Grades: Spurs @ Blazers – Game #57

The Spurs dropped to 0-3 on the 2019 Rodeo Road Trip after a roller coaster performance in Portland. When the ride stopped, the Blazers had handed the Spurs a 127-118 defeat.

In the first quarter, the offense was clicking and San Antonio was able to lead by three points, 34-31, at the end of the period. Unfortunately, things fell apart in the second quarter. The defense was horrendous, the offense started turning the ball over and the Spurs got outscored 39-23.

The deficit for the Spurs grew to 21 points with 7:45 remaining in the third quarter. That’s when the roller coaster headed straight up. In a span of a little over five minutes, San Antonio outscored Portland 25-4 to tie the game, 88-88. During that explosion, the Spurs got 16 points from Rudy Gay on 6-for-6 shooting from the field, including 4-for-4 from three-point range.

That run turned out to be short-lived. The Blazers responded with a 20-9 spurt of their own to go up 108-97 with 7:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Spurs never regained any sort of momentum as the home team coasted to victory.

What’s most to blame for the third straight Spurs loss? Offensively, the NBA’s least turnover prone team turned the ball over too much. But by far the leading cause was the pitiful defense. San Antonio was just terrible in half court defense. Portland got clean look after clean look even when running the most basic of sets. That’s a recipe for a road loss, particularly against a team that entered the game with a 22-8 home record. 

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t follow the gameplan that has been so very successful for him the last couple months. Instead of establishing himself in the low block and then using his fadeaways and jumpers as counter moves, he tried to do it the other way around … and it was ugly. He was hitting shots from the perimeter early on but when those shots dried up, Aldridge tried to go to the post and had a very difficult time of it. He was turning the ball over, wasn’t passing enough and then missed a few chippies. After scoring 13 points in the first quarter on 5-for-8 shooting, he scored four points the rest of the way on 2-for-11 shooting. Defensively, Aldridge was mostly going through the motions and offered little help of any kind. 
Grade: C-
Summary: Aldridge played the wrong way. 

DeMar DeRozan

With Derrick White out with injury, DeMar DeRozan was the de facto point guard. He handled the ball a ton and wasn’t bashful about calling his own number. Scoring-wise, I can’t complain. DeRozan poured in 35 points by hitting half of his 28 field goal attempts and got the line eight times. However, though he scored well, he did nothing else nearly as well. DeRozan’s playmaking was iffy at best, as that aspect of his night was marred by five turnover. It would have been helpful if he passed the ball more often and didn’t try to single-handedly carry the team to victory. Noble thought; didn’t work. Defensively, his intensity was lacking and he was giving up way too much airspace in just about every situation. 
Grade: B
Summary: DeRozan put points on the board but didn’t do much else. 

Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay’s third quarter burst that saw him score 16 points in five minutes on 4-for-4 shooting on three-pointers got the Spurs back in the game. On the night, he was bright spot offensively. He efficiently put up 25 points, while hitting a season-high (and tying a career-high) five three-pointers. The lone critique I have about his offense was the loose ballhandling that led to four turnovers. Defensively, Gay was bad. He looked really slow on that end — he couldn’t stop anything on the perimeter and, to make matters worse, got pushed around in the paint. 
Grade: B+
Summary: Gay got the Spurs back in it was a three-point barrage. 

Bryn Forbes

Offensively, I have no complaints with Bryn Forbes. He took smart shots, shot it straight and was a constant threat. Defense was a different story. Forbes, predictably, couldn’t deal with the Blazers star backcourt at all … and his playing time suffered as a result. There was just no way to hide him on this night. 
Grade: B-
Summary: Forbes helped on offense but gave it all back on the other end. 

Davis Bertans

Davis Bertans, who shifted into the starting lineup with White sidelined, scored only two points in his 24 minutes. Truthfully, his minuscule offensive production wasn’t his fault. He was barely getting any touches at all. With DeRozan looking to score and no other playmaker in the starting lineup, Bertans was left to observe from the perimeter. Defensively, his rebounding was better than usual but everything else was lacking. He wasn’t physical enough, wasn’t picking up his man quickly enough in transition and offered limited help. 
Grade: C
Summary: Bertans was a forgotten man. 

Patty Mills

Patty Mills’ shot-selection from downtown was questionable a couple times but otherwise he was a plus on the offensive end. He was the team’s best and most efficient playmaker, as evident by his eight assists and zero turnovers. Defensively, while I thought Mills exhibited good enough effort, the results were lacking — to put it kindly. The Blazers had no problem shooting over him or getting by him. 
Grade: B+
Summary: Mills helped on O, didn’t help on D. 

Marco Belinelli

Offensively, Marco Belinelli was okay. I liked his aggressiveness, even if he could have passed it better. He was confident on that end and limited his mistakes, which was helpful considering the carelessness of the starting lineup. Defensively, Belinelli was straight up putrid. He got beat every way possible: off the dribble, off back cuts, in transition, dying on screens, not helping, etc. The Spurs found it almost impossible to get a stop when Belinelli was on the court. 
Grade: C
Summary: Belinelli’s bad defense overshadowed everything else. 

Dante Cunningham

Pretty good. I thought Dante Cunningham was the team’s best defender tonight. (I don’t think I’ve typed that sentence this season.) He was attentive, didn’t back down from physicality and swarmed to the ball to offer timely help. Offensively, he successfully stayed out of the way and knocked down the one open look he had. If Cunningham can play like this, he’s a useful depth piece. 
Grade: A-
Summary: Cunningham came to play. 

Jakob Poeltl

The good: Jakob Poeltl cut to the basket hard, finished around the rim and was effective on the offensive glass. His decision-making offensively was swift and accurate. He was better than usual on the defensive glass. The bad: Poeltl protection of the rim was really poor. He failed to rotate a few times and just watched Blazers score at the rim at other times. The Spurs can’t afford to have a sieve at backup center with all their other defensive problems. 
Grade: B-
Summary: Poeltl was fine everywhere but defending the rim on defense. 

Pop

I can’t find much blame for Pop. He stuck with a single backup center, which was an improvement. He played DeRozan and Aldridge reasonable amount of minutes. He pulled the plug on the worst defenders. Perhaps more minutes for Bertans could have helped but he wasn’t touching the ball so his value was limited. 
Grade: B+
Summary: Pop did just about all he could.

Looking ahead: The Rodeo Road Trip doesn’t get any easier, as the Spurs next head to Salt Lake City for a game on Saturday. Beating the Jazz will be difficult but the Spurs should be motivated to put an end to their three-game losing streak. If the Spurs can take the good stretches from tonight and up their defensive intensity and focus about five notches, they have a chance to stop the tailspin.

LJ Ellis