Blazers Survive San Antonio
This was the very definition of a trap game. Gregg Popovich knew it, and so he decided to go all in. He can be unconventional, and even though this was a loss for them, this may end up helping this San Antonio team in the long run.
With Tim Duncan out, and Manu Ginobili injuring his quad on Sunday night in Memphis, Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess and put all of the pressure on Portland. It not only did that, but took absolutely all of the pressure off his team. And, it gave him a chance to test his young players, and potentially pick up a team-galvanizing win.
It nearly was.
The Trail Blazers, who weren't expecting to see a Spurs lineup that they hadn't at all prepared for, had to try and avoid letting down, knowing they weren't going to see anything close to the Spurs team they saw on Friday in Portland. This is tougher than you might think. How do you maintain the same edge playing guys like Danny Green and Chris Quinn, that you would have naturally had against Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili?
Nate McMillan told us after the game he told his team they weren't changing anything, despite the surprise. He had to preach the same game plan, same intensity, same desire. But, again, that's easier said than done. It went from a game you would feel great about winning to a game you'd feel awful about losing. That's pressure. That's exactly what Popovich had in mind.
The Trail Blazers had a six-point lead after one, and a seven-point lead at halftime. It probably wasn't the advantage they were hoping for after two quarters, but hey, they had the lead and everything was going okay. In the third quarter, the tables were turned.
Everything was difficult in that third, and the pressure appeared to be getting to the road team. Everyone knew the longer the Spurs stayed in the game, the tougher it would be. The crowd, sensing the chance to record a huge win, stayed in the ballgame as well, and got louder and louder as their Spurs stayed in it. Portland scored just nine points in the third quarter, and went to the fourth trailing San Antonio by five.
The Spurs, on the season, were 47-2 when leading after three quarters. Clearly, this wasn't the same San Antonio team, but it was the same system. That's what you're playing when you're playing the Spurs.
What the Blazers needed was a chance. A chance, in this case, came with a big San Antonio draught. The Spurs had the AT&T Center on its ear when they took an 80-72 lead with 9:18 left in the game. But, they didn't record another field goal until the 1:44 mark. That gave Portland the opportunity it needed.
The biggest shot of the game came with about six minutes to go in the game. The Blazers missed a shot and the loose ball was grabbed by Gerald Wallace. That second chance ended with Nicolas Batum drilling a three pointer that brought the Trail Blazers to within two, at 81-79. But, mostly, even though it didn't give them the lead, it gave them momentum.
It was part of a 15-1 run that carried the Blazers to the 100-92 victory.
Andre Miller is a reluctant scorer at times for Portland, but has an incredible sense of knowing when he's got to step up and get aggressive. He scored 26 points in this game, shooting 9 of 15 from the field. Wallace, who hit some big buckets down the stretch, had 14 points and 7 rebounds. And Batum, along with the huge three at the six-minute mark, had 10 points and 13 huge rebounds.
All the matters in the end, on a night like this, is that Portland got the win. They beat the league-leading Spurs for the second time four days, and clinched the season series 3-1. The Spurs have only 17 losses on the season, and three of them have come at the hands of the Blazers. It doesn't matter who was playing, and who wasn't, that's impressive.
The Blazers have now won 8 of the last 9 meetings with San Antonio. No other NBA team can say that.
To listen to McMillan's post-game comments, click here
Again, you feel good winning this game, but it doesn't compare to how badly you would have felt if you had lost it. That, is a trap game.
We're off to New Orleans on Tuesday, and Wednesday night take on the Hornets. The Blazers can move a season-high 13 games over the .500 mark with a win.
Talk to you from the Big Easy.