San Antonio Spurs 95, Portland Trail Blazers 78: At long last, 48 minutes of hell
AT&T CENTER–Now 23 games into the regular season, and off to a franchise-best 20-3 start, it’s hard to find fault so far. But today showed the first glimpse of a happy post game Gregg Popovich as the San Antonio Spurs finally looked a little like the San Antonio Spurs.
Earlier in the season our own Timothy Varner stated that the Spurs defense has become less and less about 48 minutes of hell, and increasingly 48 minutes of what the hell.
For all the talk about steals and pace and new approaches, Popovich claims he still holds true to his simplistic analysis of a game, glancing only at field goal percentage and rebounds. In their 95-78 win over Portland, the Spurs finally produced a box score their head coach can be proud of.
“We’re working on it and we have to get better,” Popovich said. “They know we have to get better at it as a group.Â We’re trying to do that and today was a good performance defensively.
That’s something to enjoy, but we have a ways to go. Right now there are about 10 to 15 teams that are doing a better job defensively than we are, so we have to pay attention to it.”
After allowing Portland to hit their first three shots (jumping out to a 7-2 lead), and a quick timeout, the Spurs managed to hold the Blazers to 37.9% from the field (33.3% from three-point territory). It was a throwback performance of sorts, not only in creating turnovers but in creating bad shots, all keyed by the defensive presence of Tim Duncan (2 blocks, 13 rebounds in 28 minutes).
“Defensively, I noticed that they were funneling a lot of things to Tim with my penetration,” said Brandon Roy. “There are some things we think we can counter that with, but they did a good job of just trying to funnel me to Tim and staying on my hip.”
While that may have been the strategy, in terms of actual execution Roy rarely got close enough into the paint to have to be funneled into anyone, or even use the word penetration. Credit goes to Richard Jefferson, who helped hound him into nine points on 4-16 shooting, but there was a visible lack of explosiveness and purpose in every step.
Roy has been one of many sad stories circling around Portland these days, and while I wanted to avoid piling on, the difference in the player who helped sweep the season series last year was too drastic not to mention.
There will be nights when the Blazers star will look like himself, but like the Ginobili who suffered through his own leg troubles, those nights will be largely dependent on an outside shot being locked in more than usual.
That Richard Jefferson found himself on Roy for almost their entire time on the court together probably speaks to how far Roy has fallen. In times with Jefferson and designated defensive ace George Hill sharing the court, Hill split most of his time between Andre Miller, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews while the Spurs were content to leave Jefferson on an island with Roy.
Without Roy, the Blazers have precious few options in creating offense. Any concerns about defending the Blazers long front line, especially regarding DeJuan Blair, were put to rest today. While Aldridge shot a respectable 8-14 on his way to 16 points, he only ever used his considerable height advantage for 20-foot jumpers. More stat filler than impact maker.
The Spurs big men did a great job of stepping in front of easy passing lanes, preventing looks at the rim. McDyess in particular was active in his 23 minutes, nabbing three steals and hitting a few open jumpers.
In all, the quartet of Blair, Matt Bonner, Duncan, and McDyess helped negate the lone advantage holding the Blazers once-efficient offense afloat (offensive rebounding), matching the Blazers rebound for rebound at 47 apiece.
With Milwaukee coming into town on Wednesday, the San Antonio Spurs should have another opportunity to pad their field goal percentage defense. Chances are it still won’t be enough to appease their head coach.
“Absolutely not. What did they score? Like 70-something points,” said Duncan. “That’s 70-something reasons for him to complain.”