The San Antonio Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, have advanced to the second round by virtue of defeating the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of Sunday afternoon. The Spurs will now host the Trail Blazers for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 6 (Tuesday), with Game 2 scheduled for May 8 (Thursday). Game 4 and Game 5 will take place in Portland at the Moda Center on May 10 (Saturday) and May 12 (next Monday), respectively. Click here to buy tickets for Game 3 and Game 4 at the Moda Center.
So let’s take a look back at how these two teams fared against each other during the 2013-14 regular season.
Both teams entered the postseason playing their best basketball of the season, with the Blazers winning nine of 10 games to end the regular season while the Spurs won 22 of their last 26 games, and two of those losses were in games the Spurs had nothing to play for. The Trail Blazes and Spurs split the season series 2-2, with Portland winning the first two meetings and San Antonio winning the last two. Both teams won a game at home and a game on the road.
November 2 in Portland: Trail Blazers 115, Spurs 105 …
While it was in some respects a historic victory, it was also a night full of Moda Center debuts. Local food options such as Fire On the Mountain Wings and Sizzle Pie Pizza, upgraded in-arena wifi provided by Toyota, a mobile app featuring exclusive video content and a new 100-point play promotion with McDonald’s were among the many upgrades rolled out for the fans in attendance.
But it was the Trail Blazers upgraded offense that took center stage against the defending Western Conference champs. The Trail Blazers shot 56 percent from the field and 40 percent from three to help secure their second victory in as many nights.
“I like it because it’s difficult to game plan if you have different players who are capable of making shots and making plays,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of his team’s balanced scoring, which featured six players scoring in double figures. “To me, as long as the ball is moving and the shots are in rhythm, whether everybody scores double figures or one guy gets 40, as long as the game is played at the offensive end with continuity and passing and teamwork, that’s the most important thing.”
The Trail Blazers shot 56 percent from the field, lead by a 11-of-17 offensive performance from LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal in 38 minutes. The performance was just the latest in a string of seemingly effortless performances for the two-time all-star, who said he always has a little something extra when playing against the Spurs.
“I don’t ever want to take LaMarcus for granted because he’s been remarkably consistent, not only last year but throughout his career,” said Stotts. “What he’s doing right now is he’s playing his game and playing it well. I certainly don’t take it for granted but it doesn’t surprise me.”
The Moda Center crowd, possibly while snacking on spicy peanut chicken wings or pork belly cubano sandwiches, got their first taste of what center Robin Lopez can bring to the Trail Blazers roster with a 12-point, six-rebound, two-block night. Lopez struggled mightily in Portland’s season-opening loss to the Suns and was better in their victory Friday night in Denver against the Nuggets, but his play in Saturday night’s victory was the first real glimpse of the best that Lopez has to offer.
“He plays hard at both ends, really goes after every rebound,” said Stotts of Lopez, who played all but 50 seconds of the second half. “He made a big block down the stretch. His presence in the paint just makes a difference. You feel his effort and you feel his energy when he’s on the court.”
January 17 in San Antonio: Trail Blazers 109, Spurs 100 …
With Portland trailing 89-88 with 5:54 to play after a Tim Duncan putback dunk, Aldridge responded by hitting an 18-footer and then a layup to put the Trail Blazers up 92-89.
“I definitely watched him growing up and I learned a lot from him,” said Aldridge of going up against Duncan. “It was like an idol versus a up-and-coming, hopefully a top, power forward.”
The Spurs attempted to slow Aldridge down late in the fourth quarter by sending double teams, but that only served to give open looks to Matthews, who was more than happy to take advantage while San Antonio scrambled to cover the perimeter.
“LA is going to see every kind of defense there is and he was ready for it,” said Matthews. “We were all ready for it. That ball swung around the horn. They did the hard job. He had to kick it out of the double team, everybody else had to pass it around their man. I just had to knock it down.”
Matthews did just that, hitting three three-pointers late in the game to help the Trail Blazers pull away.
“We have confident shooters,” said Stotts. “Whomever it is – Damian (Lillard), Wesley, Mo (Williams), LA, Nic (Batum) – we have a lot of guys who are very good shooters and feel confident when the ball is in their hands. The ones Wes hit were very timely. It really turned the tide.”
Matthews finished with nine points in the fourth and 24 for the night while shooting nine of 14 from the field and a near-perfect six of seven from three.
“It felt good,” said Matthews of his fourth quarter shooting performance. “What do they say in football, pitch and catch? I like high-pressure moments, high-pressure situations.”
Portland would outscore San Antonio 21-11 during the final five minutes, 33 seconds of the game to come away with the nine-point victory.
February 19 in Portland: Spurs 111, Trail Blazers 109 …
With LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined with a left groin strain, the Trail Blazers started just their second different starting lineup of the season against the Spurs, with Dorell Wright joining Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez as Portland’s first five.
“It was different,” said Lillard. “It’s tough to rebound and run our offense how we usually do when we don’t have our guys that’s normally in the rotation out there period, but without (Aldridge) out there, that makes it tougher obviously.”
Playing without Aldridge, a three-time All-Star, would have been difficult enough on its own, but not having Joel Freeland (sprained right MCL) or Meyers Leonard (sprained left ankle) available forced the Trail Blazers to go with small lineups almost exclusively all night.
The Spurs were also playing without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and All-Star point guard Tony Parker, though San Antonio has much more experience playing without their best players, and it showed Wednesday night.
“We tried to beat San Antonio at their game and they did better than us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They played their small lineup more effectively. We didn’t do enough defensively to get a win. While (Aldridge) and Meyers and Joel are out, we’re going to have to figure out ways to win games. There were some good things we did tonight. San Antonio is used to playing these games without their guys and they plug guys in and they play well. During this stretch, we’re going to have to figure some things out at both ends of the floor.”
With averages of 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds, it would be easy to think the Trail Blazers would struggle in both scoring and rebounding with Aldridge unavailable, though that didn’t seem to be the case Wednesday. Portland’s 109 points Wednesday night were more than their season average and they out-rebounded San Antonio by five. They even outscored the Spurs 54-42 in the paint, something that happens infrequently even with Aldridge on the court.
“Offense isn’t going to be our problem,” said Matthews. “We’ve got to stop beating ourselves on the defensive end, stop allowing teams to not work for their buckets.”
The Spurs were particularly successful scoring in the fourth quarter, going 11 of 19 from the field and four of seven from three. Former Trail Blazer Patty Mills would score 13 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter on six of nine shooting, despite being guarded by the much longer Batum.
“I let Patty Mills do whatever he wants to do,” said Batum, who also struggled through a two of eight night shooting. “That’s on me. That’s it.”
March 12 in San Antonio: Spurs 103, Trail Blazers 90 …
The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 42-23 on the season, 18-15 on the road and 0-4 on their current five-game road trip with a 103-90 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night at the AT&T Center.
As if the loss alone wasn’t bad enough, Portland suffered a serious blow with LaMarcus Aldridge taking a hard fall at the 11:17 mark in third quarter after colliding with Spurs center Aron Baynes.
Aldridge writhed on the floor in obvious pain before finally being helped off the court by teammates Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard and was reluctant to put any weight on his right leg. Replays showed the three-time All-Star landing hard on his tailbone, though the team later described the injury as a “back contusion.”
“When a guy takes a a tough fall like that, when you’re airborne, you just don’t know what can happen you land,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “The longer he stayed down, you just don’t know.”
Aldridge did not return to the game, finishing the night with 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting and four rebounds. X-rays on his back came back negative, though his status for Friday night’s contest in New Orleans against the Pelicans is not yet know.
“It looked really painful,” said Damian Lillard. “I watched him go up for the shot and fall straight out of the air. That’s a tough fall. I was concerned about his well-being more than anything else once I saw his facial expressions and that he kind of stayed down. I never saw him stay down like that, so obviously I was concerned for him.”
If there’s any good news, aside from x-rays coming back negative, it’s that the Trail Blazers recently went 4-1 while Aldridge was sidelined with a left groin strain.