebounds. If Portland didn’t know who he was before, they certainly do now.
Expected Positive: Tony Parker
Ever since Tony Parker witnessed the birth of his son on April 30th, he has been on an absolute tear. Not only that, but he has improved his play steadily the last four games, and is currently peaking at a 33 point, 9 assist dominant performance, outshining rising superstar Damian Lillard. Some talking heads were predicting that this series would be the one that vaulted Lillard in superstardom. That could be the case, unless Tony Parker has anything to say about it. Lillard will continue to be second fiddle if Parker continues his dominant play.
Somewhat Surprising Positive: Marco Belinelli
Everybody was chronicling Belinelli’s playoff struggles. Through seven games in the first round, the Italian sharpshooter had only scored 22 points total, with only four three-pointers made. His performance included a -31 +/- rating in game two. Reverse the fortune last night, and the Spurs had a 19-point outburst by Belinelli. Those 19 points came on 7-of-9 shooting, and three deep balls. With Green, Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard all struggling with their threes, it was a nice surprise for Belinelli to bounce back. Shooters go through streaks. It was only a matter of time before Belinelli bounced out his cold one.
Somewhat Surprising Negative: Manu Ginobili
This is somewhat surprising, because Manu Ginobili, at this age, has his occasional off games. Game six last series was one of them. Game seven last series was definitely not. Game one of this series was. Ginobili struggled with his shot, and ended 0-for-6 on the day. He did make some passes (5 assists) and kept his turnovers down (3, but two were questionable traveling calls). The trend so far this postseason seems to be that Ginobili has one or two good games for every bad game. If the trend holds, he’s due for a bounce back performance coming up pretty soon.
Game Planning Positive: Taking away the three
In the regular season, the Portland Trail Blazers averaged 9.4 three-pointers made per game. That average was only .1 behind the Houston Rockets for the league lead. At the end of game one, Portland only knocked down four attempts on 25% shooting. The biggest part of that stat is that three of those came from Will Barton.
Again, not Lillard. Not Wesley Matthews. Not Mo Williams. Will Barton.
The lone three from a regular rotation player came from Nicolas Batum, who shot 1-for-5 from downtown. As long as the three ball is taken away from Portland, the Spurs should have a much easier time winning this series.
Game two is set for 8:30 PM on Thursday on ESPN2, due to the NFL Draft.
(Stats via NBA.com and ESPN.com)