In the first 15 minutes of the game, the Spurs looked like a well oiled machine. The defense was active, the offensive execution was precise and the chemistry was undeniable. But then the wheels of the machine came off and the Blazers dominated the rest of the contest on their was to a 95-86 victory.
The Spurs were able to get out to a 39-20 lead in the beginning of the second quarter by using one basic strategy: attack Greg Oden. When San Antonio had the ball, all they did was run pick-and-rolls with the big who Oden was defending. The result was either an open jumper or a clear path to the basket literally every time down the court.
However, the Blazers adjusted by going to a zone defense and the Spurs never recovered. The open looks disappeared and combined with an elevation of energy from Portland, doom was spelled for San Antonio. In the final 33 minutes of the game, the Spurs were only able to score 44 points.
Though the loss wasn't too surprising considering that the Spurs are without Manu Ginobili and the team was playing on the second night of a back-to-back, it definitely was painful in terms of the Western Conference standings. The Spurs now face the very real possibility of beginning the postseason on the road.
-Tim Duncan begged Pop to play. In retrospect, the right decision would have been to sit him. Duncan looked decent early on but he looked progressively worse as the game went along. After being reinserted into the game in the fourth quarter, Duncan moved so slowly and so uncomfortably to a loose ball that I saw the team's championship era flash before my eyes. Apparently Pop saw the same thing and quickly benched Duncan for the rest of the game. At this point, Duncan isn't anywhere near healthy enough for the Spurs to have hopes of winning two playoff games -- much less two playoff series.
-Tony Parker played well to begin the game but then just totally ran out of gas. By the end of the night, he was cramping up. I thought his effort was commendable even though he didn't produce at an overly high level. Like the rest of his game, his defense started strong and then faded as the contest progressed. If Parker is wearing down too, that would be the final nail.
-His statistics aren't amazing but I like what I'm seeing out of Roger Mason, Jr. He's being very aggressive with his offense and seems to realize that the Spurs need him to constantly look for his shots. Defensively, I thought this was a step in the right direction. His ability to chase when going around screens was much better than usual and his attentiveness on defense was good to see. Perhaps most importantly, Mason played decently well as the backup point guard for the second straight game.
-Michael Finley wasn't a part of the problem on this night. He defended adequately well and gave great effort on the offensive end. He ran the court hard and even cut to the basket a few times. The Spurs really need one of Finley's hot streaks right now if they have any hope of surviving without Ginobili and with a hobbled Duncan.
-Matt Bonner was a little bit better. His rebounding was still sub par but he at least was active on the glass. He also helped out on the offensive end with both his shooting and his movement off the dribble. Going forward, the improvement he's made this season in being able to put the ball on the floor makes him a much more complete offensive player. Now if only he could rebound . . .
-Ime Udoka led the bench in minutes and I'm still trying to figure out why. Perhaps Pop was being nice in letting Udoka go up against his hometown team. He had one stretch where his defense against Travis Outlaw was very good but outside of those few minutes, Udoka was mostly a liability. He was much too impatient on the offensive end and his defense wasn't too heady.
-Drew Gooden followed up his best game as a member of the Spurs with perhaps his worst game. He played well early and had a few nice moves but he totally lost his confidence by the end of the game. He started forcing shots even more than usual and was continually out of position defensively. I'm not sure if he's taking lessons from Bonner but Gooden's rebounding has been horrible as of late. There was at least a half dozen times where his man leaped over him for a rebound. No defensive rebounds and only one total rebound in 20 minutes simply will not get it done. In his last 117 minutes, he only has 16 rebounds. To begin his Spurs career, he had 16 rebounds in his first 40 minutes.
-Kurt Thomas provided his usual good effort. He got into a bit of foul trouble which ended up limiting his aggressiveness. Thomas also struggled at times trying to keep up with the young athletes on Portland. And as can be expected, he doesn't look too comfortable in this current four-man bigman rotation.
-Pop once again went with Bruce Bowen earlier on and Bowen responded with some very good defense to begin the night. But then he seemed to get out of rhythm on the defensive end and started trying to do too much and ended up hurting the team. Hopefully Bowen can find his role and his rhythm before the playoffs begin.
-George Hill played eight minutes but didn't do much of anything. He got a late garbage bucket and that about sums up what he did on the night. He couldn't have been more invisible if he tried.
-Marcus Williams, San Antonio's former second round pick who they signed earlier in the day, played the last few minutes and I was actually impressed compared to what I've previously seen out of him. His jumper is still ugly but his elbow seems to be more under the ball now and as a result his hitch isn't as noticeable. He also had some rotation on the ball on his two buckets, which was a big improvement over the knuckleballs he previously shot. Defensively, he looked a little bit quicker and not as lead-footed. Granted, it was a short glimpse but the signs of improvement were obvious.
-There wasn't much Pop could have done on this night. Duncan and Parker had nothing in the final three quarters and the Blazers were playing very well. I thought sitting Duncan when he did in the fourth quarter was the correct move. I also liked that he gave Mason extended minutes. My one point of contention with Pop on the night was his use of Udoka. When Udoka isn't playing under control, it's best for everyone involved if he takes a seat on the bench.
Next up is a Friday match against the Utah Jazz. Not only do the Spurs need a win, they need Duncan to show signs that he's healing and Parker to show signs that he has enough gas in the tank to make a final push.