It's Spurs, not Blazers, with more basketball to play
SAN ANTONIO The long, surprising, thrilling ride for the Trail Blazers this season ended on a sour note Wednesday night at the AT&T Center.
There would be no Cinderella story, no unprecedented "why not us?" comeback from an 0-3 deficit in the Western Conference semifinals.
Not against the San Antonio Spurs, even without Tony Parker.
Parker left late in the first quarter, scoreless and ailing with a sore hamstring.
The straw that stirs the Spurs' drink wasn't needed on this night.
There was too much Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and Patty Mills and tenacious defense in San Antonio's 104-82 blowout victory, putting a wrap on the series after five games.
"I just hope they win it all," Nicolas Batum said in the quiet of the Portland locker room. "If we have to lose, I want it to be to the champions."
The Spurs, who move on now to face the Oklahoma City-L.A. Clippers survivor in the Western Conference finals, played as if they can win their fifth NBA title since 1999 in their four triumphs against the Blazers. Average margin of victory: 19.5 points.
"Great team," Portland's Wesley Matthews said. "Give them their credit. They beat us. Could we have played better? Yeah. I don't think they're 20 points better than us, no."
Matthews said the all-for-one, one-for-all mentality espoused by coach Gregg Popovich worked well for the Spurs.
"It didn't matter to them who took the shots," Matthews said. "It's part of their system, the way they've played all year. They all fit as pieces and played their roles. They were playing together, for each other.
"I'm not saying we don't do that. The only way we got to 54 wins in the regular season was by playing together. But you really have to see it the way the Spurs do it."
The Spurs did it Wednesday night without Parker, who had averaged 23.0 points and 6.5 assists in the first four games of the series. Parker wasn't needed, not with unsung starters Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green each lighting it up for 22 points, with ex-Blazer Mills coming off the bench for 18 points, with San Antonio's defense limiting Portland to .407 shooting, including 5 for 19 from 3-point range.
Popovich liked the defensive part of it best, saying the Spurs had "lost our way at the defensive end" in Monday's 103-92 loss at the Moda Center.
"I don't know if we were just out of juice, lacked focus or whatever," Popovich said of the defensive effort in Game 4. "We picked them up higher up the court tonight, like we had the first three games, and had a better, aggressive sort of mindset."
The Spurs, meanwhile, shot .472 from the field, including .429 (9 for 21) on 3-point attempts.
Three other key stats: San Antonio won the battle in steals (13-3), fast-break points (33-6) and assists (8 to Portland's 18).
"Mills, Green and Leonard made 3's, and they were timely ones that would just build momentum," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "They got out into transition. Those guys let it fly with a lot of confidence. In both halves, those runs took a toll on us.
"Their transition points were a big factor in the series, especially in the first two games and again tonight. They scored on 12 of 15 fast breaks. Then they'd throw a '3' on top of it, just for good measure."
The turnovers, said LaMarcus Aldridge, were in part due to the Spurs' defense.
"They went back to what they did the first three games -- packed the paint and made us find guys on the perimeter," said Aldridge, who had team highs for Portland in scoring (21) and rebounds (10). "Guys got a little anxious at times."
The Blazers hung in for a half. It was 19-19 after the first quarter, and the Spurs led only 32-28 when they went on a 13-2 run to seize a 45-30 lead. The Blazers rallied, scoring on six straight possessions to go into halftime trailing 51-44.
"We played a really good first half," said Portland's Damian Lillard, who had 17 points and 10 assists but made only 7 of 18 shots from the field. "The Spurs made a run, but we closed in on that. We were in good position. The second half just got away from us."
With Mills starting at the point in place of Parker, San Antonio scored the first eight points of the third quarter to go on top 59-44. The Blazers never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way. With the sellout crowd of 18,581 howling, the Spurs jacked the margin to 28 at 95-67 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining. It was garbage time the rest of the way.
"They made plays," said Batum, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists but made only 3 of 9 shots from the field and committed six turnovers. "We made mistakes. They're the San Antonio Spurs. They're good. They stick together and play great basketball."
"They certainly outplayed us in the series," Stotts noted.
"The better team won the series," Lillard said. "I'm frustrated it took us so long to get ourselves going in the series -- having to win this game just to get back to Portland for Game 6. We put ourselves in a hole.
"It was an uphill battle. You can't do that against a championship team against the Spurs. we competed tonight, but they played really well."
The Blazers all talked about the accomplishments -- 54 wins, earning the No. 5 seed in the West, the franchise's first playoff series victory in 14 years, a Game 4 victory over San Antonio to stave off elimination.
"We've had a special year," Stotts said. "Every one of our starters had career years. The young guys got better. We fought through adversity, made a strong push at the end of year. So many positives."
"Our team showed heart," Lillard said. "We could easily have folded when we were down 0-3. We found it in ourselves to get a win on our home floor. We were hoping to carry that momentum and try to get back to Portland (for Game 6)
"We accomplished a lot this season. A lot of people had us (picked) ninth or 10th in the West. We worked hard. We believed in ourselves. We won a first-round series. We competed really hard against an elite team that nobody picked us to beat in the Spurs. We won't settle for a moral victory, but we were proud of what we were able to accomplish."
Batum said he was looking forward to returning to Portland with still some season to play.
"I was hoping to have another practice and prepare for the next game," he said. "We wanted to keep going. We had a lot of fun this season. I'll miss playing with these guys.
"Inside, we can't be happy right now. The season is over. We're going to regret this series. We can play better than we did. We didn't play our game except for Game 4.
"We did something good this year, but we know we can do better than that. We'll do better next year."
NOTES: Popovich, on the Blazers: "I congratulate those guys for playing as hard as they did. They have a bright future. a bunch of young guys who play their butts off. we feel great about being able to move forward." Aldridge made 10 of 21 shots Wednesday night to bring his field-goal percentage for the series up to .417, far short of the .479 mark he had during the first-round series with Houston. "I actually got to the rim more than last series," said Aldridge, who averaged 21.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in the San Antonio series. "I just missed easy shots. I definitely didn't play well this series. I wouldn't say (the Spurs) did anything different defensively. I was right at the rim a lot of times. I just didn't have the best series."
Leonard was 9 for 15 from the field and 3 for 4 on 3-pointers while contributing seven rebounds and five steals. Green, in by far his best game of the series, made 9 of 13 shots, including 4 of 6 treys, and grabbed nine rebounds. Green averaged 5.5 points on .321 shooting in the first four games. Mills was terrific, too, making 8 of 17 shots and contributing three rebounds and two assists with no turnovers in 26 minutes. San Antonio's bench outscored its Portland counterparts 40-8, and was especially important in the second and fourth quarters. "Our bench changed the game," Popovich said. In San Antonio's four wins, its reserves outscored Blazer reserves 180-51.