The (gigantic) Margin: Where a Spurs blowout means way too many bullet points

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Editor’s note: We’re doing The Margin for each of the playoff games during the Spurs’ second-round series against the Trail Blazers; and for those readers not familiar with this format, let me get you up to speed. Stolen blatantly from our friend Rob Mahoney, The Margin is a bullet point for each point in the difference in the final score. The Spurs won by 24 points, so grab a cup of coffee or two…

  • The unquestionable difference in Game 7 of the Spurs-Mavs series was the way San Antonio played defense. Gregg Popovich continued to use his bench as often as he felt comfortable, and the result was consistent pressure for the majority of 48 minutes. While the overarching narrative was the way Dallas’ defense was slowing the Spurs, it was really only in one capacity. The Mavs managed to keep the league’s best 3-point shooting team from reaching its normal volume of attempts from deep, but San Antonio still shot nearly 50 percent from the floor in the series. So while it looked a little clunky, the offense was still efficient. On Tuesday, that same defensive pressure carried over to Game 1 against Portland, only now there was no Rick Carlisle scheming to thwart Tony Parker and the Spurs. Either that, or the Spurs now know exactly how to attack it.
  • Portland was one of the few teams that employed that Dallas-esque switching scheme at times during the regular season. Terry Stotts is from the church of Carlisle, after all. But unlike the Mavs, who typically defended Parker with Shawn Marion and planted their guards on San Antonio’s shooters, the Blazers used Lillard as the primary point-of-attack defender early in the game, and Parker just murdered him with 33 points and nine assists. Teams basically have to pick their poison when they play the Spurs, and Parker has the open invite to take as many shots as he’d like for the second consecutive series while the opponent sticks to those ancillary weapons on the perimeter.
  • The Blazers, who allowed the fewest 3-point attempts per game during the regular season (tied with this Spurs in this capacity, coincidentally), afforded San Antonio only 16 such shots in Game 1. That’s a very good number. But of those 16 attempts, only half were contested – this is based on the film I watched and an interpretation of NBA.com’ player tracking rules (a shot is contested when the defender is within four feet of the shooter) – which is not a good percentage. If you leave the Spurs open, they’ll kill you. For the entire game, 37 of San Antonio’s 87 shots were uncontested, while only 24 of Portland’s 82 shots went up without a challenge, per SportVU data. The Blazers don’t force many turnovers, so they must use their youth and energy to be more active and disruptive on shooters if they want to have any chance at all. The Spurs outworked them last night, and if that becomes a trend this series could be short.
  • Hey, who the hell saw Aron Baynes being a factor last night? The Big Banger was active, physical and in the right place at the right time, and it appeared as if the Blazers had no clue that was coming. Then again, who did?
  • I mentioned in our preview of this series I thought the key or deciding statistic would be found somewhere within the Blazers’ 3-point shooting numbers. Aldridge is going to get his, and his typically amount to just two points at a time, so guarding the arc against this team would be imperative. San Antonio held Portland without a 3-pointer until the fourth quarter when the game was totally out of hand, and one of the best shooting teams in the league finished just 4-of-16 from behind the arc.
  • Portland turned the ball over 20 times while registering only nine assists. The Spurs did an amazing job covering on shooters and preventing much activity out of pick-and-rolls, holy crap.
  • At the beginning of the second quarter, Marco Belinelli set a screen ON Patty Mills. It was funny and typical of the Marco playoffs experience. That is…
  • …until the guy got hot. Belinelli went for 19 points on just nine shots, nearly catching his point total from the entire Mavs series (22). The biggest difference here was he was actually getting open. It looked like the guy we’d watched all season – cutting off the ball, floating around backside picks and flaring to the wings and top of the key. Marco looked comfortable again, and as Parker said after the game, that’s big.
  • Tiago Splitter was awesome against LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers’ star went 5-of-12 from the floor on shots directly contested by Splitter, based on Synergy video and my eye test. Splitter is playing the best basketball of his career, and all those “Tiago’s contract is a joke” jokers are now silent or have changed course. He’s been doing this for a while, but not at this level.
  • Speaking of defense, I thought Parker was fantastic after a really rough series against the Mavs. Lillard is not an easy guy to guard, and Tony was phenomenal chasing him over screens and channeling him into the desired areas of the Spurs’ defensive sets. And that ankle seems to be feeling better.
  • I wish the Blazers would’ve gone on a harmless little run at the end of the game because holy crap 24 bullet points is a lot.
  • *Takes deep breath*
  • Manu shot the ball terribly last night, but he still provided opportunities as a facilitator and by getting the ball up on the rim. Portland was a really bad defensive rebounding team throughout the regular season and gave up a ton of second-chance points all year, and while the Spurs don’t include offensive rebounding as part of their game plan – like, not at all – they were still able to capitalize in this department as Duncan, Splitter and Baynes combined for 10 of the team’s 13 offensive rebounds.
  • Despite Ginobili’s struggles, this was probably the most complete bench performance yet. The Spurs bench outscored Blazers reserves 50-17, and nine of those Portland bench points came from Will Barton, who didn’t check in until the fourth quarter. So their main reserves accounted for only eight points. Yeesh.
  • Portland was dead last in the league in terms of steals, and that’s not a great thing if you’re playing San Antonio. While they are a very good offensive-rebounding team – which plays into this as another way to accumulate extra possessions – the Spurs are an elite defensive-rebounding team and certainly get in trouble most when they give the ball away. The Blazers defense has been improving all season long, but the Spurs might just be too much.
  • Kawhi had a couple of crossover, step-back moves into jumpers that were really pretty. The shots didn’t turn out all that well, but it’s that kind of footwork we hadn’t seen much evidence of in the past. Slowly but surely, he’s become more refined.
  • As for now, Leonard has been steady. He had a few tough games in the Dallas series, but he’s shooting the ball confidently, he’s cleaning up on the glass, he’s defending well (as always) and he’s become one of the Spurs’ most lethal transition weapons. And it’s all happening within the flow of the offense.
  • I still can’t believe Aron Baynes went for 10 points and seven boards in just 15 minutes. IN THE SECOND ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS IN A CRUCIAL GAME 1.
  • It’s difficult to imagine any team beating the Spurs if they play like this, honestly. We talk about that extra gear teams can hit – while other teams do it with athleticism, San Antonio does it with depth and execution. When things are going right, this team can end a game within two quarters because of their balance on both sides of the ball.
  • One more thing on the defense: The Spurs are one of if not THE best in the league at taking away your best options and your offensive preferences. Portland is not very deep, so if Lillard and Aldridge aren’t able to get things going at the same time, it’s going to be tough to find opportunities for the rest of those players.
  • With their lack of depth in mind, I don’t know what kind of changes Portland will be able to make on the fly here. Something has to be changed, but this is no time for experimentation. This is just a guess, but I’d bet they’ll latch Wes Matthews on Parker from the get-go on Thursday. They don’t want to leave Leonard guarded by a smaller body, so he’ll likely still get Batum. But if they give Lillard the Green assignment, he’d better have his head on straight. He’s not a good defender, and you know the Spurs would run Danny around the court trying to find open looks. It’ll be interesting to see.
  • The Spurs just need to duplicate the sort of effort they showed on Tuesday if they want to keep this thing rolling. Even if the shots don’t come as easily or fall as consistently in the future, that sort of defense will give any team a chance, especially if it holds the opposing offense to just 90 points per 100 possessions as it did in Game 1.
  • Oh thank god, just one more…
  • Oh hey R.C. Buford just won NBA Executive of the Year. More on that soon.


  • jgonzaba

    Article was missing a picture of Aaron Baynes with a Bane mask. 9/10 post.

  • DorieStreet

    El Conclusion: Matthew Tynan A-
    Did not let the gargantuan task overwhelm him, though he had a few “bullets that missed their mark”.
    A few hints for future very large margins of victory if they occur (all Spurs wins, of course)….
    - Have a bullet point about each Spur who played significant minutes (you missed Diaw & Green)
    - Make a point about the fans in attendance (on other blogs there were a few Blazers fans that took
    issue with the AT&T crowd shouting “refs suck” while the team was up 20 points)
    - And speaking of the game officials—–put in a bullet on how the crew called the game ( good, bad, ugly, piss-poor…..)
    Great ending with the final bullet point.

  • Tim

    What are you a literary critic, Dorie? What a pedantic post. Good stuff, Tynan :)

  • DorieStreet

    Hey Tim—I awarded him an A-!!!.
    A few of his bullets pointed (pun intended) to him running out of observations to use.
    Just trying to help him out. :)