Portland Trail Blazers 100, San Antonio Spurs 92: The youngins keep it close, but fall short in the end

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AT&T CENTER – I wanted to do everything I could not to mention who played, and didn’t play, in my recap tonight. Unfortunately, it was the biggest factor in the game and has to be acknowledged.

Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were both expected not to play with injury. That wasn’t a surprise at all. But a little over an hour before game time, news came that Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess would join Duncan and Manu in street clothes.

The gaping holes in the rotation vacated by the big three and Dice left the Spurs lacking significant firepower on both the offensive and defensive ends. And yet the Spurs still scored 92 points, and put in their best quarter of defense of the season, statistically speaking, in holding the Blazers to nine points in the third quarter.

Where the Spurs really missed four of their starters was in the conditioning department. While the players the Spurs did have available kept them in the game and had them in a position to win, the missing pieces — those who normally occupy the bulk of the minutes — left the others to fatigue as the game neared the end.

A 15-1 run for Portland from the 9:18 mark to the 2:02 point turned a 8-point Spurs lead into a 6-point deficit.

When asked after the game if he thought the team got tired, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich admitted that they did, but refused to acknowledge that as the reason for the dry stretch.

“They haven’t played that much, but they sure didn’t play like they were tired,” Coach Pop said.

Instead, he simply felt the team didn’t make shots, simple as that.

“It’s a game that happens to everybody from time-to-time,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t go down.”

And while he’ll say publicly that missing shots was a big reason for the loss. I’m hard-pressed to believe that’s what he thinks when he looks at the film from the game.

But that the Spurs were so close in this game speaks to the effort and energy level provided by those in uniform. From the outset, the Spurs were active on the defensive end and worked hard. It didn’t produce results in the box score, as the Spurs gave up 58 points on 60% from the floor.

But it finally manifested itself in the third quarter when San Antonio held Portland to just nine points, a season low for points in a quarter by a Spurs opponent.

George Hill led the Spurs with 27 points, but was forced to play 38 minutes and eventually fouled out late in the game. Gary Neal was the opposite of Hill, offensively. Neal shot 3-14 in the game for eight points, including a depressing 2-10 in the fourth quarter.

A gold star goes to Tiago Splitter who, in addition to his 14 points and nine rebounds, helped limit LaMarcus Aldridge to just nine points and three rebounds in 37 minutes of action. Splitter did well to stay in front of Aldridge on the perimeter and put a body on him down low.

Splitter looks like he’s getting closer and closer to earning some minutes in the playoff rotation. Hopefully.

  • Blofeld

    I just wanted to point out the obvious…Splitter’s defense on Aldridge. Really impressive, especially considering what a great year Aldridge has had…9 points on 4 of 10 shooting…wow.

  • Blofeld

    I also wanted to point out the obvious (part 2)…Jefferson really, really, really sucks! You would think, as the only “starter” playing tonight, that he would’ve stepped up and lead the team. Instead, George stepped up, AND OVER, Jefferson’s lifeless corpse. Any chance R.C. could trade him for a used gym bag next season?

  • Bruno

    Great Recap. Neal struggling and RJ/Bonner choke killed us. But i don’t expect win this game without Manu,Timmy and Tony.
    Splitter/Hill played very well.
    One thing i can’t understand is WHY Chip changed Splitter shooting style, the guy shot 79% FTs with old style…

  • Sauce

    Great game.

    My key points of the game:

    1) Danny Green was awesome. If only he was taller and bigger, he could eat up Richard Jefferson’s minutes. He played great defense and shot the ball well.

    2) Tiago is really showing promise. A couple months ago I commented in this blog about how Tiago will never be more than a rotation player because he had bad hands and a weak core body. He is making me eat my words by locking down Aldridge twice now, making high IQ passes and just playing hard. If only his hook shot was better…

    3) George Hill is showing that he can be a go to scorer in the very near future. Hopefully he can pick up the court awareness from Tony Parker since he will never become a very good point guard in the passing and court awareness sense.

    4) Steve Novak is horrendous on defense. At least Bonnar tries. There was one play near the end of the 3rd quarter or the beginning of the 4th. Sean Elliot mentions that they put Novak into the game to guard Camby because Camby isn’t offensive minded. That very play on defense, shot goes up, Novak is on the right side of the box sort of boxing out his man and he inexplicably hurriedly moves over to the left side of the box to get away from contact. I almost yelled out in anger. Novak is SOFT. I rather have Bonnar who is in a shooting slump who at least tries than someone who is soft. Not to mention how Wallace abused Novak…

    Overall, great game for the Spurs up until the midway point of the 4th quarter. Really shows how important Timmy is, as well as Ginobli and Parker to close out games. Very excited though with our young prospects though.

  • junierizzle

    Fudge!! I thought they would pull it out. But there was no way Portland was going to lose this one. That loss would have been really bad for them.

    The bright spot continues to be TIAGO during this stretch. I think he’s already earned some playoff minutes if you ask me.

    Nice to see GHill coming around too.

    I don’t know what to expect anymore from this season. I just hope everyone is ready to go come playoff time.

    Wow. A perfect storm of injuries…………………………………

  • LA loves SA

    I don’t think HCA is the end all, but does anyone think we can or will maintain the #1 seed in the west (let alone overall) given where we are at? The lakers are in playoff form and even before Duncan and Manu went out we were not sharp. Now we look like SA of early 2009 (only beating sub .500 clubs). I am a die hard SA fan living in LA and I hate to admit it, but I don’t think we can win it this year. Heck, I think we are hard pressed to make it out of the first round (regardless of seating) the way we have played since the allstar break. Someone please give me a spark of hope because it looks bad for what could be TD’s last year.

  • Bob

    I think Splitter has more than earned playoff minutes. He should be starting next to Duncan. He’ll make his job easier and improve the defense. Then you can have Dice and Blair/Bonner of the bench depending on the matchups. Too bad it took an injury to Duncan for people to see he can improve the defense. Hopefully Pop makes the right decision in choosing defense vs offense.

  • Peter

    Not great numbers from Neal, but did anyone have a problem with his shot selection? Looked like mostly good shots to me. Lots of rim-outs, too.

  • Rafael

    Bruno
    March 28th, 2011 at 8:20 pm
    “One thing i can’t understand is WHY Chip changed Splitter shooting style, the guy shot 79% FTs with old style…”

    Really?79%? If this is true, Chip is doing a horrible work

  • Rafael

    Good to see Hill playing well, Green looks very good defensive player. Hope we can get all starters back against Boston

  • Mark B

    Neal’s shot selection was fine, he just was missing late. I’d live with him doing the same again, that’s his game, and usually he’s deadly. Bad time to go cold shooting the threes. If the team had just an average night shooting 3s and freethrows it’s an easy win. And it’s not like Portland did a good job guarding the 3 point line, there were lots of open looks. I’m just guessing Neal and company were tired late in the game … although it didn’t seem to me that he was getting a whole lot more moments than he usually gets.

  • Jacques

    @Peter
    Agree. The shot selection weren’t bad at all. The ball just did not go in. Perhaps Gary was tired…

    Bonner and Novak played lofty minutes. Seriously, these guys need to be better w/ their defense. Be more aggressive. Rotation was slow towards the end. Gerald’s 3 killed our hopes.

    I thought this was the game when RJ will finally make at least 10+ field goal attempts. The game proves to me that RJ will never be a 2nd or 3rd scoring option again regardless of who is injured.

    Go Spurs, hope the starters heal quickly

  • Titletown99030507d

    Tiago’s confidence is growing and he’s proving to be a legitimate playoff minute taker. I just hope Pop doesn’t roll out with the exact lineup that started the season. That would suck. It only makes it harder on Timmy, they need the two big guys on the floor to start the playoffs and let the opposing teams decide how they are going to defend our two big dudes. And 3 of your best penetrators and shooters to those two and we are set at least for the first 7-8 minutes of the game and then make the necessary substitutions there after. 1st seed or 2nd seed I don’t care as long as the boys are locked and loaded and ready for the run. I can’t wait for the playoffs! GSG!

  • LAKERS3PEAT_AGAIN

    Spurs Stumble as Lakers EXPLODE past them. Can you say peaked too early!!!!!!!!! 3PEAT

  • Spurholic in Mumbai

    How’s the HCA position after these 4 losses? Request team 48 MOH to comment. Also, when will TD be back. Is karma getting back, after an unblievable start to the season.

  • Colin

    Just like to reiterate with a few past posts of mine which stated exactly why Novak should NOT be on the court for any meaningful minutes…………………………………He cant guard my kitchen table! As evidenced tonight.

    Splitter is improving. Very good, promising sign.

  • Alec

    The Spurs must now go 6-2 or defeat Los Angeles at Staples to get the #1 seed, if the Lakers win the rest of their games. Los Angeles will be tested by the Mavs and Thunder at Staples, but should win both. And LA will also have tough games at Portland and Sacramento (the Kings’ final game at Arco Arena), but should also win those too. I project losses for SA at Houston and at Los Angeles, but really believe the Spurs could win the other six games, with the road tilt at Phoenix perhaps providing the greatest test, since it will be the Suns’ last game of the season. Coach Pop better not rest Timmy vs. the Rockets (assuming Timmy plays Thursday vs. Boston).

  • Renato Afonso

    First of all, Lakers’ fan here. Regarding the current form of SA, I don’t think you need to worry. Your bench is solid and this extra burn will get them some confidence for the upcoming playoffs.

    Regarding Splitter, I saw him play a lot before he joined the NBA and also with the Brazil squad. He is a solid player and you haven’t seen the best of him. Once he gets enough minutes on the floor, you’ll see him rack up double-doubles (12 and 10, no more than that ) on a regular basis but he will also be able to turn the best opposite big ineffective (unless his name his Dwight or Andrew and he’s phisically overmatched). But this is not about he future, which will be very bright in SA, it’s about the present.

    The Lakers are not gunning to the 1st seed, but instead trying to lock the 2nd seed and hence avoiding OKC (the scary matchup) and not give Dallas, Chicago, Boston and Miami HCA if those matchups are to happen. SA is a different animal and both teams have a longstanding rivalry. Long enough to know that HCA will mean nothing in the conference finals.

    So, the 1st seed will probably get something like NO, OKC/Den in the first two rounds and the 2nd seed Mem/Por, Dal in those same rounds. Personally, I prefer the 2nd seed schedule…

  • ITGuy

    Not a bad showing by the good guys but I wouldn’t want to go without any of the big 3 for much longer.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • Daniel T

    Since Portland won, they still have a shot at moving up a seed or two themselves. Their game vs. the Lakers on the 8th will likely still be meaningful for them rather than simply a game where they might want to give some rest to their starters. Likewise, with Portland still breathing down their neck Denver can’t afford to relax against the Lakers when they play them on Sunday. Dallas pretty much needs to beat the Lakers on Thursday to stay in contention for the 2nd seed. By the time OKC plays the Lakers, the game might not have much effect on OKC’s place in the standings and so their effort may be dependent upon wanting to retain confidence for the playoffs. The Lakers themselves have to go all out to win in each game to have a chance at passing the Spurs, but they have 3 back-to-backs and no more than one day’s rest between any games. It would seem likely to me that they are bound to lose at least to one opponent other than the Spurs. If so they wind up with 61 wins if they beat the Spurs, 60 if they lose to the Spurs.

    The Spurs are currently at 57 wins, so if they just beat the Lakers they’d have 58 wins. If they did beat the Lakers, they would have the tie-breaker if they both finish with 60 wins, so they would need to win only 2 more of their other 7 games. It seems to me that there are not more than 3 games for the Spurs (Boston, Houston and Lakers) where the game has much meaning in the standing for the Spurs’ opponents by the time they play. With 6 games to play prior to the Lakers, the Spurs could make that game meaningless for them (Lakers might still be battling to avoid losing the 2 seed to Dallas) by winning 4 or 5 of them. If they win all 6 they’d have 63 wins before the game and the best the Lakers can finish is 62 wins.

    The Spurs “injured” players all looked to be walking about comfortably enough and likely all could play if need be. I think if they were to all skip the Boston game on Thursday they will begin to get rusty and out of game condition, so I hope to see them all play in at least a tune-up game. Seems to be still much more of a must win for Boston than the Spurs, but it would be a very good win for the Spurs to pull off.

  • doggydogworld

    I was at the game. Neal’s problem was not minutes and not shot selection (he took some bad shots, but that’s hardly unprecedented). His problem was the intensity and level of effort. He basically played the final 19 minutes, when the defense was really scrambling. On offense he was often the centerpiece, and had to work very hard just to try and get open. Bottom line, he had to step outside his normal role and did not handle it very well. Instead of the ice-cold, calculating role player we’ve come to know he became too emotional. He got visibly frustrated every time the slightest thing went wrong. This negative emotion snowballed and he missed his final 7 shots.

    It’s one thing to make shots after standing at the 3 point line, waiting to Tony or Manu to suck in the defense. Quite another to do so when you’ve been racing frantically all over both ends of the court, getting pushed and shoved and elbowed, your heart is racing and you feel the burden of carrying the entire team on your shoulders. That’s what makes Manu and Tony special. As Gary himself said recently, he’s not Manu. Fortunately we don’t need him to be.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    The problem with this game was best illustrated by Sean Elliott. The 3 pointers were not falling but the guys were able to get penetration against the Blazers interior defense.

    The Spurs kept chucking them up and the Blazers made them pay at the other end.

    My hope is that we see Splitter, Duncan, RJ, Ginobili and TP as the starting 5 and commit to playing solid Spurs defense for 48 minutes.

    I am sure Pop is going to play everyone on Thursday to get that game against Boston and the Spurs will retain HCA throughout.

    Chicago, LA and Dallas will all have some hiccups on the way to the end of the season.

    The Spurs simply need to win a couple more games and you will see the others concede once they see the Spurs hit 60 wins.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    For everyone who is in panic mode, read this article, take a valium and chill the fuck out.

    The Spurs will be fine.

    http://blog.mysanantonio.com/spursnation/2011/03/28/buck-harvey-instead-of-the-panic-button-popovich-hits-refresh/

  • AS

    Just a remark: Tiago needs to regain his confidence just because Pop took it out by not playing him.

  • agutierrez

    Positives: 1. Hill’s offense and leadership; 2. Tiago’s offense AND defense; 3. Danny Green’s defense; 4. Chris Quinn’s offense and steadiness (he should have played more). 5. Open threes: even though we didn’t hit many, we had multiple wide open shots.
    6. Pop got extra rest for the big 4 and psychologically told the team (and fans), “don’t panic, we’ve got this thing under control.” That was important.
    Negatives: 1. RJ sucks. Other than rebounding, he’s simply awful; 2. Blair has shown no improvement over the last 2 years; 3. Hill’s defense. 5. Bonner, deja vu all over again

  • SA_Ray

    I was at this game and this is what I took away
    (1) The refs were terrible in this game. They could make a video from only this game on how NOT to call charge/blocking fouls.
    (2) RJ is MIA and I don’t think he is coming back at this point. His numbers have steadily declined all season, especially shots per game. He is just eating minutes out there on offense and playing OK defense at best. Where is his agression, where is his passion?
    (3) Normally I am a ‘In Pop We Trust’ guy but I think he lost the Spurs that game in the last 6 minutes when he pulled Green/Blair/Novac/Quinn to put in Splitter/Bonner/RJ/Neal. The young guys had a quick hands on defense and were chasing down rebounds and loose balls and built the lead that the other guys let slip away.
    I know 99/100 that’s the right move but this time those ‘scrub’ players were ballin. He should have let them finish the game.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I’m not in panic mode. I like what I saw last night from the young guns. Bring on the playoffs where ever it may be!

  • Nima K.

    Hah. Pop rested the starters like I suggested. Maybe the FO does read this message board after all :-)

    I’m happy to see Splitter getting comfortable in his game. As expected.

    I wish Hill would be more consistent like last night. (offensively)

    And JA needs improvement. He can do better.

    I have courtside tickets for Thursday’s game. See u then!!

  • Titletown99030507d

    @SA_Ray,

    You exactly wrong. The lead was 8-9 points at early in the 4th quarter. After they made that nice run in the 3rd with Tiago and the shooters. Tiago kept them with a 3-4 point lead until the late in the third when they exploded then Tiago went out in the last 2 minutes of the 3rd. We didn’t see him until 5 minutes left in the game by then Blair, Bonner and whoever was on the court let the lead slip away.
    The game totally changed and everybody started to do what they did in the last 3 games shoot from the arc when they really didn’t need to. All they had to do is slow the game down with inside presence which they had in Tiago. Face it this guy will be beneficial when boys shots stop falling.

  • Bob

    Splitter has been outperforming Blair with Duncan out. His numbers are 9.2 and 8.4 in 23 min and he’s shown the ability to limit the opposing big. Blair has been 6.8 and 5.3 in 22. His numbers for the season 8.4 and 7. I think Splitter could be even more effective with Duncan with another big to draw attention. He could probably average 12 and 10 in a few more minutes which are Tim Duncan numbers this season (13 and 9).

  • jwalt

    Three thoughts. First, I hope we can put to rest the concept that RJ’s limited offense is due to the team “not calling enough plays” for him. What nonsense. RJ is limitied because he is both bad and passive (which is better than being bad and aggressive). He’s a good 5th player to have on the court but he simply cannot create offensively.

    Second, Blair is a mess and Splitter is coming on like gangbusters. If Splitter goes back to the bench when Timmy returns I’m going to scream. Blair continues his downward spiral.

    Third, it’s a good thing Neal is a great shooter because basically that’s all he can do. He might lead the league in block calls. Give him an ‘A’ for effort but he’s ALWAYS late trying to take charges. And he has blinders on offensively, doesn’t see anything but the rim. But he is a great shooter, and there is always room for that.

  • Hobson13

    I believe that the last 4 games could actually do the Spurs some good PROVIDED we secure #1 seed. Many of the Spurs role players have stepped up against good competition. Hill seems to have rediscovered his ability to be a formidable weapon by scoring 30 and 27 in the last two games. Neal had a monster game against Denver and played well in two others. However, the re-emergance of Splitter has me wondering what our potential might be if he were played alongside Tim in the Playoffs.

    In the first two games against Portland, Splitter played 6 total minutes. Here were Aldridges combined numbers for those games:
    24/37 from the floor or 65%, 18 rebs, and 3assts in 82 minutes.

    The last two games against Portland, Splitter played a total of 51 minutes, most of which guarding Alderidge. Here were Aldridges numbers:
    9/22 or 41%, 11rebs, and 2 assts in 80 minutes.

    IMO, Splitter has the potential to be a defensive monster against the Alderidge type 4’s of the NBA. I sure hope Pop learns his lesson and starts Tiago with Dyess being the first big to come off the bench. That 3 man big rotation could be real nice in the playoffs.

    SA_Ray
    March 29th, 2011 at 7:34
    ” RJ is MIA and I don’t think he is coming back at this point. His numbers have steadily declined all season, especially shots per game. He is just eating minutes out there on offense and playing OK defense at best. Where is his agression, where is his passion?”

    RJ was the only regular starter to play last night and he mustered up 5 FGA and missed half his FTs. That tells me everything I need to know with regards to what we can expect from RJ going forward.

  • DieHardSpur

    To whom it may concern:

    In March, Steve Novak has hit 17 of 28 from deep, and 22 of 39 over all, I would say he is extremely efficient in our system.

  • betsyduncan

    @Bruno: “One thing i can’t understand is WHY Chip changed Splitter shooting style, the guy shot 79% FTs with old style…”
    Wrong! Chip hasn’t touched Tiago’s shot (yet!). Tiago has work to do this summer, for sure!

  • DNITCH

    So how concerned should we be with all these injuries? Are our guys going to be able to be healthy enough to play soon? Im hoping Tiago gets to play for the playoffs, him and Duncan on defense could definitely stop a frontcourt like the Grizz.

  • DieHardSpur

    Sorry – wasn’t done praising Novak…

    That is 61 points on 39 attempts in limited minutes, good for best on the team.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com BHarvey

    Jefferson just is looking more out of sync with each passing day – as a true veteran for end of season playoff runs – where is he?

  • betsyduncan

    @DieHard: I just wish that the boy could defend!
    But I like him, too!

  • ty

    Its like no one wants to talk about how bad RJ is. why did we re-sign him. we were clear of all that money and instead just knocked off a couple mill per year and extended him. this move has to rival the rasho nasteravich move as the worst in spurs history Imagine if we had that cap space for someone that would contribute or at least been able to sign FA like Corey Brewer

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Len

    I’m starting to wonder if Jefferson’s contract is worse than Malik Rose’s old contract.

  • manufan

    @ agutierrez

    Positives: 1. Hill’s offense and leadership; 2. Tiago’s offense AND defense; 3. Danny Green’s defense; 4. Chris Quinn’s offense and steadiness (he should have played more). 5. Open threes: even though we didn’t hit many, we had multiple wide open shots.
    6. Pop got extra rest for the big 4 and psychologically told the team (and fans), “don’t panic, we’ve got this thing under control.” That was important.
    Negatives: 1. RJ sucks. Other than rebounding, he’s simply awful; 2. Blair has shown no improvement over the last 2 years; 3. Hill’s defense. 5. Bonner, deja vu all over again

    Amen.

  • DieHardSpur

    @betsyduncan
    I am with you there, but regardless, he doesn’t give up 61 points on 39 attempts. No matter what, the Spurs net positive numbers as long as we use him INSIDE his role and capacity(situational shooter).

  • SA_Ray

    @Titletown99030507d
    I was not ‘exactly wrong’ though my time was a little off. The Spurs made the run with Tiago on the bench. It was a mix of Hill, Blair, Novac, Green, Neal and Quinn. They went from being down 63-62 in the 3rd to being up 80-72 when Pop decides to put Bonner back in the game with 7.39 left in 4th.
    From there the lead dwindles as Blair, Green and Novac are sitting while Splitter, Bonner and RJ let the lead slip away and then fall behind.
    I totally agree that they should have pounded it inside a little with Splitter and they took entirely too many unneeded threes down the stretch (especially Neal). But I think Pop should have let the guys who built the small lead we had, defend it down the stretch.

  • Bruno

    @betsyduncan
    “Wrong! Chip hasn’t touched Tiago’s shot (yet!). Tiago has work to do this summer, for sure!”

    Chip changed Splitter shot, he sayed that in twitter, and he is shooting different

  • mikrobass3

    i’m not sure about everyone wanting to see splitter and duncan on the court together. don’t they each basically play the 5 spot? seems like our offense would be clogged in the lane…

  • Flavor

    So whats the status of Duncan’s injury. I havn’t read anything official… Its like its top secret or somethin…

  • td4life

    Raise your hand if you honestly think the Spurs’ shooters are gonna net them 16 postseason wins? Gimme a break.

  • manufan

    @Flavor
    Pop is former air force intelligence officer.

  • TD = Best EVER

    RJ’s issues are more system related than anything else….. Just like it took us looking for Splitter on the roll and giving him a few post ups for him to find his game……. RJ needs to be the number 1 or 2 option and needs to be in a free flowing and running system….. As long as he is asked to sit in the corner and wait for the ball to come to him he will never shoot more that 5-6 times a game and will continue to look horrible. SPURS need to trade him ASAP to ensure we can get something for him and that we don’t completely torpedo the man’s legacy in this league…… Went from borderline ALL-STAR to 8th man off the bench in a year…….. LOL

  • Titletown99030507d

    @SA_Ray,

    Every time Splitter left the game they were not loosing. (During quarter 1 -3) Check the DVR.
    Yes the group your talking about expanded the lead but it dwindled down to almost nothing by the time Splitter came in at the 5 -6 minute mark. Really its not about rewarding players, its about strategy. They should have gone with the group Splitter had when they got to the point they were up 9-10 points early in the fourth to get the game back to slowing it down eating clock and defending the lane and rim. Yeah they expanded the lead but went away from ball control instead they started clanking shots of the rim and off the arc. Bonner wasn’t making any of those hardly to keep the lead. You start getting in a shooting match with an other team your only asking for trouble especially if there’s no defense in the lane and also on the perimeter. It was deja vu all over again in what they did down the stretch. But I have give them kudos though for playing hard and desperately wanting that win. Defense wins games plain and simple. If your fortunate to get a lead on someone than you have to make defense a priority. You just can’t piss it all away.