Spurs get off to quick start as Blazers stumble out of gates
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Less than two hours before his team was to take on the Spurs in Game 1 of the second round, Portland Trail Blazers head coach stood outside the visiting locker room in the AT&T Center in front of a blue step-and-repeat adorned with NBA Playoff logos. In front of that banner, Stotts debated semantics with the gathered media. The subject was getting off to a good start against San Antonio.
“What’s a quick start?” Stotts asked. “Six minutes? Eight minutes? First quarter?
“I don’t want to be down 10 in the first four minutes. The definition of a quick start I’ve always struggled with because some people, you need to get off to a quick start, whether that means the first four minutes or the first quarter. I wanna play well consistently, you don’t wanna get down big early, obviously.”
Whatever the exact timeframe of a quick start, the Blazers didn’t have it. Frankly, you could argue that Portland never really got going even after 48 minutes of game action, dropping Game 1 to the Spurs 116-92.
San Antonio didn’t jump didn’t grab that 10-point lead in the first four minutes, though they grabbed an eight-point advantage rather quickly and it was just a matter of time—about eight minutes in—before Portland was down double digits. Early on, the Spurs simply got the shots that they wanted to take, which sounds simple as I type it, but you must understand the difficulty of that in the playoffs.
The first basket of the game was a turnaround jumper from Kawhi Leonard in the post with Leonard drawing a foul as well. The second was a layup from Tim Duncan after he rebounded Leonard’s missed free throw. A pull-up jumper in space from Tony Parker gave the Spurs a six-point lead just over a minute into the game.
Offensively, the Spurs got back to the pick-and-roll heavy offense that we started to see late in their first round series against Dallas. Portland didn’t stick close enough to their assignments and those slivers of daylight quickly became acres for the Spurs. San Antonio shot 8-of-12 around the basket in the first quarter as they jumped out to a 29-16 lead after one period.
“We came out early and jumped on them,” said Duncan afterwards. “Tony was obviously great all throughout. He really started the game great for us. We moved the ball around.”
Like the offense, the defensive tone seemed to carry over from Game 7 of the last series as well. Activity was the name of the game for the Spurs. They rotated well and occupied space, not affording Portland the same opportunities that San Antonio had on the offensive end. A big result of that gameplan was deflections. The Spurs got their hands on a number of balls in the first quarter, really disrupting the Trail Blazers’ offense.
Early on, Tiago Splitter rotated on the weakside after a pick-and-roll and stole a Blazers pass going across the lane. Several possessions later, with LaMarcus Aldridge posting him up, Splitter reached in and poked away Aldridge’s dribble. And then again, rotating on the weakside Splitter intercepted a pass intended for Wesley Matthews cutting baseline for Portland. San Antonio only forced the Blazers into three turnovers in the first quarters, several deflections weren’t corralled by the Spurs or went out of bounds, but it clearly bothered Portland’s offense and prevented the Blazers from getting into a rhythm early.
“I think it was basically the game plan,” Boris Diaw said after the game. “The way we were supposed to run, the way we were supposed to fill the court and being able to be in spaces on the weak side. That was a lot of deflections.”
San Antonio held Portland to an offensive efficiency of 90.5 points per 100 possessions in Game 1. In their previous series against the Houston Rockets, the Blazers posted a 111.8 points per 100 over six games. Portland will rebound, but the Spurs defense got off to a great start in this second round.
“The first half was not what we were looking for,” Stotts said at the podium after the game. “San Antonio really came out with a lot of energy and aggressiveness. They were the more aggressive team at both ends of the floor for the whole half. I like the way we came out in the second half but we need to come out of the gates a little bit better.”
Tony Parker led all scorers on the night with 33 points—just the second time in Parker’s playoff career that he’s posted back-to-back 30-point games in the playoffs (last time was the ’08 first round)—and Leonard had 16 points. These things were not surprising. What was out of the ordinary was Aron “This Guy” Baynes coming off the bench, having played just six minutes in one appearance in the first round, to scored 10 points and pull down seven rebounds in Game 1.
And it was all through hustle.
Immediately upon entering the game, Baynes worked his way into decent offensive rebounding position for a Parker jumper. The rebound didn’t go to Baynes, but it took a couple of deflections and the loose ball landed in his arms and he laid it in. It was one of those plays that coaches try to convince you as you grow up that if you work hard, the breaks of the game will go your way just for hustling. I still have no idea if the world works that way, but I watched it go alright for Baynes, so maybe he’s on to something.
Baynes exemplified an abnormal performance on the offensive boards from the Spurs. Traditionally, San Antonio likes to get back on defense and limit transition opportunities in lieu of attacking the offensive glass. But in Game 1, Baynes had three offensive rebounds, as did Splitter and Duncan managed four. As a team, the Spurs totaled 13 offensive boards and 25 second chance points.
This is nothing new from Baynes, we’ve seen him come out of nowhere for good performances before. It’s the credo of the Spurs bench to be ready for your shot, and as Manu Ginobili only scored two points and missed all six of his shots in Game 1, Baynes turned in an excellent shift.
While the first half of Game 1 was the type of open and free-flowing display that is fun to watch, the second half was a Bataan Death March of whistles and free throws that helped a nationally-televised game with a late start end even later. The third quarter alone featured 16 foul calls and 25 free throw attempts. The second half on the whole totaled 31 fouls and 37 free throws.
So the Spurs take Game 1. Now the spotlight is on the Blazers and coach Terry Stotts to see what adjustments they make for Thursday’s contest. San Antonio clearly diced Portland’s defense, though the Blazers still have the option to throw Nico Batum on Parker, something that didn’t happen much in Game 1. Whatever the tweaks, the Blazers will need to find themselves off to a better start in Game 2. No matter what your definition of a quick start may be.