As San Antonio Spurs stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker warmed up for battle against the struggling Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden, it was expected that the home team would have a tough test on its hands entering the All-Star Break. But then Spurs head coach Gregg Poppovich did something that, given how he handles his team, isn’t altogether surprising. He had Duncan and Parker change out of their warmups and into suits. As a result, not even the hustle and extremely hard work put in by the nine players left could keep Portland from, in incredible fashion, avenging a embarrassing defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Portland scored seven points in the first quarter against Los Angeles on Monday night. Tuesday night, 41 points were scored. This prolific performance wasn’t against the most formidable opponent by any means, but given the talent San Antonio still had at its disposal and given how poorly the Blazers have played recently it was an excellent sign. The basket was huge for everyone involved in the amazing offensive display, as 13 of 19 field goals were made, including all seven three-pointers attempted. Jamal Crawford assumed the role of starting point guard and flourished, distributing for baskets and making a few of his own. Raymond Felton, whom he replaced, even got into the act.
The Blazers cooled off, but still maintained a shooting percentage well over 50 percent. Everything that went wrong against Los Angeles went right against a team riding an 11-game win-streak. San Antonio had some nice individual performances, particularly from rookie forward Kawhi Leonard, but overall it was clear how hurt they were by the absences of Parker and Duncan, not to mention Manu Ginobili, Taigo Splitter, and T.J. Ford. The astounding 137-97 Portland win told this story well.
One-hundred and thirty-seven points–an amazing accomplishment, no matter who it is against. Poppovich always expects the most from his players; it doesn’t matter if they are All-Stars or relatively unknown bench players. And he expects them to be well-rounded, to be efficient both offensively and defensively. He always has a plan and believes anyone who dons a Spurs jersey can execute it. The unit that played Portland has done this before. They didn’t do this tonight.
The game was well in hand by the end of the third, with the 100-point mark already surpassed. To create this feat, and the large, insurmountable lead that accompanied it, Portland used its considerable height advantage and its large amount of bundled up energy and anger early and often to crisply run a constantly aggressive attack. The Spurs didn’t stand a chance, which hasn’t been said much this season–again, no matter who suits up.
Portland needed a win badly, but they didn’t just simply accomplish that. The 137 points scored were the most by a Blazers team in a regulation game since March, 7th, 1994, when they beat Golden State by eleven less points, according to Portland’s PR department. Having a large role in making this possible was Elliot Williams, an immense fan-favorite whose performance was far from surprising.
He entered the game in the fourth quarter, with a win well in hand. The starters and significant bench players, frustratingly aside from Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, and Felton, were all resting, done for the night. As they had done before him, Williams excelled and showed Nate McMillan why he deserves more minutes in the season’s second half. Whether McMillan takes Williams NBA-ready performance to heart is another matter. The springy, gifted guard scored a career-high 17 points, all but two coming in the final period–throwing down powerful dunks, slashing to the rim for layups, and showing off a much-improved jumper. He had the full arsenal going against the Spurs, which can be said about everyone who made a lasting impact.
Portland didn’t play the team Poppovich is used to fielding, and though baskets came easy, the win was still telling and definitely uplifting from a Blazers perspective. In recent weeks, there has been a call from many for change, from who plays to who coaches. Judging by Portland’s performance over this frustrating, outspoken span, it was hard not to come to the unfortunate conclusion that this team was simply not good. They tossed that notion out of the window in victory over San Antonio; proving just how good the Blazers can be when they play to their strengths and when they are continuously aggressive. That kind of motivating, cohesive play has been lacking of late, but that it appeared when Portland needed it most is very encouraging as eight days of rest await.