Free throws, three send Blazers to another Spurs loss
The lottery-bound Portland Trail Blazers weren’t about to beat the playoffs San Antonio Spurs Sunday afternoon. They didn’t either. Portland fell _113-92 in a game that featured more energy than execution. Loss keeps Blazers in battle for 5th-worst league record and best position in 2022 NBA Draftbut the game also had some interesting points.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are a few other notable things.
The spirit is willful but the flesh is weak when it comes to Portland’s home defense. It’s hard to see these players making mostly correct moves and rotations in the lane, mostly for nothing. Spurs looked down and Portland defenders and said, “Yeah? Now what?” With just a little size and intimidation, this defense would be better than it has been in years. It’s not there, of course, so the real effect is limited.
The criminal part of the above paragraph is that the Blazers almost sacrifice any excuse to cover three-pointers in order to pursue their first-lane defensive plan. San Antonio was WIDE open in the arc throughout the game. It’s a conundrum the Blazers haven’t been able to solve, no matter what formation they’ve used this year. You’d despair that it was possible if other teams couldn’t.
A general lack of length and lateral speed is likely the culprit. The few Blazers who combine the two don’t have enough experience or infrastructure support to count. Those qualities should be high on Portland’s list this offseason if they plan to make any defensive statements.
San Antonio shot 14-42 from beyond the arc today. It’s a mediocre percentage, but the three became their lifeline whenever they needed to get ahead. The fact that they went for 42 shows you how open they were.
What can Brown do for you?
Greg Brown III-Pointer was hot tonight, shooting 4-5 from range. His three-point shooting has been one of the only consistent factors on offense for Portland. He now wears amazing glasses. They seem to have turned him from Clark Kent into Superman. If Brown III develops a bankable outside shot, insert a wide-eyed happy expression here.
The lack of big men and the lack of continuity have conspired to rob Portland of one of its greatest weapons: screenplay. Gone are the days of Jusuf Nurkic laying down a good pickup to set up multiple scoring lanes. Drew Eubanks is Portland’s best option for screen setting, and half the time his guards don’t use him well. When Eubanks came out, screens were practically non-existent. This lets Portland players go against the opposing defense. They just can’t do that. When the opponent is stupid and sends help, the Blazers make the right pass, getting a good look. But it doesn’t take long for opposing defenses to realize they don’t need help, as about no Blazers scorer can create one-on-one space. When everyone stays at home defensively, Portland can’t afford to move them and the attack passes pfffffftttttt.
As if the arcing and defensive advantage wasn’t enough today, Spurs also shot 23-30 from the foul line, giving them a +13 point advantage on free throws. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Portland. They might have held firm, as San Antonio’s offense came in fits and starts. But Portland’s defenders have become maneuverable and swipes. The referees didn’t let them off the hook at all. Those extra points for Spurs were too much to overcome.
The Blazers travel to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder at 5:00 p.m. PT on Tuesday night.