Blazers explain what they'll do differently in Game 2 vs. Spurs
SAN ANTONIO LaMarcus Aldridge promises more patience. Damian Lillard intends to go into attack mode.
Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum say they will be more prepared to jump into the fray at the offensive end.
The Trail Blazers got their derrieres rearranged Tuesday night at the AT&T Center, but the sky is not falling.
That's what I gleaned from short one-on-one discussions with all the starters -- and a group soiree with coach Terry Stotts -- prior to their Wednesday practice as they prepared for Thursday night's Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series with San Antonio.
After watching game video and allowing the Spurs' 116-92 thumping to marinate for about 14 hours, the Blazers seem to all have reached the same conclusion.
"They took care of homecourt," Aldridge told me. "Why freak out? That's what you're supposed to do in the NBA. They got out to a big lead, but we didn't make any shots in the first quarter. We can't get too high (with victories), can't get too low (with defeats). It's come back next game and be better, and we will."
"The series isn't over because we got blown out in Game 1," Matthews said. "Every game is like a new series. Did we want to get Game 1? Absolutely. Did we come prepared to get Game 1? Absolutely. But (the Spurs) played well. Credit them. We could have played better. We have another shot at it (Thursday).
"You're not going to sweep the San Antonio Spurs. We haven't hung our heads. Whether we lost by one point or by 60, it's the same kind of loss."
I totally agree with Matthews that every game is like a new series. If the Blazers win Thursday night, they return to Portland for the next two games with momentum and the upper hand in the series.
I couldn't disagree more, though, with the notion that a one-sided loss -- the second-most lopsided of the entire season in this case, incidentally -- is the same as a one-point defeat.
It would have been much better for the Blazers to have done what normally do in defeat this season -- play the opponent close for most of the way before falling. The Spurs' domination has to leave some doubt in the minds of the Blazers as they prepare for Game 2. Such as, "Are the Spurs really that good?" And: "Will they play like that again?"
When I asked Lillard if he thought the Spurs had gotten into their heads, if the Blazers' psyche would be affected, he vehemently denied it.
"I'm positive we're OK," he said. "It's only one game."
The Blazers shot so poorly in the first quarter -- 0 for 6 at one point, 2 for 13 at another, 3 for 20 at another -- that they were under the gun immediately. And, as Matthews pointed out, the Blazers abetted San Antonio's strong defensive performance by missing a half-dozen cripples in the first quarter.
"They just jumped on us," Matthews said. "They showed us what championship caliber is, what it means to be a champion. It was on-the-job training for us.
"But the truth is, we miss three bunnies, I miss an open 3 in the first few minutes, and we're still down only 8-0. If we could have gotten a few buckets in that span, the game would have been different."
None of the Blazers were in a rhythm offensively. Aldridge got going after a rocky start , finishing with 32 points on 12-for-25 shooting, but even he wasn't in a groove. Batum (3 for 12) and Matthews (2 for 6) seemed particularly off-kilter.
"We got down so early, we had to go with what we knew was going to work -- L.A. on the block, and rightfully so," Matthews said. "There wasn't a flow for Nic and I. To prevent that, we have to get stops in transition. We'll be better (Thursday)."
Batum admits he was caught off guard by the force of the San Antonio defense.
"I hadn't faced that type of defense all year," he said. "We knew they were going to come out aggressive, but they jumped on us like crazy. Now we know."
So the Blazers weren't mentally prepared going into the opener?
"We were," Batum argued. "We were ready, but (the Spurs) were way more ready than us."
It was interesting to hear Stotts' response when asked what adjustments the Blazers must make in Game 2.
"It's difficult to say what adjustments need to be made," he said. "I don't know if it's about making adjustments, or just doing the things we do better."
There's some truth to that. I don't think the Blazers will miss so many easy shots Thursday night. Aldridge and Lillard won't be so off their offensive game, and the Blazes will get more than seven fast-break points. It's unlikely Tony Parker will score 33 points again.
On the other hand, to expect Manu Ginobili to shoot 0 for 6 again is unreasonable. Tim Duncan has a lot more in him, too, after having played only 24 minutes in the opener. The Spurs will improve in some areas of their game. Coach Gregg Popovich will see to that.
The Blazers will, too. They'll certainly shoot better from 3-point range after starting 0 for 9 and finishing 4 for 16 from beyond the arc Tuesday night. And yes, there will be adjustments.
Parker finished 13 for 24 from the field. By Stotts' reckoning, the Spurs' veteran point guard was 5 for 5 in transition and 8 for 12 in the paint.
"He's going to get there sometimes," Stotts said. "That's what he does. We had him 5 for 12 on midrange shots. That's a number we can live with. But 5 for 5 in transition, that's a number we have to be better with.
"We have to keep the ball out of the middle as much as we can. The more we can keep him out of the paint, that takes away opportunities for him and his teammates."
Even so, Parker scored several times in the opener coming around a Duncan pick. Portland center Robin Lopez showed but didn't close on Parker, who had a wide-open look.
"I'm supposed to provide support," Lopez said. "We're encouraging him to take mid-range shots. Tony hit a few. In the best of all worlds, we'd be forcing everybody baseline."
Lillard began the game guarding Parker. Batum took a very short stint, and Matthews finished up on him in the second half. Even if Stotts prefers the 6-9 Batum defending the 6-2 Parker, it messes with Portland's other defensive assignments. It means the 6-5 Matthews must guard 6-7 Kawhi Leonard and Lillard must take on 6-6 Danny Green.
"If you take Nic off Leonard, it opens things up for Kawhi and shifts everything down," Stotts said. "But we've done things like that in the past. We have to be able to make those changes and subsequent adjustments."
Batum knows Parker, his fellow Frenchman, well. They've played together on national teams for five years.
Tuesday's opener, Batum said, "was a normal game for Tony. That's what Tony does. He was good. He had a great Game 7 against the Mavs, and he did the same thing (Tuesday). I know what he wants. He wants to win. He wants to be the best. He wants to show us -- 'OK, we may be good, but we can't come in and beat the Spurs.' "
What can be done defensively to slow Parker down? Batum spoke about understanding tendencies.
"He goes left, he puts up a jumper," Batum said. "He goes right, he uses his floater. Sometimes he thinks about going under. You have to be physical with him, like Wes did at the end of the game. Wes pushed him fullcourt. That's what you have to do."
Stotts said in Portland's four regular-season meetings with the Spurs, they averaged 18 points off fast-break and second-chance opportunities. In Game 1, they totaled 41. "That can't happen," Matthews said.
The 25 second-chance points were fueled by 13 offensive rebounds, eight in the first half.
"That's our biggest concern -- keeping offensive rebounds to a manageable number," Stotts said.
Stotts seemed to take solace from the fact that Portland won Tuesday's second half 53-51, though he realizes the score (65-39 at halftime) had something to do with that.
"We played better in the second half," he said. "Maybe part of that was being down 20 and the Spurs didn't have the same energy as they started the game with. But we played more the way we need to play at both ends."
The late stability gave the Blazers a little confidence that they can get it done from the opening tip in Game 2.
"We knew we had to play the second half well for that explicit reason," Lopez said.
The Blazers will have plenty of resolve in Game 2.
Aldridge resolves to have more patience offensively.
"In the first half, I rushed it," he said. "We were down so much, I was trying to get to the line, trying to force the issue. In the second half, I was more patient, reading their digs. We moved some guys away where I could get to the middle. In the first half, we all were going too fast. I thought we made better reads in the second half."
Aldridge was defended much of the way by 6-11 center Tiago Splitter.
"He plays very good position defense," Aldridge said. Houston center Omer "Asik is way stronger than he is, actually, but he's solid. He understands my move to the basket, and they have a good team defensive philosophy."
Lillard, who finished with 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting and had twice as many turnovers (six) as assists, resolves to force the action at the offensive end.
"There were a lot of times at the start of the game, we didn't finish well in the paint," he said. "Those are shots we usually make. But you have to give (the Spurs) credit for how they affected that. They played physical pressure defense. We can't shy away from that. When they do that, we have to attack them.
"It'll be important for me to attack them early in the game, to stop that pressure. Maybe if I get off to a better start, they won't be able to show L.A. as much attention. When I get going, they'll come to me and I'll be able to get guys easier shots, where they won't run guys off the 3-point line. (Teammates) will be able to get clean looks."
Matthews vows to be more involved with the offense. But as always, he says it comes from defense first.
"I have to pick and choose, but I'll look to be more aggressive on both ends of the court," he said. "I let my offense stem from my defense. That's when I'm at my best.
"I'm not worried about our offense. We've been one of the best offensive teams in the league all year long. It might have just been one of those nights. We have to stop them in order for our offense to have a role."
Lillard agrees that improved defense will help get Matthews and Batum untracked on offense.
"With us picking up our energy level on defense and getting out in transition, that will change things," Lillard said. "We can get stuff from both of those guys, but it's going to start with us getting stops at the defensive end."
The Spurs present a much different challenge than the Houston Rockets did in the first round. A much more difficult challenge.
"The main difference is how well (the Spurs) pass the ball," Stotts said. "They pass and move. They're not an isolation team. Houston was more or less like that."
There's a lot for the Portland players to absorb after Tuesday's stinging loss.
"We've done a great job all year of adjusting and taking on adversity," Aldridge said. "Every guy on this team understands what happened. We'll be better."
I have no doubt they'll play better in Game 2. I'm not sure if it will be enough to achieve victory, though, and to avoid taking a 0-2 deficit back to Rip City.