The San Antonio Spurs have advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals with the Portland Trailblazers waiting for them. The Spurs needed a full team effort to overcome the 8th seeded Dallas Mavericks and will likely need the same performances from their squad this round.
Tiago Splitter was said to be the series MVP against Dallas with his aggressive scoring and defense on Dirk Nowitzki and will likely have to do the same against LaMarcus Aldridge, but this series will likely be the most burden on Danny Green.
Danny Green will likely have to be the X-Factor for the Spurs as the team’s starting shooting guard will have to guard Damian Lillard on the other side of the floor.
While LaMarcus Aldridge has been the leading scorer in the playoffs for the Blazers, all eyes will be on the defense of Green with San Antonio likely having different bodies to throw at Aldridge and the same can’t be said about the rising point guard from Portland. Tony Parker might see some time on defense, but Gregg Popovich has been known to cross matchup during past series to keep Parker fresh on the offensive side of the floor.
Lillard has been a pleasant surprise for Portland by averaging 25.5ppg and 6.7apg against the Houston Rockets in the opening round and will continue to look to build to that against another Texas team in the silver and black. The following 3 categories is what will make Green the X-Factor in this series.
Shot Contesting: We know Danny Green is good at contesting shots, but that’s usually said when he’s defending players from his shooting guard position. He might be 6’6″ in height, but he’s also got a 6’10” wingspan that’ll cause a lot of trouble for Lillard who’s 6’3″ himself. With the starting lineup of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter behind him, Green’s trust in his big men has been evident this season which is bad news for Damian since he’ll likely be playing extremely close to contest a shot. This will likely result in Lillard using more energy running around through screens and the Spurs forcing him to take shots he’s not used to taking in the postseason. The Rockets were a poor perimeter defensive team as Lillard’s 46%FG (48% 3FG) show. This won’t be the case with San Antonio as they’ll try to move him baseline to the help defense with a big man ready to contest.
Disrupting Passing Lanes: The Rockets played Lillard back, the Spurs likely won’t follow suit. Aside from Green’s long arms being a tool in contest shots, they’ll also force Lillard to try harder this postseason to keep up his 6.7 assists per game average. Green’s long arms will likely make a pass without a pick set impossible. Even with a pick from a big, Green is one of the better players in the league to recover on defense. This will likely force Lillard to try to make mid range jumpers with the Spurs going over picks last series against the more notable shooters with the Dallas Mavericks. If the Spurs likely do this, it’ll slow down any ball movement with the rest of the players being closely guarded. As we’ve seen this postseason, it’s extremely hard for one player to carry a team by himself and that’ll be a strong task to overcome unless the Blazers come up with a scheme to free up shooters.
Transition Defense: The Spurs have been known to do one thing well when they’re locked on defense and that’s their transition defense. It’ll be hard for Portland to try to get in fast breaks this series with Green waiting on the wing to shoot the 3-point shot. The Spurs have been known for this for years and it makes it easier when a big like Tim Duncan is shooting a mid-range jumper. Once the shot goes up, the Spurs traditionally streak back to the defensive end and that makes it extremely hard for the pace to pick up in the favor of the opposing team. Last series with the Mavericks the Spurs made mental mistakes and went after offensive rebounds. When their defense was locked in Games 5 and 7, they cut down on that habit and played great transition defense. They looked to be locked in and that’ll likely been Danny Green will have help in the paint right as the shot goes up for the Spurs on the other end.
Damian Lillard may not be Portland’s highest scorer (his 25.5ppg doesn’t match up against Aldridge’s 29.8ppg), but the San Antonio Spurs will have more bodies to throw at the Blazers’ big man while Green is likely the best fit to guard him with his height and foot speed. Green will be the X-Factor strictly for his defense as he’ll have the task of giving Lillard some tough looks that he wasn’t close to getting last series. Any slip in his production by Green’s defense will decide the series as the Trailblazers have only had a “Big 2” this season with Lillard and Aldridge.