PORTLAND – I’ve made the (painfully long) trek down I-5 to catch tonight’s home opener for the Portland Trail Blazers against the San Antonio Spurs. Pretty much everyone else in the world thinks the Spurs are the better of these two teams, but my numbers have Portland finishing well ahead of San Antonio in the standings. So this should be interesting to watch, though that doesn’t mean much tonight with Manu Ginobili and Greg Oden sidelined.
I’ll offer some live thoughts sporadically throughout the game.
San Antonio 22, Portland 21 (end first): Just three Spurs have taken shots thus far–Tim Duncan (seven), Tony Parker (five) and Michael Finley (two). Why no one talks about this team’s reliance (overreliance) on its star players is beyond me. Of course, San Antonio still does have the lead. The Blazers did not commit a turnover in the first quarter, which along with three offensive boards to none for the Spurs allowed them to get up 11 more shot attempts. However, free throws and better shooting evened things up.
The Rose Garden crowd, which is awfully loud, loves loves loves Rudy Fernandez. They broke out “Ru-dy!” chants for him merely checking into the game. I’m told by my seatmates Benjamin Golliver of Blazer’s Edge and Wendell Maxey of Hoopsworld.com that has been going on all year long.
Anyone who’s up watching this game, feel free to shoot me questions or thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portland 51, San Antonio 45 (halftime): Brandon Roy capped a strong first half for the Blazers by beating the buzzer with a rainbow triple over a defender in his face. Nicolas Batum was the revelation of the second quarter for Portland. He’s got eight points and looks nothing like a 19 year old playing his first NBA game, showing both athleticism and uncanny poise. The Blazers are featuring LaMarcus Aldridge tonight with mixed results. He’s got 12 points, but it’s taken him 13 shots to get there. He’s shown great touch at times while being too quick to go to the jumper at others.
The Spurs aren’t playing poorly, but there are plenty of trouble signs. Portland has outrebounded them 9-2 on the offensive glass. Also, besides the big three of Duncan, Finley and Parker, Desmon Farmer (five points) is the only other player to score. And Bruce Bowen is playing extensively at power forward because Gregg Popovich has so few other options up front.
Portland 78, San Antonio 70 (end third): The Spurs are hanging around in this one, but the Blazers are comfortably in control with 12 minutes to play. Brandon Roy scored eight of his 19 points in the period, repeatedly isolating and beating Roger Mason. Add in Aldridge getting some of his looks to fall and the Portland offense is clicking. The Spurs have finally gotten some other guys in the scoring column.
Batum’s body control is really impressive. He’s finished in traffic a couple of times already, which is difficult for young players in this league.
Portland 93, San Antonio 93 (3:00 fourth): I suspect this is going to be the script for a lot of Spurs games this season, at least until Manu Ginobili gets back healthy. Down most of the game, they never went away and started hitting some threes in the fourth quarter and now have tied this game. Nobody on the Blazers can stay in front of Tony Parker, who has 20 points and 11 assists after hitting the tying layup.
On the other end of the floor, I’d like to see the Blazers isolate Brandon Roy more instead of involving him in pick-and-rolls which give Tim Duncan an opportunity to switch on to Roy. Even if Duncan is 6’11”, he’s virtually never at a mismatch defensively.
Portland 98, San Antonio 97 (0:53.1 fourth): Blazers take timeout up one with possession after Brandon Roy beat Tim Duncan out for a jumpball. The crowd is on its feet and this has been a terrific game. I’m enjoying it, but I have to say I’m really missing the Sonics right about now. *sigh*
Portland 100, San Antonio 97 (0:34.5 fourth): The Spurs wisely trapped Brandon Roy and got the ball out of his hands. When Roy get it back, there were just five seconds left on the shot clock and he was doubled again. He shoveled to LaMarcus Aldridge at the top of the key for an off-balance jumper that beat the shot clock. Unselfish play by the star, great play by the, um, other star. Also fitting on the day Jason Quick of the Oregonian wrote about their budding friendship.
Portland 100, San Antonio 99 (final): Wild finish here. Two Tony Parker free throws made it a one-point game. On the Blazers’ last possession, Joel Przybilla returned to the game and the Spurs trapped off of him with Tim Duncan, again getting the ball out of Roy’s hands. Travis Outlaw ended up with it and drove the bucket, drawing contact but no foul as his shot attempt rolled off. The Spurs went the other direction without a timeout with the clock running down. Roger Mason headed straight for the bucket before Przybilla stepped up and forced a pass off to Michael Finley, whose attempt rolled off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Big win for the Blazers, who needed something to feel good about after their disastrous opener. The schedule is tough over the next couple of weeks, but even without Greg Oden Portland can survive. While the Spurs dropped to 0-2, they have to be encouraged by the play of Mason, who offered an athletic element that was missing on the wing last year as well as the ability to knock down open jumpers.