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March 2, 2009

Five Thoughts: Portland-San Antonio

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:56 pm

I spent last night working on a feature on the San Antonio Spurs that essentially avoided talking about their blowout loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. For the companion piece, here are my five observations (in no particular order) from last night’s game.

1. Portland’s two-man game was sweet.
The Blazers did the best job I’ve seen them do of establishing Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge by using the two of them together early in the game. In addition to having Aldridge screen for Roy on the ball, they also had Roy curl off of an Aldridge pick while Steve Blake handled at the top of the key, forcing the Spurs to decide between leaving either Aldridge or Roy open. Roy scored Portland’s first six points before Aldridge caught fire. They would end up outscoring San Antonio as a team in the first half (37-36) and finished with 26 points apiece on 31 shot attempts and 10 tries from the free-throw line. Oh, and neither of them committed a turnover either. Yikes.

2. Tim Duncan was shaking off the rust.
In his first game back after missing three with tendonosis in his right knee, Duncan looked out of sorts in the early going. There was one point early in the third quarter where I mused that Joel Przybilla had gotten the better of the matchup with Duncan, including one memorable play where he blocked Duncan’s shot while standing still and started a fast break at the other end. After the game, Duncan told reporters it was just a bad game, while Gregg Popovich concluded a terse interview session by saying of Duncan’s performance, “Write it how you want.”

What the Spurs don’t want is for Duncan’s knee to create a “will he or won’t he play?” situation along the lines of what Houston faced with Tracy McGrady before he decided to undergo microfracture knee surgery. Popovich said before the game that he anticipates having Duncan in the lineup for good.

3. The Blazers kept Tony Parker quiet.
Entering the game, Parker had 63 points and 20 assists in two games against Portland, shooting 27-of-46 (.587) from the field. So needless to say, the Blazers limiting Parker to 15 points on 7-of-1 shooting and four assists in this matchup was crucial to their lopsided victory. Looking at the shot chart, Portland did a better job of keeping Parker out of the paint, but also got a break because Parker simply didn’t have it. Seven of his 17 shot attempts came at the rim, which is much better than last Wednesday, when those easy looks accounted for 15 of his 27 tries (and 12 of his 17 makes). Even when he got to the cup, Parker was unable to convert, shooting 2-for-7 on those shots. And he missed all four of his true jumpers. The Blazers will still need to do a better job of keeping Parker out of the paint in the future. Of course, as Nate McMillan pointed out before the game, that task is easier said than done.

4. Evaluating George Hill’s defense.
It’s easy to see why the Spurs’ first-round pick is considered a potential top-tier defender. He starts with decent size for the point-guard position at 6-2 and adds arms that seem to stretch from one end of the court to the other. When Hill was matched with Sergio Rodriguez, however, he was badly beaten twice in a row when he was caught leaning the wrong way. Hill marks the ball well defensively, but may need to improve his instincts.

5. The Spurs played their youngsters.
The upside to the Blazers’ easy win, besides an impressive round of “the wave” (which is apparently quoted in AP style, per Mike Monroe’s article), was a chance to watch Malik Hairston in extended action. The rookie out of the nearby University of Oregon played 25 minutes in the second half, and newly-promoted Pops Mensah-Bonsu played most of the fourth quarter. After an impressive run late in Friday’s loss to Cleveland, the former D-Leaguers were not as strong this time around. I’m not sure I saw much to suggest either player is ready to be a contributor on a regular basis. Hairston is a couple of inches away from creating matchup problems as an undersized four (the role he filled for the Ducks). As is, he has no calling card at small forward, offering no better than average skills in any key area. Mensah-Bonsu was certainly active in his seven minutes on the floor, but did not really stand out.

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