We all spent a lot of time leading up to the second-round series between the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs picking out matchups that favored the upstart Blazers and worrying about the toll a seven-game slog against the Dallas Mavericks would have taken on the aging Spurs.
After San Antonio's 116-92 thrashing of the Blazers on Tuesday, all those concerns disappeared. They were replaced by a lingering, all-too-familiar sentiment.
We should have known.
We should have known the Spurs would implement the perfect game plan to force Portland's weapon of choice back into the holster. The Blazers shot 25.3 triples per game during the regular season, the third most in the league, per NBA.com.
San Antonio worked doggedly to run every open shooter off the line, holding the Blazers without a single made three-point shot until a minute into the fourth quarter.
On the night, Portland managed to hit just four of its 16 long-distance attempts—and all four of them came well after the game was decided.
Sure, it made sense to talk about the matchup issues presented by Lillard's quickness and shot-making. And it was only logical to expect LaMarcus Aldridge's mid-range game to bend the Spurs defense into uncomfortable contortions. Those two are the Blazers' best players; they give everybody fits.
But the Spurs took a novel approach to the problem because, well, they're the Spurs. Being smarter than everyone else is what they do.
Instead of freaking out about Aldridge, San Antonio sent Tiago Splitter at him—virtually alone.
Aldridge scored 32 points on the night but needed 25 shots to get them. And in approaching the matchup that way, the Spurs basically eliminated the open looks Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum enjoyed all year long.
That duo combined to shoot 5-of-18 from the field for just 15 points.
More impressive than any of those things, though, was the Spurs' complete refusal to let Lillard get loose. He attempted a single three on the night and finished with 17 points, three assists and six turnovers.
It was a profoundly Spursian effort, taking away everything the opponent wanted and giving nothing back in the bargain.
We should have known San Antonio would also attack Lillard on the other end, exposing his horrendous defense by involving him in high picks at every opportunity.
Manu Ginobili was particularly cruel in one second-half stretch, and Lillard died on every high pick he saw, leaving Ginobili loads of space in which to operate. Manu didn't just have lanes to the rim; he had five-lane highways. Though he failed to convert a field goal, he had five assists in just 18 minutes.
By exploiting Lillard's defensive weakness, San Antonio's guards either finished in the lane or took their pick of open shooters to hit as the rest of the Blazers' spaced-out defense scrambled to help. On multiple occasions, Ginobili and Parker found themselves in the paint with more than one wide-open shooter and easy avenues through which to deliver the ball.
It's unfair to pile on Lillard when the entire Portland team took a collective beating, but we can't move on without mentioning how he was flat-out embarrassed whenever he had the misfortune of winding up on Parker.
The Blazers did their best to hide him, but San Antonio engineered a few deliberate switches to get Lillard into the right matchups. There aren't many defenders who can keep Parker out of the lane, but you probably could have found a few folding chairs that would have put up more resistance than Lillard did.
The Spurs will go back to that well all series long.
We should have known the seven-game series San Antonio just finished wouldn't matter.
Gregg Popovich rested his players all year and utilized his bench more than any other coach for precisely this reason. Sure, the aging Spurs needed the maximum number of contests to dispatch a surprisingly game Mavs team. But all the mileage they saved earlier in the year made that a task they could handle without any real fear of fatigue.
And if we took anything from that first-round series, it should have been that seventh game, when San Antonio really hit its stride.
The Spurs have now strung together a pair of dominant efforts, bridging two series, which should alarm the Blazers and the rest of the remaining playoff contenders. It's only been two games, but we know the Spurs can streak with the best of them.
During their 19-gamer from Feb. 26 to April 2, they ran up a net rating of plus-16.2, scoring 112.6 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 96.4, per NBA.com. Both of those figures were best in the league during that span.
Between Game 7 against Dallas and Game 1 against the Blazers, San Antonio has posted a comically, unsustainably high net rating of plus-28.8. That's not going to continue, but it should serve as a warning that the Spurs are dialing in. And we saw how good they could be the last time they strung together a few dominant victories.
We should all consider ourselves warned.
The List Goes On
We should have known San Antonio's bench would carry the day. It outscored the Blazers reserves, who'd been awful all year, 50-18.
We should have known Parker would pierce the space in Portland's defense. He piled up 33 points and nine assists on 13-of-24 shooting.
We should have known the Spurs would come out ready, focused and business-like against a young team with loads of confidence but very little experience.
You get the idea: There were a lot of things we should have known.
There's something else we should know: One game doesn't make a playoff series.
The Blazers weren't favored against the Rockets, and they prevailed anyway. This has been a wild postseason with underdogs putting up great fights throughout. The Spurs know that firsthand because they were just in such a scrum with the No. 8 seed.
Portland isn't 24 points worse than San Antonio. It'll figure out ways to get more open looks in the upcoming games of this series, and we almost certainly won't see Will Barton lead the team in triples going forward.
But as tempting as it is to cite general playoff wackiness, or point to the inevitability of Portland putting forth a better effort in Game 2, let's all agree not to be surprised if this Spurs team—seemingly hitting its stride—continues its bulldozing run.
We should all know better than that.
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