Spurs once again haunted by personal house of horrors
Tim Duncan was back and looked great, but that’s something that never appears to matter when the Spurs play in Portland. The Trail Blazers couldn’t miss last night, and San Antonio dropped its first game of the season, 115-105, on Saturday night.
The Rose Garden … er … the Moda Center … continues to be a house of horrors for the Spurs. Really, just playing Portland in general has been a nightmare for San Antonio in recent years, and last night was no different. Remember, over the last two years, this Blazers team has handed the Spurs the two worst losses in the Gregg Popovich era. Well, two of the three worst. The 30-point demolition that took place in San Antonio last year was tied for second worst (30-point loss in Miami in 2011).
LaMarcus Aldridge turns into the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki when he sees the silver and black jerseys, Damian Lillard morphs into one of the league’s best point guards (which he may actually be), and the rest of the roster can’t miss a shot. I mean, here’s a hell of a way to register a triple-double.
We don’t need to get into the “unwritten rules” of basketball, and this isn’t exactly Ricky Davis throwing it off the backboard to himself to get a triple-double, but it was enough that Nicolas Batum knew that what he did was a bit questionable. To his credit, he said all the right things, and the Spurs aren’t the kind of team that will worry about what happened. So let’s all move on, shall we? It was just something worth mentioning.
But back to the ridiculous shooting performance from Portland: those dudes couldn’t miss. And it’s to the point early in the season that something’s bound to break sometime soon for the Blazers. If you felt like they were hitting an inordinate amount of jumpers, your eyes were not deceiving you.
Portland is dead last in the NBA in percentage of team points earned in the paint. For reference, 28.2 percent of the Trail Blazers’ points have come in the paint this season. The league average is right around 41 percent, according to NBA.com’s stats page. To add to that, Portland leads the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range jump shots at 29.5 percent. The league average in that category? Around 17 percent at this early season juncture. (Houston is skewing this average with an absolutely ridiculous 5 percent of its points coming out of the mid-range area.)
So, it would be unwise to overreact to this one. Portland hit a ton of shots the Spurs defended reasonably well. The Blazers have great shooters, and Aldridge is one of the league’s best mid-range shooters, so it’s not necessarily a total fluke. Still, banking on team success by living so extremely in the mid-range is not typically a plan that will work long term.
Chalk it up to another weird night in Portland. We’ve certainly seen plenty of them before.
On the Spurs’ side of the ball, the offense struggled to get going once again. But when it finally did, it was on the backs of the Big Three and the bench, not the supporting cast in the starting lineup we’ve all been expecting to step up.
This from your friendly neighborhood Spurs beat writer:
Duncan surpassed 23 attempts just once last season. He had 25 at Denver, in that epic 31-18 game.
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) November 3, 2013
In fact, Duncan and Parker combined for 43 shots last night while the rest of the starters were fairly miserable. Danny Green and Tiago Splitter didn’t score and Kawhi Leonard hit just four shots in 26 minutes. The bench was a different story, however.
The non-starters went 24-for-37 from the floor last night, including a big game from Marco Belinelli. The Spurs’ newest acquisition hit eight of his 12 shots last night for 19 points — 15 of which came in the fourth quarter when San Antonio was hanging by a thread.
And Belinelli was awesome. He created much of his success on his own, and as he becomes more fully integrated in the system he should enjoy even more success. He’s a smart player who appears to have the skill set to thrive in a system like San Antonio’s. You can see why Gregg Popovich is so excited to have this guy on the roster. It’s early, but this signing looks promising.
But this marks three straight awful performances from Green. The Spurs’ sharpshooter is having issues getting going, but much of that is likely due to a lack of fluidity in the offense. It’s early, and Green’s game is dependent on spot-up attempts generated by a humming offensive system. He hasn’t had many good looks thus far, and that will almost certainly change as the Spurs get their rhythm back. It’s not yet time to be concerned.
The same can be said for almost any concern you have at this point in the season. Even as we look at Leonard, who had his worst performance in three games, it feels like he’s forcing things a bit at times. His usage is up (20.8 percent early in the year), but his shooting numbers are certainly down. It is important to remember, Leonard struggled early last season shooting the ball, and his role has changed heading into this season. It’s not unreasonable to expect a few growing pains.
Really, the lesson here is simple. Just be patient. It’s a marathon, not a sprint (an idiom you’ve never heard before, I know), and this team has earned the benefit of the doubt. The good news: The Big Three — yes, the old Big Three, sans Leonard — look great. As we all know, this team still depends on the Spurs’ franchise cornerstones, and they appear healthy and motivated.
Then again, there’s nothing new about that. Same old, boring story. Now it’s time for the youngsters to catch up.
Oh, and for future reference, it’s probably best to never watch the Spurs play the Trail Blazers. These matchups always seem to make us question the physics of the sport.