'One of those nights' as Spurs dismantle Blazers, draw first blood
SAN ANTONIO So it's not going to be a Trail Blazers' sweep.
San Antonio made that clear from the opening tip to the final horn Tuesday night, laying a 116-92 overhand to Portland's kisser in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series at the AT&T Center.
"It was one of those nights," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, speaking for both sides.
For the Spurs, it was a game for the ages, with Tony Parker taking up where he left off in Game 7 of the Dallas series with a sparkling 33-point performance, and his teammates ably filling supporting roles around him.
"It was a combination of things," Popovich said. "We played very well, and (the Blazers) had a bad night. When that happens, you have a disparity."
Portland started the game shooting 0 for 6, 2 for 13 and 3 for 20. By that time, San Antonio's lead was 24-9. The margin was 65-39 at the half, with the Spurs shooting .600 and owning the boards 28-19 and the Blazers shooting .333, including 0 for 5 from 3-point range.
"The first half was not what we were looking for," Portland coach Terry Stotts understated. The Spurs "were the more aggressive team at both ends of the floor."
By the time the Spurs had extended the difference to 75-46 with 7:15 left in the third quarter, TV sets were being turned off throughout the country, or switched over to "Parenthood."
"It was, 'Welcome to San Antonio,' " said Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds -- monster numbers, but misleading on a night when none of the Blazers were top shelf.
Manu Ginobili and Danny Green combined to go 0 for 9, Tim Duncan played only 24 minutes and San Antonio still handed Portland its next-to-worst loss of the entire season. Only the 124-94 humiliation at Charlotte on March 22 was worse.
"That's as well as I've seen San Antonio play," Stotts said. The Spurs "were certainly ready."
The Spurs were coming off a challenging seven-game series against the Mavericks, Parker scoring 24 of his 32 points in the first half of Sunday's deciding game. The Blazers had three days rest after wrapping up their six-game series with Houston on Friday, but the Spurs came out with far more energy to start Tuesday night's contest.
"Game 7 gave a lot of confidence to our team," Parker said. "We played our best game of the series team-wise. Tonight, we did a little of the same thing."
"They did what a championship teams do," Aldridge said. "They set the tone early. Most of the guys on our team haven't even been in the second round. (The Spurs) have been here. They've won championships. They let us now how it's going to be."
San Antonio didn't win 62 games and post the best record in the West using mirrors. On Tuesday night, with a sellout crowd of 18,581 whooping it up, the Spurs ran their offense well and shot superbly -- .506 from the field, including 7 for 16 on 3-point shots, and 21 for 25 from the foul line.
Parker was the catalyst, getting to the basket almost at will while making 13 of 24 shots from the field and 6 of 7 from the line. He scored 13 points in the first quarter, nearly matching the output of the entire Portland team (16), and dished out nine assists, equalling the Blazers' total for the game. In the second half, AT&T Center denizens were chanting "M-V-P!" with Parker at the charity stripe.
"He had a Tony Parker game," Stotts said. "He got to the paint. He set the tone early. He is probably their most important player -- that's probably an understatement. With their offense, the ball is in his hands a lot. He creates a lot of problems, and everybody feeds off of that."
"Tony has been doing that for a lot of years," Popovich said. "It's nothing different. He is our attack guy. He creates for everybody and starts the offense going. He has played very good defense this year, this year, too. Most people don't see that."
Parker did a nice job on Damian Lillard, helping hold Portland's All-Star point guard to 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting. Lillard had twice as many turnovers (six) as assists in his 37 minutes.
Popovich cross-matched his defensive assignments, using center Tiago Splitter on Aldridge, Duncan on Portland center Robin Lopez, shooting guard Green on Nicolas Batum and small forward Kawhi Leonard on Wesley Matthews. The Spurs bottled up the middle and kept the Blazers off the 3-point line, winning the battle in both second-chance points (25-15) and fast-break points (16-7).
Portland ended up shooting .378 from the field, including 4 for 16 from 3-point range. The Blazers missed their first nine 3-point attempts and didn't make one until reserve Will Barton knocked one down early in the final period.
"I credit San Antonio's defense on a whole," Stotts said. The Spurs "made our catches difficult. T hey trapped Damian's pick-and-rolls. They were very aggressive. We had a hard time getting clean catches and clean shots."
"They're a tough team to guard," Popovich said. "They have a lot of talent, a lot of length. Terry runs great sets. It's hard to keep up. With all that, we did a pretty good job."
Aldridge finished 12 for 25 from the field, but he was 1 for 5 in the first quarter and 6 for 17 in the first half, facing big bodies in Splitter, Duncan and Aron Baynes all along the way.
"We talked about trying to get LaMarcus a little tired, make him work," Parker said. "He's unbelievable. He had an unbelievable series against Houston. We want to keep him working and get him tired, because he's like a machine."
San Antonio's bench outscored its Portland counterparts 50-18, but it was worse than that, really. Through three quarters, when it really mattered, the disparity was 37-9. The Spurs' reserves combined to make 10 of 14 shots before intermission.
"Their bench did a tremendous job in the first half," Stotts said. "They came in and made an impact. More than anything else, it allows them to rest their guys, but they were really good tonight."
"They've been good off the bench all year," Aldridge said. "Their system is pretty big-time, where they plug in guys all the time. Any guy on the team can score."
Best thing about the opener from Portland's standpoint is it's only one game in a seven-game series. Both teams emphasized that during post-game interview sessions as they looked ahead to Thursday night's matchup here.
The Blazers "will play a whole lot better in Game 2," Popovich predicted.
"Game 1 is Game 1," Parker said. "We have to forget about it now. Game 2 is going to be totally different. It's going to be very hard. (The Blazers) are going to come out with a lot of energy and try to give everything they got. We're going to have match that."
The Spurs "took care of homecourt tonight," Aldridge said. "Every guy on our team will watch (video) and learn from it and come back better for it. We're not demoralized. It's about learning how to play here. Every series is different. (The Spurs) did what they should have done."
The Spurs certainly should have won the opener on their homecourt. The kind of domination they displayed in getting that done, though, gives pause to those hopeful of a Trail Blazer upset in the series.