The San Antonio Spurs silenced a raucous Moda Center crowd on Saturday night, throttling the Portland Trail Blazers, 118-103, to grab a 3-0 series lead.
The gulf between the two teams was evident from the opening tipoff. The Spurs were simply better in every facet of the game.
It's easy to forget how this is still relatively uncharted territory for the Blazers. Before this season, they hadn't reached the second round of the postseason since the "Jail Blazers" heyday back in 2000. Playing in your first home game in the second round in 14 years is bound to add some pressure, and by the looks of it, Portland may have let that pressure overwhelm it early on.
The key to winning any road playoff game is to jump on the home team early. That in part helps to take the crowd out of it, and the home team will likely start pressing.
Once again, San Antonio asserted itself in the first half. The Spurs had a 60-40 lead going into halftime after shooting 56 percent from the field. Tony Parker led the way with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting:
This was the third game in a row in which they dropped 60-plus points in the first half, per Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:
Another incredible stat is that San Antonio owns a combined 87-point halftime advantage over its last four games, per NBA.com:
Up 20 at the break tonight, @Spurs are now a combined +87 in their last four first halves— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 11, 2014
Portland showed some promise in the second half, cutting the deficit to seven points, 64-57, with about seven-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter after a jumper from Nicolas Batum. But every time the Blazers looked to be building momentum and getting the crowd back into it, the Spurs found a key bucket to keep Portland at bay.
Then, before you knew it, they were back up 21 points, 102-81, with 7:43 to go in the game. San Antonio wasn't flashy. It wasn't blinding in its mastery on the court. But the Spurs players went about their jobs, as Spurs players are wont to do, and were miles better than Portland.
San Antonio led this game for all but 17 seconds, to establish how much of advantage it owned.
Parker served as the catalyst, or as Spurs head coach called him, "the head of the snake," per SB Nation:
"He's the head of the snake" -- Pop on Parker. That troll.— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) May 11, 2014
The All-Star point guard was cutting to the basket, which accomplished the dual task of setting up scoring opportunities and opening up his teammates on the perimeter. He finished with 29 points, which led the team. Parker was one of five Spurs players to score in double figures.
Tim Duncan had a good game, as well, scoring 19 points on 8-of-18 shooting, but he did add another accomplishment to his already legendary resume. In the first half, he passed Karl Malone for fifth all-time in postseason scoring.
NBA on ESPN tracked how much farther up the ladder Duncan needs to go to overtake Michael Jordan for first:
Tim Duncan moved into 5th on the all-time playoff scoring list, as the Spurs lead the Blazers 60-40 at halftime. pic.twitter.com/xDCd5CkJGJ— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 11, 2014
Although Kawhi Leonard struggled a bit from the field, he did record a double-double (16 pts, 10 rebs) and made all seven of his free throws. Leonard regaining his consistency has been a huge boost for San Antonio in this series.
Damian Lillard didn't fare as well as his opposite number. He missed 14 of his 21 field-goal attempts but still managed to score 21 points and added nine assists.
LaMarcus Aldridge has struggled all series when guarded by Tiago Splitter:
Key To Watch: Splitter's defense. He's held Aldridge to just 8-of-25 shooting in direct halfcourt matchups this series (2-of-13 in Game 2)— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 11, 2014
Those problems continued on Saturday as Aldridge went 9-of-23 from the field for 21 points.
Although the Blazers' stars scored in high volume, their bench only contributed six points compared to 40 for San Antonio. Portland also turned the ball over 15 times and allowed its opponent to score 22 points off those giveaways.
Right now, the Spurs are scary good. Parker traces the origins of their recent resurgence to Game 7 against the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round, per ESPNDallas.com's Tim McMahon.
"It was a great test for us," he told McMahon. "I think every time you play a Game 7 and you win, it gives you confidence. The team right now is doing good, but we know it can change real fast, so we just have to stay focused."
This series is all but over now. Does anybody expect the Spurs to drop a 3-0 series lead when they have home-court advantage?
Perhaps the better question is whether or not the Spurs are now the NBA title favorites.