As Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News points out, Portland is one of few teams over recent years that has been largely successful against the Spurs.
Between Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, San Antonio's version of the Big Three shouldered the scoring load against Dallas, but the Spurs need contributions from other players to eliminate Portland.
Besides, it wouldn't represent the famed "Spurs basketball" without the Gregg Popovich-coached squad playing a team-oriented game.
Tony Parker, As Always
It's boring, but it's true: Parker is the driving force and catalyst of San Antonio's pick-and-roll scheme, and the offense runs through him.
As clearly evident against the Mavericks, when the veteran point guard was getting into the paint, the Spurs were winning. Parker scored 21, 23 and 32 points in Games 1, 5 and 7, while adding six, five and four assists, respectively.
The Spurs split the tightly contested season series with Portland—the Blazers netted 105.8 points per game, whereas San Antonio tallied 104.8. Parker and Duncan missed one game, but Pop's squad still managed to win by two.
Parker's three appearances against the team were less than stellar, averaging just 12.7 points on 35.6 percent from the field. The Spurs lost two of those three contests, which further illustrates how important his successes are to the offense.
Per NBA.com, Portland allowed 55.3 points in the paint per game to the Houston Rockets, so the Blazers are susceptible to a driving guard. Well, Parker needs to take advantage of his biggest strength and carry the offense.
Three-Point Shooters and Defenders
As Parker enters the lane, San Antonio's shooters will receive open looks. Controlling the three-point line is an essential factor for winning the series.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle employed a simple defensive strategy that shut down Spurs shooting guard Danny Green for five contests. Additionally, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli failed to make a noticeable impact from three-point range, and San Antonio felt the effects of the missing points.
The trio still made 42.0 percent of attempts, but it only combined to make 21 triples. In other words, that was a mere 9.0 points per game compared to 15.6 during the regular season.
According to ESPN, the Spurs shot the second-highest mark (38.3 percent) from behind the arc, while Portland was the fourth-best (31.8) defending the trifecta throughout the first round.
What's more, the Blazers love to shoot the long ball. Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum converted on 7.5 of 20.0 attempts (37.5), which is practically identical to what the Mavericks (8.4 of 22.4; 37.6) achieved against the Spurs.
As the saying goes, something's gotta give.
The Foreign Legion
Through the first 82 games, it did not matter which center played alongside the Foreign Legion. Any unit that contained Mills, Ginobili, Belinelli and Boris Diaw was an offensive juggernaut and somehow held its own on defense.
|"Foreign Legion" Regular Season Stats|
|CENTER||MIN||Off. PPP||Def. PPP|
Note: Stats via 82games. "PPP" represents "points per possession."
During the opening round, the Spurs' center still didn't matter. Despite Ginobili having an excellent series and scoring 17.7 points per night, the Legion struggled.
Compared to regular season averages, Diaw stayed relatively consistent and dipped from 9.1 points per game to 8.1. However, Belinelli's scoring output plummeted from 11.4 to 3.1, and Mills' dropped from 10.2 to 5.9.
San Antonio needs the bench to play a bigger role against the Blazers because Portland coach Terry Stotts employs an eight-man rotation and is extremely reliant on his first five.
"They're a very good ball club, top to bottom," Duncan said, via Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News. "Their starting five, every one of those guys are really, really good and play really well against us for whatever reason. So it's gonna be a matchup problem for us. But, they have to matchup with us, too, so we'll go back at 'em."
Against Houston, the Blazers' starters were on the court for a ridiculous amount of time each night: Lillard (44.7 minutes), Batum (43.0), Aldridge (41.1), Matthews (39.9) and Robin Lopez (32.9). On the other hand, only Duncan (34.9) and Parker (33.0) eclipsed the lowest number.
The Foreign Legion will constantly do battle against the best Portland has to offer, and the Spurs cannot afford another poor performance from their bench.
The Defense As a Whole, Especially Lillard's Matchup
It's safe to assume Duncan will battle Lopez on the block, and either Tiago Splitter or Diaw will handle Aldridge, who is most effective on the left side of the basket.
But defensively, San Antonio does not match up well with Portland's lethal attack.
According to Young, Ginobili said: "They are a really, really tough team to guard. They are athletic, have a lot of shooters. They have a presence in the post as dangerous as they are athletic."
Obviously, Leonard is San Antonio's best defender, but no Portland player poses a clear threat demanding the small forward's attention. Without question, Lillard is a superstar in the league, but Matthews and Batum are big, physical wings who can overpower smaller defenders.
In Young's video, Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News said:
I think there's no question that at some point in the series, we're gonna see Kawhi Leonard defending Damian Lillard. I think Danny Green will get a turn on him from time-to-time, because Danny's a terrific defender as well. Then, of course, you're dealing with Wes Matthews and Nic Batum, what do you do with that? Kawhi is the most versatile defender they have out on the perimeter, so I think he'll get all of those guys.
The expected rotation of Green and Leonard on Lillard is similar to how the Spurs handled Stephen Curry last postseason. Save for the first game of the series, San Antonio was immensely effective in limiting the sharpshooter's productivity.
But then, who does Parker take? Leonard would be better served on Matthews or Batum, but both players can dominate the smaller Parker, whom Lillard can run circles around. Parker may be a difficult matchup for the Blazers' defense, but he's a fantastic opponent for their offense.
As it stands, the Spurs can only look to contain Lillard by throwing different defenders at him. But if the tenacious point guard gets on a roll along with Aldridge, San Antonio will be playing catch-up against a deadly offensive squad.
And chasing the young team means the Spurs must endure another long, emotional, heart-wrenching series in the postseason, slowing their run toward a fifth championship.
Of course, no one said winning the Western Conference would be easy. To be the best, San Antonio needs to beat the best—and Portland is pretty darn good.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from Basketball-Reference. Advanced stats and shot charts specifically attributed.
Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.
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