San Antonio Spurs Show They're Human in Ugly Game 4 Loss

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 13, 2014

USA Today

The San Antonio Spurs squared off against a desperate Portland Trail Blazers team on Monday, and the result was predictable—if not predictive.

The Blazers gave everything they had in Game 4, notching a 103-92 win to avoid elimination and end a nine-game postseason losing streak to the Spurs. Damian Lillard finished with a game-high 25 points while LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in 19 on 8-of-16 shooting.

To the Spurs' credit, they hung around for the entire first half before succumbing to Portland's relentless energy. And for the most part, San Antonio made things difficult for the Blazers—especially in the early going.

Up by just two at the break, the Blazers had to be a little worried that their inspired play was only marginally better than the Spurs' run-of-the-mill effort.

Any doubt about the outcome disappeared in the third period, though, as Portland put together a major run that effectively put the game out of reach.

San Antonio narrowed the gap in the fourth quarter, but there was never a point at which the outcome seemed in doubt. In fact, Gregg Popovich essentially surrendered before the final buzzer had sounded.

To be fair to Portland, it played with more than just raw desperation. It also made a few intelligent adjustments after Game 3 and capitalized on some of its strengths.

The Blazers approached Tony Parker wisely, going under screens and allowing him to shoot to his heart's content instead of chasing him over the top. He attempted 12 shots in the game, but registered just a single assist. Portland's help defenders stayed glued to San Antonio's three-point shooters as Parker probed the foul-line area, hoping to draw help.

For the most part, it never came.

Admittedly, the Spurs missed a number of open triples. But the Blazers did well to limit San Antonio's looks from long distance, a pillar of their gimmicky defense during the regular season. On the night, San Antonio shot just 3-of-18 from beyond the arc.

Portland also got something from its bench, with Will Barton making a number of difficult shots in transition. His energy and pace were key in this one, even if it's unlikely he repeats the feat in the future.

All around, Portland deserved this win.

Perhaps emboldened by the fact that they're playing with no real expectations, the Blazers have retained their confidence throughout this series. Nicolas Batum, who piled up 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in Game 4, was particularly confident after the Trail Blazers fell behind 3-0 over the weekend:

Good for him. There's nothing wrong with a can-do spirit.

But let's get serious: This was simply a case of the Spurs failing to match the intensity of a team on the brink. This isn't the first time we've seen a team summon extra effort to avoid a sweep, and it won't be the last.

San Antonio will adjust because that's what it does.

It will find ways to get Parker deeper into the lane, which will force more urgent help from the Blazers wings, ultimately allowing San Antonio to get more quality looks from long distance. And if Portland remains stubbornly committed to making the Spurs point guard beat them, I'm sure he'll oblige.

Parker isn't easily beaten with the same strategy twice, and neither are the Spurs.

May 12, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) reacts after being fouled by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of game four of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valde

In addition, we can't expect the Spurs to shoot 16.7 percent from three and 57.9 percent from the foul line again. And we should rest assured Robin Lopez will not be allowed to completely dominate the glass with another six offensive rebounds in Game 4.

The Blazers were exuberant after the game, walking off the floor relieved and happy to have given their home fans a win before heading back to San Antonio for Game 5. The Spurs exited the court just how you'd expect: confident, somewhat frustrated they hadn't closed the deal and fully prepared to finish things at their next opportunity.

They knew what had happened because they'd seen it before. Tim Duncan has been a part of dozens of "letdown" games in his 17-year streak of uninterrupted playoff berths—on both sides of the ledger. You can bet he knows this is nothing to worry about.

Portland is a good young team that simply refused to go out on its home court. In doing so, it probably earned a modicum of respect from the seasoned Spurs.

But to say San Antonio is remotely worried would be ridiculous.

This was a wake-up call, a predictable blip on the radar for a Spurs team with a title on its mind. It'll buoy the spirits of Blazers fans who'll see their team go down for good in Game 5, but San Antonio will look back at Game 4 as little more than a speed bump.

PORTLAND, OR - MAY 12: Tim Duncan #21, Manu Ginobili #20, and Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs look on before Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2014 at the Moda
Cameron Browne/Getty Images

We always compare the Spurs to some kind of machine, but this game proved they were human, capable of a lapse in effort and vulnerable against an inspired team with its season on the line.

Well, either that, or the Spurs have a "gentleman's sweep" program loaded into their postseason hardware. It's hard to say which.