Same story, different verse: Spurs lay another beat-down on Blazers
The Trail Blazers' mission now is simple: Tread on territory never before traveled in the NBA.
In the 68 years of the Association, no team has ever come from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
That's where the Blazers stand after San Antonio laid them to waste for the third straight game with a 118-103 thumping Saturday night at the Moda Center.
Should Portland beat the Spurs four straight times and rule their Western Conference semifinal series, it would be beyond shock-the-world material.
Custer had a better chance at Little Bighorn, it would seem, than the Blazers after their third straight unceremonial whipping by the defending West champions.
The Spurs' blueprint for all three victories has been the same:
Jump in front early, extend the lead with a big second quarter, survive any second-half runs and win going away.
"In some ways, this one was very similar to Games 1 and 2," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We get down big in the first half, play hard and compete in the second half, but the hole is too big. It's disappointing to have a game like this."
San Antonio's dominance thus far in the series has been complete. Portland has led for 33 seconds in the three games -- for 17 seconds in Game 2, for 16 seconds Saturday night -- and never after the first quarter.
Since steamrolling Dallas 116-93 in the deciding game of their first-round series, the Spurs have looked close to unbeatable.
"This is well as I've seen them play all season," Stotts said. "They came out of the gate in Game 7 against Dallas, and they haven't stopped since."
The older, more experienced Spurs have provided several lessons by which the Blazers might learn from in seasons hence.
"The biggest thing we have to understand about this team is they never stop playing," said Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, who had good numbers (21 points, 12 rebounds) but another hollow performance. "You guard their first option, they go to the second. You stop the second, they go to the third.
"They're persistent and they're not going to change. They're going to run their stuff over and over, and once you mess up, they're going to make you pay. Tonight they did that. They play championship basketball. It's what we have to get to."
Tony Parker was, as in San Antonio's 116-92 romp in the opener, the best player on the floor Saturday night. It was especially true in the first half, when the Spurs' veteran point guard -- who turns 32 next Saturday -- scored 20 of his 29 points and established his team's dominance.
"Tony has been the engine for us," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "He started out really well tonight. He made shots, he involved everybody else, he played great 'D.' He is playing a complete game."
Parker, averaging 26.0 points and 8.3 assists while shooting .524 in the series, took 14 games off during the regular season at Popovich's behest.
"I've played a lot of basketball the last four or five years," said Parker, the reference to his time with the French national team in addition to the Spurs. "So Pop messed with me. He thought I needed a rest down the stretch.
"You have to give him credit. He looked at the big picture and rested me. When we started the playoffs, he told me to be ready to play 37-38 minutes that I needed me to be at my best. So far, it's working."
San Antonio shot .558 and held Portland to .375 in mounting a 60-40 halftime lead. Through the series, the Spurs have ruled the second quarter 109-70 and the first half by a whopping 195-130 -- an average of 65 points over the first 24 minutes.
"We've scored well," Popovich understated. "For the most part, we've taken good shots. We haven't turned it over inordinately. It's been pretty good. We'll look at (game video) and see all kinds of things we could have done better. Every game is like that. But overall, the offense has been pretty good."
Portland has won all three second halves. That's as meaningful as an assembly-line handshake with the president.
The Blazers' big guns, Aldridge and Damian Lillard, have been firing too many blanks. Aldridge was 9 for 23 from the field, Lillard only 7 for 21 -- including 0 for 6 from 3-point range. The Blazers' All-Star point guard had 21 points and nine assists and was 7 for 7 from the line, but it wasn't the kind of game the team needed from him.
Aldridge is averaging 23.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in the series but shooting only .380 from th field. Lillard's averages -- 19.0 points, 5.7 assists while shooting .375 from the field and .077 (1 for 13) from 3-point range -- are far below what Portland needs to be competitive in this series.
Even with its team down 0-2, the Moda Center crowd was alive and ready to rock Saturday night. Things got loud when the Blazers made a couple of second-half forays -- a 17-4 run to draw within 64-57 in the third quarter, a 10-0 spurt to cut the Spurs lead to 103-91 with 5:46 to play. San Antonio always found a way to keep the upper hand.
"Teams are going to make runs," Popovich said. "The only thing worse than a 20-point lead at half is being down a lot. It's hard to keep a lead in the NBA. They came after us, we made some errors defensively, they made some shots. and all of a sudden it's a (seven-point) difference. But that's the nature of the beast with the 24-second clock."
Stotts rued another opportunity missed.
"The crowd was great," Stotts said. "We made it interesting in the second half. But if you put your guard down, the Spurs take advantage of it. They're good because they have a lot of options. Everybody's a threat, and when the opportunities are there, they take advantage of them.
"It's frustrating, but you have to play through the frustration. It's part of the playoffs. We're playing a championship-caliber team. You have to play through that. You look at the scoreboard and you're down 20, and it's a hole."
The Blazers are now in a Grand Canyon-sized crevace in this series. Monday night's Game 4 could be the end to a promising and largely successful season. If they are to win and extend the series, they'll have to do a better job defending the Spurs, who are shooting .508 from the field, .456 from 3-point range and averaging 116.0 points -- 65 in the first half.
"We have to guard their team for the whole shot clock," Aldridge said. "They don't stop playing."
And the Blazers will have to kick it up a notch on offense, where they're shooting .413 from the field and averaging 97.3 points per contest.
"We haven't played well offensively yet," Aldridge said. "We're still waiting to be ourselves."
Popovich has the Spurs at the top of their game right now.
"He has done a great job of getting them to understand their level of play from regular season to postseason has to be 10 times better," Aldridge said. "Every guy who comes onto the floor understands what he has to do. There's no confusion. If you don't understand, you don't play."
Parker doesn't expect things to be easy Monday night.
"Close-out is always the hardest game," he said. "Our team is ready. We know Portland is going to come out and play with a lot of motivation. (The Blazers) have nothing to lose. I'm sure they want to win a game in front of their home crowd. We're going to have to match their energy. It would be great to get it and get a rest."
Stotts is determined to put off the Spurs' rest period.
"We're going to come out and have a great effort on Monday night," he said. "That's the most important thing. We're going to show our character. We're going to show our pride. We're going to play our asses off."
NOTES: Four Blazers scored 20 or more points in a playoff game for the first time since 1992. Wesley Matthews led the way with 22 points, followed by Aldridge and Lillard with 21 apiece and Batum with 20. Batum had his second strong shooting game, making 8 of 13 shots from the field and 4 of 7 from the line. He also had nine rebounds and seven assists in his 44 minutes. Batum spent much of the second half guarding Parker, his French countryman, who had only nine points after intermission. "Most likely he'll start on Parker on Monday," Stotts said. Said Parker: "Nico knows my game. We play together every summer. He tries to put pressure. He did a good job tonight. I expect him to maybe start on me next game." San Antonio set a franchise playoff record by going 25 for 25 from the free-throw line. It was the first time the Spurs have ever not missed a foul shot in a postseason game. "That's not going to happen again," Parker said. "We're one of the worst free-throw shooting teams." Actually, no. Portland was No. 1 in the NBA in the regular season at .815, San Antonio No. 4 at .785.
With Mo Williams sitting out because of a groin injury, Portland's bench was outscored 40-6. For the series, San Antonio's reserves are outscoring their Blazer counterparts 140-43. In the first half, Portland had 10 turnovers, San Antonio one. "That's an aberration," Popovich said. "One turnover in a half is pretty amazing for us." The Spurs scored 17 points off the Blazers' first-half giveaways. Popovich was asked if he felt the Spurs are peaking. "I have no idea," he said. "I don't even think about things like that. (The Spurs) are playing at whatever level they are playing. They can play worse; they can play better." Portland went into the game having won eight of the last nine games at home against the Spurs. "We always have a hard time against them here, for whatever reason," Parker said. "They're the team that has beaten us the most since 2008." Parker, on defending Lillard: "I just try to do my best, try to contain him, to make it hard on him, make him take tough shots. I'm used to those battles. I love it. It's a great challenge. Reminds me of playing against Steve Nash and Chris Paul."
Popovich, pregame on how much homecourt advantage helps in the playoffs: "I don't know, and neither does anybody else. There's no way you can calculate that emperically. But you wouldn't give it away. If you get homecourt, you're glad, but in some ways, it's pressure. You play at home, you feel kind of a weird pressure. I don't know how Portland feels about that, but it's gone both ways for us. We've won home games; we've lost home games, but there is some pressure with that." Before Thursday's Game 2 at the AT&T Center, Blazers F Thomas Robinson found a snake in his locker. Did the Spurs find any animals in their locker room at the Moda Center before tonight's game? "No," Popovich said, "but we were expecting a beaver." Aldridge (21 points, 12 rebounds) is the first Blazer with four straight double-doubles in a playoff series since Clyde Drexler in 1992. Lillard is the first player with 200-plus points, 50-plus rebounds and 50-plus assists in his first nine career playoff games since Cleveland's LeBron James in 2006.