SAN ANTONIO -- Notes, quotes and observations from San Antonio's 116-92 win over Portland Tuesday night at the AT&T Center to open their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series
Tony Parker, who scored a game-33 points, was asked if he steps up his game when facing point guards getting notoriety around the NBA, such as Portland's Damian Lillard.
"I respect everybody," he said. "Lillard is a top-five point guard in the NBA. I know he's going to come back and have a very strong next game. He'll be very motivated."
Parker considers himself a top-five guard. Right?
"I just try to be Pop's favorite point guard," Parker cracked, the reference to coach Gregg Popovich.
Popovich does a better job than any coach in the league in keeping his starters' minutes down throughout the regular season. Parker skipped 14 games to rest and averaged 29.4 minutes -- high on the team.
"I barely played in April," Parker said. "Pop rested me so much in games, I was joking, 'Am I still with the Spurs?' I feel great right now."
Portland coach Terry Stotts used Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum to defend Parker at various times during the opener.
"I'm used to that," Parker said. "Through my whole career in the playoffs, (opponents) have put a bigger guy on me. I don't know what they're going to do (Thursday night). If they double me, I'll pass to Timmy (Duncan) or Manu (Ginobili). You have to trust your teammates.
"It's going to be a chess match. They'll try different strategies. It's a long series."
Parker had nine assists in the opener. Portland's entire team had nine assists.
"Nine assists is not our style of basketball," Stotts said.
The Trail Blazer players could be forgiven if they were asking themselves during Tuesday's game, "Who is Aron Baynes?"
Baynes, a 6-10 second-year center/forward out of Washington State, played six minutes in one game of the Spurs' seven-game first-round series against Dallas. He averaged 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds during the regular season.
Yet it was Baynes who contributed eight points on 4-for-4 shooting and five rebounds in helping stake San Antonio to an almost insurmountable 65-39 halftime lead. He finished 5 for 7 from the field, collecting 10 points and seven boards in 15 minutes off the bench.
"Aron was a monster," Parker said. "He played great tonight."
"We wanted another 'big' in there," Popovich said. "We didn't want to have overplay Tiago (Splitter), Boris (Diaw) and Timmy. It gives them a little bit of a break. (Baynes) fit better against (the Blazers) than he did against Dallas. We get some good minutes from him tonight."
"Baynes made a lot of hustle plays we can't let happen," Stotts said.
Did the Portland players know who Baynes was?
"Every player is a factor in the playoffs," Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge said. "Coach (Stotts) said guys who might not play in one series might have a key role in another. We just let (Baynes) be too comfortable tonight. We're going to try to change that" Thursday.
The Spurs got solid performances from starters Kawhi Leonard (16 points, nine rebounds, four steals) and Duncan (12 points, 11 boards, two blocks in 24 minutes). But it was the bench that really shined, reserves combining for 50 points despite Ginobili going 0 for 6 from the field.
Marco Belinelli was one of the game's stars, sinking 7 of 9 shots from the field while scoring 19 points in 28 minutes. Belinelli had been a bust in San Antonio's seven-game first-round series against Dallas, averaging only 3.1 points on 9-for-24 shooting.
"I made a conscious effort to find Marco," Parker said. "I was trying to call his number and look for him a lot. Half of my (nine) assists were to Marco. He and Baynes were huge tonight. We're going to need that through the series."
The Spurs played excellent defense through much of Tuesday's game.
"They know where we want to go, and they deny guys on certain sets, force guys to the weak hand," Aldridge said. "They do what good teams do."
But the Blazers helped out by missing at least a half-dozen layups in the early going.
"We missed some easy ones early that put us out of sorts," Stotts said. "Our offense never got untracked, and that led to some defensive breakdowns and frustration. We were pressing from that point."
Stotts, temporarily looking at the glass as half-full, spoke of Portland's improved play in the second half, in which the Blazers outscored the Spurs 53-50. He qualified the statement, though.
"I liked the way we came out in the second half, but we need to come out of the gates better," the second-year Portland coach said. "Wes did a good job on Parker. We came back with a better focus, more aggressiveness. But when you're down 20 the whole second half, sometimes it's hard to judge whether that's realistic or not."
The entire San Antonio coaching staff, including Popovich, former Trail Blazer Ime Udoka and ex-Oregon State and University of Portland assistant Chad Forcier, wore commemorative Jack Ramsay buttons during the game.
"Dr. Jack was somebody very special in Portland," Popovich said. "The Portland (media-relations directors) brought these pins. We're all wearing them in his memory. He was an icon on the business. He always gave of himself. He was a teacher, a kind man, somebody we all respected so much. We want to continue to show how much we all love him."
Portland won the rebound battle 47-45, but San Antonio ruled the boards when it mattered, winning them 27-18 in the first half, including eight off the offensive glass. During the regular season, the Spurs ranked 26th in the NBA in offensive rebounds at 9.29 per game.
"They're not necessarily an offensive rebounding team," Stotts said. "We can't let them do that to us."
Robin Lopez had a decent outing with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots, but fellow Portland starters Matthews and Batum struggled. Matthews finished with eight points, four rebounds and three turnovers before fouling out in 34 minutes while Batum made only 3 of 12 shots, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds with no assists and three turnovers in 36 minutes.
The Blazer had their worst assist/turnover ratio of the season with nine assists -- a franchise playoff low -- and a season playoff high 20 turnovers.
Will Barton was the only player off Portland's bench to have much success, going 3 for 3 from 3-point range while scoring nine points in eight minutes. The rest of the Blazer reserves combined for 3-for-15 shooting. Mo Williams scored six points and had four assists but was 3 for 11 and had four turnovers in 28 minutes.
Prior to the game, I asked Popovich how the Spurs intended to defend Aldridge.
"You pray a lot," he said. "Hope he trips on his feet. He's like Dirk (Nowitzki). You can't get to his shot. He'll get his shot off. He's really talented. He works inside, he'll go outside. He's not somebody who is going to be stopped. We just hope he works hard for everything he gets."
Popovich was asked pregame (again by this reporter) who he would use to guard Lillard.
"We'll just have to play the game," he smirked. "If I knew there was something magical I could do, I probably wouldn't tell you. I haven't figured out anything magical, I'm sure."
Stotts was asked pregame about San Antonio's decided edge in playoff experience.
"I''d assume it's an advantage," he said. "Some people call it experience; some call it age. It's a matter of perspective."