Some things might hurt more than going down 2-0 in the conference semifinals. Some of those things hurt quite literally.
The Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard knows the feeling. According to CSNNW.com's Chris Haynes, Lillard said, "Their screens hurt. They actually set real screens. They do a great job of setting and holding screens. It wears you down. Chasing Tony Parker is one thing. Getting hit every single time is another thing. It takes a toll on you."
Lillard also said, "It makes you tired" and admitted he needs, "to do a better job at avoiding screens."
That's not easy against the San Antonio Spurs. Their motion offense relies on a flurry of off-ball screens, and their frequent reliance upon the pick-and-roll means that whoever's guarding the ball is bound to see plenty of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in his face.
Portland has done its best to throw different looks at Parker and his helpful screeners, going under the screens early and often on Thursday night. Blazer's Edge's Dave Deckard explains the strategy and its momentary effectiveness:
Portland's focus going into the night was stopping Tony Parker from making Swiss Cheese out of the defense for the second game in a row. Their plan became obvious as the first few plays unfolded. The Blazers started Wesley Matthews on Parker, then switched on any pick play involving two small defenders. When they didn't switch they chose to go under the screen, ceding the jump shot but preventing drives. This worked fairly well. Parker missed shots and would remain cool through the period. So far so good for Portland. For a second, anyway.
When given space, Parker missed a few early shots, but he also racked up a bunch of early assists. And eventually that jumper started falling. He finished the game with 16 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers.
San Antonio has long been known for its sound execution, doing all the little things that enable a half-court offense to be successful. Setting strong screens is one of those little things. It won't show up on a stat sheet directly, but it can be the difference between a close game and the two blowouts Portland has suffered in Games 1 and 2.
Look for Portland to start sending some help on screens, having big men step away from the basket to hedge and force San Antonio's ball-handlers farther out on the perimeter. Look for head coach Terry Stotts to try just about everything before it's all said and done.
Of course, it's not just about the ball-handlers. Lillard spent much of his time guarding off the ball in Game 2 while Matthews checked Parker. So now he's chasing around the likes of Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli, attempting to prevent open three-point looks in the process.
This is all part of the learning experience for Portland. Stotts' young club will have to grow up on the fly, figuring out how to stay glued defensively without sacrificing bodies too much in the process.
It won't be easy, but the Trail Blazers have the length and athleticism to do a much better job defensively. With a return home and some wind in their sails, we just might see a little more energy on the defensive end.