Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Spurs and the Trail Blazers ended in a blowout. Game Two followed the same trend.
After jumping out to a big lead in the first half, the Spurs never looked back, and the closest the game got was nine points, briefly late in the fourth quarter. When the final buzzer sounded, the score stood at 114-97 in favor of the Spurs. The series count rests at 2-0.
Before Game Two, I set out some keys (http://projectspurs.com/2014-articles/three-keys-to-victory-spurs-blazers-game-two.html) for the Spurs to keep the home court advantage they earned during the regular season. We’ll take those as the positives and negatives of Game Two.
Positive: Coming out strong
The Portland Trail Blazers have only won a single first quarter these playoffs. Houston’s stumble is that they let the Blazers back in the game. So far, the Spurs have won the first quarter, and extended their leads to 26 and 19 points, respectively. This particular first half lead came behind hot shooting by Kawhi Leonard (8-9), Boris Diaw (5-6), Tiago Splitter (5-10), and Marco Belinelli (4-5).
Again, the Trail Blazers were the best rebounding team in the league during the regular season. Rebounding at every position, not just the bigs, is a huge factor. Although the Blazers outrebounded the Spurs in both games so far (47-45 and 44-41), keeping the totals that close is a win for the Spurs. In fact, a big part behind the Spurs run to bust open the game was behind the rebounding skills of Tiago Splitter. Splitter outrebounded Robin Lopez, who was held to only two defensive rebounds.
Positive: Bench play
In Game One, the Blazers bench scored 18 points. Using maximum effort, that total was raised a whopping one point. Thirteen of those points came from a guy, Will Barton, who played his first meaningful minutes in the playoffs. The Spurs, on the other hand, dropped 50 from their bench. Coincidentally, that was the same total the Spurs scored in Game One. The Blazers simply do not have enough firepower to compete with the Spurs bench, and it takes a toll on their starters having to play 40+ minutes every night.
Positive: Kawhi Leonard
The Hand was simply fantastic in Game Two. Leonard’s 88.9% field goal percentage was only bested once in the entire regular season (a 12-13 performance against the Grizzlies in early April). His defense was swarming, helping hold the Blazers backcourt to 14-32 shooting.
Positive: Tiago Splitter’s defense
As Project Spurs’ writer Paul Garcia detailed, Splitter’s defense on LaMarcus Aldridge has been magnificent. Last series, everyone was glowing about Splitter’s defense on Nowitzki. His defense this series has been even better. Splitter isn’t the shot blocker of Ibaka or DeAndre Jordan’s stature. However, he is the perfect complimentary piece for Tim Duncan that the organization has longed for since the days of David Robinson, when, ironically, Duncan was the complimentary piece.
Analyzing the game over and over, the Spurs played a nearly flawless game. The only thing that could have put away the game quicker was free throw shooting. Six of fourteen shooting isn’t going to cut it in the Western Conference Finals or Finals, if the Spurs are fortunate enough to make it there. Parker also came out a little flat, but was able to turn in a solid performance on both ends of the floor.
As the series shifts to Portland, it’ll be interesting to see how Portland adjusts, and how the Spurs will adjust back in this chess match we call the NBA Playoffs.
Game Three is set for 9:30 PM CST on Saturday night.