Thursday, February 4, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 52

The Trail Blazers (29-22) return home after a quick trip to Salt Lake City to face the veteran Spurs (28-19) who are also playing the second of a back to back and are in the midst of their annual "Rodeo Trip", which takes the Spurs away from San Antonio for nearly the entire month of February. Prior to last season, this series was one absolutely dominated by the San Antonio Spurs. Dated from the 02-03 season through 07-09, in 20 meetings, Portland was a laughable 1-19. Now, as the Spurs have aged mightily, the Trail Blazers have won five of the last six matchups and are looking for their first season series sweep of the Spurs since the 96-97 season. A lot of questions surround tonight's game in regards to each team's superstar. Will this finally be the return of Brandon Roy and will the Spurs get Tony Parker back from a nasty ankle sprain?
San Antonio is 11th in the league in scoring at 101.14 and 6th in the NBA in field goal percentage, shooting 47.6% from the floor. The reason Portland was able to was to win the two games to date this year was aggressive play on both ends of the court! Back on November, Portland held the Spurs to only 84 points on 38% shooting, dominated them on the glass, 48-37 and found time to make good with the free throw line, going 27-30 from the charity stripe. During the more recent matchup, it had much more to do with the offense than defense as Portland did allow 51.4% shooting but still held the Spurs below their season average of 101, only allowing 94 again. A common theme in the win? Free throw shooting. Portland got to the line 26 times, making 23, with most of the aggressive play coming from Bayless who set a career-high with 31 points. If Portland wants to make it a clean sweep tonight over San Antonio, we must get to the line at least 20 times, hold the Spurs to around 48% shooting, and win the battle on the glass because those three factors have all been common denominators in Trail Blazer wins this year.
With an average age of nearly 29 years, the Spurs are not exactly spring chickens. With or without Roy, the Blazers need to look to run at every opportunity. San Antonio is currently playing in their longest road trip of the season and are on the second of a back to back, which means if Portland can jump on the Spurs early it could take the wind out of their sails. Assuming his left wrist isn't causing Bayless too much pain, this is the perfect game for Bayless to have the green light to attack the paint at will, just as he did the last time Portland was on TNT against Phoenix when he dropped 29 points. He will have to prove to the Spurs he can hit the mid-range jump shot before the paint opens up at all though.
The Blazers, with their loss last night, have now dropped to 8th in the West and are only 2-4 so far in this tough 10-game stretch. Needless to say, this game is one of the biggest games of the season for our boys. With the Lakers coming to the Rose City on Saturday, I hope the Blazers do not overlook the Spurs due to recent success over them and come out with a sense of urgency. This rough patch of games can be weathered, especially with three of the remaining four at the Rose Garden, but it all starts tonight. Two things to watch tonight. First, we all saw Aldridge abuse a smaller player in AK47, but will be play with the same fire against Duncan? Also, the bench scored an amazing 45 points off of the bench in their win Monday over Charlotte, yet only got 29 on the road against Utah. Its no surprise to see the bench flourish at home and it will be needed again tonight. Dre has been slumping these past two weeks, sans he 52 point outing, and Howard is not an offensive threat, so the bench must not only provide the energy but the offense tonight.
The electricity and atmosphere of a nationally televised game on TNT will bring the Rose Garden crowd to an even higher level of rowdiness tonight, which will give the Trail Blazers that extra boost they need to get the job done. In fact, I think Portland will jump out on the Spurs tonight, much like they did back in November, and hold on for another double digit victory behind Batum's defense, Bayless' offense, and Rudy's open-court magic.
Game 52 Prediction: Trail Blazers 96 Spurs 85
Post-Game Thoughts
Without Roy and Bayless missing for most of the game, Portland still found a way to fight back from 10 down in the 3rd quarter to sweep the Spurs this regular season, 96-93. The Trail Blazers outscored their foes 30-19 in the final period to finally close out the 4th quarter strong, mainly with the help of Martell Webster, who scored 10 of his 21 points in the last 4 minutes of action, including a dagger three point shot which put Portland up 4 with 20 seconds to go. Marty was unconscious tonight from I-5, going a staggering 5-5 and 6-9 overall, en route to 21 points as well grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists. Outside of his clutch three point shots, Webster was fouled on two occasions with little time on the game clock but calmly went to the line and knocked four in a row down to preserve the Blazer victory.
“He [Webster] was huge for us," Aldridge said. "He made big shots. We always tell him be patient because we always end up coming back to him. He’s too good of a shooter to not use him. He was patient and late in the game, he made some big shots for us.
Although Webster's buckets iced the game for Portland down the stretch, he wouldn't have been in that position had it not been for LaMarcus Aldridge carrying the team throughout the game. I spoke to early a while back about him coming into post-All-Star break form, but back to back 20+ point and 10+ rebound outings in dominant fashion have me re-thinking again. He was utterly devastating at times in the paint, doing work against both Antonio McDycess and Tim Duncan. With so many key people out for the Blazers, Coach Nate has had to lean on LaMarcus and rode the big fella for another 40+ minute ride. He tallied 28 points (12-22), 13 rebounds, and 3 assists. The one area he simply must improve on is free throw shooting, particularly in the 4th. He was a pedestrian 4-7 from the stripe tonight and missed two free throws with the team only up 3 with 1.3 seconds left. It would have been an unlikely heave for the Spurs to tie it, but due to those missed free throws, it still gave them a chance they should not have had.
“Yeah, definitely my strongest fourth quarter. I [Aldridge] think I’ve had opportunities but I think that was my strongest fourth of finishing shots, getting rebounds, and then making the right passes. I’ve had some opportunities and I either missed the shots or I didn’t make the right pass, but tonight I did both.”
Outside of not getting to the free throw line enough, 18 times was the official number but eight of those came with under 20 seconds to go as the Spurs were fouling for possession, Portland did everything they had to in order to win tonight. Not only did they hold the Spurs to 40 points in the paint, but got 38 down low as well. In addition, the Blazers held their opponents to 44% shooting from the floor, nearly 3.5% below their seasonal average, and ran the Spurs out of the building, outscoring them 16 to 3 on the fast break. Finally, we had to win the rebounding battle, and early on it didn't look very promising as the Spurs had multiple second chance opportunities within the first few minutes of the game. Portland rebounded, literally, strong to win the battle on the glass, 45-36.
Now onto a subject that will certainly divide Blazer fans right down the middle, where being neutral is not accepted. Should Coach Nate loosen the reigns on Rudy's play or still keep a steady eye watching over him? I have a feeling this answer could change for me on a game by game basis. When he is running wild in the open court, making things happen, it looks genius to let Rudy be Rudy and at other times, not so much. Tonight was the tale of two halves. In the first half, he was brilliant in the open court, handing out assists on the break and finishing with utter ease and fluidity in the form of acrobatic lay-ins. While in the second half, he forced two difficult passes, that if even completed, do not put the person who received the pass in a position to succeed. At the time of the turnover, I did think he needed to have the reigns tighten a bit, but after sleeping on it, the only way Rudy will ever reach his pinnacle is to let him play his style. If he makes a couple mistakes in a row, then bench him for a while, but in the meantime, sit back and watch the show he has been putting on for us lately. You must takes risks to gain rewards.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

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