'24 Minutes of Le Spurs' sink Blazers
SAN ANTONIO Through March and early April, when the San Antonio Spurs were in the throes of a 19-game win streak, they were as close to unbeatable as it gets in the NBA.
That's the way the Spurs looked in the first half Thursday night at the AT&T Center.
With 70 points -- 41 in the second quarter -- they put the Trail Blazers on the critical list early again, then struck the fatal blow late in a 114-97 victory to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal playoff series.
What a show it was in the first half.
San Antonio ran an offensive clinic, displaying the crispness, precision and stamina of a winning Alfa Romeo at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Call it the "24 Minutes of Le Spurs."
The Spurs shot .577 from the field, sank 7 of 10 shots from 3-point range, had 19 assists on 30 baskets, scored 17 fast-break points and made only three turnovers leading to zero Portland points.
Even with Tony Parker starting the game 1 for 8 from the field, the Spurs put a 70-spot on the Blazers and matched the Portland franchise record for most points yielded in the second quarter of a playoff game.
Gregg Popovich was pleased but in no mood to gloat about it afterward.
"Sometimes you score a bunch of points, sometimes you don't," San Antonio's coach of the year said. "We moved the ball. We played with each other. We kept a good pace. We play better with pace rather than just walking it up. We did that pretty well."
Portland stayed close early, despite making 2 of its first 13 shots, same as in Game 1. San Antonio led only 29-26 after the first quarter, and the margin was 31-30 when the Spurs turned it on with a splashy 21-4 run. Suddenly, the Spurs' advantage was 52-34 with 7 1/2 minutes still left in the quarter.
"The onslaught at the beginning of the second quarter was the turning point," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "It happened pretty quickly."
The first-half fizzle brought back memories of Tuesday's series opener, when the Spurs spurted to leads of 29-16 after one quarter and 65-39 at halftime.
"We got off to a good start compared to last game," said Portland's Nicolas Batum, who collected 21 points and nine rebound in his 44 minutes. "But the first five minutes of the second quarter, we let them do whatever they wanted. We didn't stop them. They made 3's, got offensive rebounds the crowd got into it, and it was tough to get back into the game after that."
The Blazers, who trailed 70-51 at the break, did get back into it, though.
The Spurs played tentatively at the offensive end in the third quarter, scoring only 17 points, but the Blazers managed only 20, entering the final period behind 87-71.
Portland gradually trimmed the deficit. When Batum converted a lob pass from Wesley Matthews at the rim, San Antonio's lead was 95-86. Moments later, Batum's 3-pointer cut the margin to 99-91 with still 5:37 on the clock, and the Spurs faithful among the sellout crowd of 18,581 stirred uneasily.
Then San Antonio's Boris Diaw, who has been big in both games of the series so far, answered with a 3 to increase the spread to 102-91. That kicked off a 13-2 run that stashed the game into the win column for the defending Western Conference champions.
"We were good in spots, but we weren't close to playing our best game," Stotts said. "We were good in the first quarter and for a long period of the second half. But that second quarter, the lead just ballooned. You get down like that and you're fighting an uphill battle."
The Blazers were better offensively than they were in the opener, but only Batum (9 for 13 from the field, 3 for 5 from 3-point range) was really in sync. Damian Lillard (19 points, five rebounds, five assists) was 8 for 20 from the field and 1 for 6 on 3-point attempts. LaMarcus Aldridge struggled through a terrible shooting night (6 for 23), finishing with 16 points and 10 boards.
San Antonio again used Parker on Lillard and 6-11 center Tiago Splitter on Aldridge, getting plenty of help in the Spurs' one-for-all, all-for-one defensive system.
"The guys guarding (Lillard and Aldridge) did the best job they could," Popovich said. "You just try to make them work hard. We did that. They didn't make shots. Part of it was the defense, but they also had open shots they just missed."
Seven Spurs scored in double figures, led by small forward Kawhi Leonard, who knocked down 8 of 9 shots from the field -- 4 of 4 on treys -- and had 20 points and five rebounds in only 28 minutes.
"Kawhi has just gotten better as each month has rolled along," Popovich said. "He looks confident. That's the way we want him. He has a nice touch. He enjoys playing defense. He hits the boards for us. He's a darn good all-around player."
Sometimes, Leonard has deferred to Spurs' veterans Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili at the offensive end.
"We tell him to be more aggressive," Parker said. "We say, 'Don't worry about us. We'll find our stuff.' It was the same thing for me and Manu when we first arrived (at San Antonio). They had Timmy and David (Robinson) and Steve Smith, and they were pushing us to be more aggressive."
Parker couldn't hit his shot early but made 7 of his last 11 attempts to finish 8 for 19 from the field. He had 16 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in his 38 minutes, serving more as a distributor, especially in the first half.
"That's his job, and he did it well," Popovich said. "He directs things for us out there, like any point guard is supposed to. Though his shot wasn't falling, he stayed aggressive, he stayed in the game, he found teammates and did a good job defensively."
Portland went most of the way with the 6-5 Matthews defending Parker, picking him up in backcourt and crowding him at every opportunity.
"Matthews is a great defender," Parker said. "He plays physical. He's going to make me work hard. But I had some good looks. Kawhi was shooting great. The whole team was playing great. The ball movement was great. I didn't want to force it. I was just trying to be patient, trying to find my teammates."
San Antonio's bench was superb, scoring 50 points for the second straight game. The Spurs reserves have outscored their Portland counterparts 100-37 in the series. Ginobili, who was 0 for 6 in the opener, was only 7 for 18 from the field but contributed 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. Diaw, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills combined for 32 points on 12-for-14 shooting, including 4 for 5 from 3-point range, off the bench.
"We'd not have this homecourt advantage if not for the play of those guys," Popovich said. "They've done a wonderful job all season long, and they're continuing to do it."
The series returns to Portland for the next two games, starting Saturday night at the Moda Center.
"It's going to be even harder," Parker said. "We did our job. We won the first two at home. A playoff series starts when you win one on the road.
"We'll be playing in one of the NBA's toughest arenas. (The Blazers) play very well at home. They have a great crowd. We have to play the same kind of defense we've played these first two games. We want to get one in Portland."
The Blazers now must win four of five, including at least one in San Antonio. It starts with getting the first one Saturday night at the Moda Center.
"We have a bunch of competitors," Stotts said. "They want to win. They know we can play better.
"It's frustrating to lose, to get blown out in Game 1 and not quite have enough in Game 2. But I know we'll be ready for Game 3."