A Texas-Sized Beatdown
By mikebarrett Posted in: Spurs
“Lillard just took over and we couldn’t stop him.”
Those were the words of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich following Portland’s 136-106 win in San Antonio on Friday night. He wasn’t the only one heaping praise on Lillard, after Damian put together one of the most impressive and dominant performances by a rookie in the modern era of NBA basketball. This is one of those wins, and one of those efforts, that probably will be appreciated even more in the days that follow.
And, it wasn’t just Lillard. Portland, as a team, unleashed a flurry of offense in the second half, and in the fourth quarter, particularly. It all added up to San Antonio’s worst home loss in since 1997, a span of 635 games. Ironically, that was the season San Antonio won just 20 games, then won the draft lottery and selected Tim Duncan. They were humbled plenty during that season. This season? Not so much.
The Spurs entered the game on Friday night with the NBA’s best record at 48-14, and were 25-3 at home. In fact, they had lost just one home game since November 19th. So, considering all of that, could this be ranked as one of the most unexpected mega-blowouts in the history of both franchises? It certainly seems so.
The Spurs came in with the NBA’s seventh-ranked defense, allowing just 96 points per game. They were 25-0 when shooting at least 50 percent from the field, and were also 36-6 when scoring 100 points or more. They did both of those things in this game, and lost by 30, on their own court.
The fourth quarter alone had Blazer media-relations guru Aaron Grossman diving into the record book.
On November 25th, 1990, the Blazers put together what has called “The Perfect Quarter,” against, ironically, the San Antonio Spurs. They scored 49 points in the first quarter of that game. They scored 46 in the fourth quarter of this one.
Lillard and Eric Maynor combined for 28 points, 10-13 shooting, including 4-4 from three-point range, in the fourth quarter alone.
I interviewed Lillard right after this game ended and asked him about the incredible zone he found himself in during that fourth quarter. He said it all went back to a moment at the free-throw line in the third quarter. For whatever reason, he explained, the ball came off his hands feeling very, very good on those two free-throw attempts. Boom. That was it.
After that trip to the line, Lillard scored or assisted on the final 14 points of the third quarter. The Blazers ended the third with a 90-82 lead, and then, behind Lillard, started the fourth with a 13-2 run. Lillard blitzed the Spurs with 14 more points, including a dagger three pointer after the Spurs had cut the lead to 12. After that the Trail Blazers went wild and absolutely spanked the life out of the Spurs. The crowd began filing out at about the six-minute mark, and Popovich raised the white flag and dumped his bench moments later.
Lillard became the first rookie to score 35 points, hand out 9 assists, and not commit a single turnover since turnovers became a stat in the 1978-79 season. He has scored 30 or more three times this season. All have come on the road, at Golden State, Miami, and San Antonio. Those teams have combined home records of 73-14. So, it’s not like he’s padded his numbers against chopped liver. This dominant 35-point effort came against a legit championship contender.
Oh, by the way, the Trail Blazers, with the win, won the season series from the Spurs 2-1. For whatever reason, the Blazers have been the one team that has given the Spurs fits in recent years. They’re now 4-3 in the last 7 games played in Texas, and are 12-5 against the Spurs since ’08-’09. Lillard, in his three games against the Spurs, scored 20, 29, and 35 points. He only has 61 NBA games under his belt, remember.
It’s very easy to simply get stuck on Lillard stuff when talking about this game, but he did have a lot of help. The Blazers, as a team, shot a season-high 62 percent from the field, and were 13 of 21 from three-point land. They outrebounded the Spurs 38-29, recorded 27 assists and only 10 turnovers, and obviously, the 136 points scored is a season high.
Maynor, as I mentioned, was huge in this game. What an acquisition this is turning out to be. He had 20 points in 23 minutes in this game, and takes so much pressure off Lillard when he’s in the game.
Enough about the guards for a moment, because in the first half of this game Portland’s frontline was very, very good. JJ Hickson picked up his 34th double-double of the season, and really set the tone in the early going. He gave his team the confidence they could hang with this team, on this court. Hickson ended with 23 points and 11 rebounds, outplaying Tim Duncan. LaMarcus Aldridge, who always seems to play well against the Spurs, scored 26 points, on 12 of 18 shooting.
Wesley Matthews, who fought back after spraining his ankle (more on ankles in a minute), was also on the mark in this game. He hit five of his seven three-point attempts, and was his usual disruptive self on defense.
Now, to the injuries. We saw three sprained ankles in the span of about 10 minutes in the first half. Meyers Leonard came down on his right ankle, the same ankle he sprained earlier in the season. It was scary. But, from what I understand, this isn’t perhaps as serious as it could have been. We’ll know more about his availability for Sunday perhaps tomorrow. Victor Claver’s ankle could be a little worse. He was in a boot after the game and I actually helped him on to the team bus (because I just happened to be standing by him) after the game.
Obviously, you never want to see anyone go down with a sprained ankle, especially when it happens to two guys who have been playing so well and working so hard. But, in a strange way, it kind of felt like the two injuries brought the Blazers together and toughened their resolve. Lillard agreed with that when I brought that up during our interview. It gave the team yet another reason to come together and fight.
You can sit and think back on so many games the Blazers have lost, and play the “if only” game. We did that all the way back to the hotel in San Antonio. The blown 17-point lead in Memphis immediately comes to mind. But, as it stands right now, the Trail Blazers don’t feel they are out of this. The odds are long, but no one has given up on anything. This is a team that feels it has hit another level, even at this late date. As long as there’s a possibility, they’ll fight. Perhaps that’s why this team is so easy to love.
Even if this late-season rally comes up short, and they miss the playoffs, we’re getting a glimpse at the future. Lillard, and a 30-point win in San Antonio, certainly make it feel like it’ll happen in the not-so-distant future, and lets us all know the Blazers are on to something.
Now, on to New Orleans.