SAN ANTONIO — The Portland Trail Blazers’ first second-round playoff series in 14 years got off to an incredibly rough start Tuesday night in San Antonio with a 116-92 wire-to-wire loss to the Spurs at the AT&T Center.
“San Antonio really came out with a lot of energy and aggressiveness,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They were the more aggressive team at both ends of the floor for the whole half. I like the way we came out in the second half but we need to come out of the gates a little bit better. This is as well as I have seen San Antonio play and they were certainly ready.”
While it was the Trail Blazers who had extra rest thanks to beating the Houston Rockets in six games, it was the Spurs, a team that was pushed to a Game 7 by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, who looked ready to play from the jump. Portland spotted the Spurs eight points by failing to score until Aldridge hit a 15-foot jumper with 8:10 to play in the first quarter.
“They came out and set the tone early,” said Aldridge. “Most of the guys on the team haven’t even been in the second round and they’ve (Spurs) won championships. They’ve been here. I think they definitely came out and they let us know how it’s going to be. I think every guy on the team understands that.”
From there, Portland would do better than scoring once every four minutes, though not by much. The Trail Blazers would shoot just 22 percent from the field in the first quarter and not log a single assist or made three-pointer.
To make matters worse, the Spurs were firing on each and every cylinder, shooting 57 percent from the field while winning the rebounding battle by six and outscoring Portland 16-4 in the paint. Spurs point guard Tony Parker did much of the damage, scoring 13 of his game-high 33 points in the first quarter.
“He had a very good game,” said Stotts of Parker. “He had a Tony Parker game. He got to the paint. I thought he set the tone early. He made his mid-range and he got to the paint. I think he is probably their most important player. That’s probably an understatement. With their offense the ball is in his hands a lot and that makes a lot of problems. Everybody kind of feeds off of that.”
And feed they did. San Antonio led by as many as 15 in the first quarter and took a 29-16 lead into the second while the Trail Blazers were still trying to get their second-round legs under them.
“We just kept saying in our huddles and on the floor just to keep playing,” said Damian Lillard. “Keep our heads up and stop looking at the scoreboard, just try to win each possession.”
Portland’s shooting percentage improved in the second quarter, but not enough to overcome most everything else going wrong. San Antonio continued to dominate in the paint and got 27 points from their bench compared to nine for Portland. And for as good as they shot in the first quarter, San Antonio was even better in the second, going 14 of 22 from the field and 4 of 5 from three. They would up the deficit to 26 points and took a 65-39 lead into the intermission.
“We had a lot of confidence as a team,” said Parker. “I think team wise we played our best game in Game 7. I think tonight we did a lot of the same things. I think defensively it was one of our best games because Portland has a lot of shooters and weapons. I think the best news too is the return of Marco Belinelli (19 points on 7 of 9 shooting), and Aron Baynes (10 points on 5 of 7 shooting) was huge and I think we are going to need that during this series because we can take advantage of our bench.”
The Trail Blazers would make small runs in the second half and actually won the third and fourth quarters but were still never able to come close to cutting deeply into San Antonio’s lead. Blazers go on a 11-3 run in the third, the Spurs answer back with a 6-2 run to restore order. Portland starts the fourth with a 9-2 run, Spurs call a timeout then score the next four points.
“They did what all teams do in the playoffs,” said Aldridge. “They play your plays. They knew where we were going to do. They tried to deny guys on certain sets. They tried to force guys to their weak hand. They did what good teams do.”
San Antonio also managed to hold the Trail Blazers to just four three-pointers, and all of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. Their inability to hit the long ball and too string together stops at the defensive end all but ensured that there would be no grand comeback for the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
“The four games against San Antonio in the regular season we had good offensive games,” said Stotts. “Our offense and execution has to be better. Obviously we need to shoot the ball a little bit better. The three ball is important to us. It’s important to our game. You can go through this game at both ends of the floor and there are things that we need to sure up on both ends.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Aldridge, who shook off a 1 for 5 start to finish the game shooting 48 percent from the field for 32 points while adding 14 rebounds and two steals in 41 minutes. Lillard added 17 points and handed out three of Portland franchise playoff-low nine assists while turning the ball over six times. Robin Lopez pitched in a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds in just under 28 minutes.
The Spurs got double-digit scoring from six players including Kawhi Leonard (16 points) and former Trail Blazers Patty Mills (10 points). Portland did hold Spurs super sub Manu Ginobili to just two points on 0 of 6 shooting, but on this night, his teammates more than made up for his lack of scoring.
Portland will now try to shrug off Game 1, and quickly, before returning to the AT&T Center for Game 2 on Thursday.
“Tonight was just one of those nights,” said Aldridge. “A welcome to San Antonio. I think a lot of guys got taken back, but I thought guys bounced back in the second half and that shows how we’re going to be next game. I thought the second half was much better for us and I think that’s how we’ll start the game next game.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 PM on ESPN 2 and 620 AM.