By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO – It was the middle of the second quarter and the Blazers’ biggest offensive weapon had finally found a clear path to the basket.
LaMarcus Aldridge slammed his dunk attempt off the back iron.
On the next trip down the floor, Aldridge took another feed, had another open path to the hoop.
And clanked another dunk.
Snakes in the Portland locker room. Snakes on the rim.
When the Blazers eventually slithered out of the AT&T Center on the wrong end of another clubbing, they probably didn’t feel bitten by a viper as much as squeezed breathless by a powerful boa constrictor.
Aldridge can’t find room to move in the low post. Damian Lillard can’t find enough opportunities to work his shimmy-shake magic. Wes Matthews can’t find anything to do except toss up his arms in frustration and plead his case to referees. The numbers on a map say it’s just 200 miles between Houston and San Antonio, but the Blazers have discovered the brand of basketball might as well come from opposite sides of the planet.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets’ played one-on-one. Now the Spurs play all-as-one.
In the first round, the Rockets played with frantic, nervous energy. Now the Spurs play with the quiet, deadly hum of high voltage power lines.
In the first round, the Rockets often treated the fourth quarters and the final minutes of games as something to give away. “Here, take this.” Now the Spurs treat the opening quarters of games as time to simply smack the Blazers and bloody their noses. “Here, take that.”
At this rate their stock is dropping faster than Johnny Football’s. Maybe even the Cleveland Browns wouldn’t take a gamble on the Blazers.
For a Portland team that just four days ago was still celebrating the first playoff series win for the franchise in 14 years, this has been a step up in class like going from kindergarten to quantum mechanics. While Houston poked and prodded and tweaked and adjusted a defensive plan to try to turn down the heat from the boiling concoction that was Aldridge, the Spurs have turned to Tiago Splitter and told him to be the lid on the pot. He bumps Aldridge. He grinds Aldridge. He bangs Aldridge. He flusters Aldridge. And then Splitter gets help in close to the basket from Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard and anybody else who just feels like taking a swipe or throwing shoulder.
“I missed two dunks and four or five layups,” Aldridge said after a 6-for-23 shooting night and just 16 points. “If those shots go in, then the whole game is different.”
And if pigs had wings, it would be tougher for us to catch that bacon.
It’s never a good thing when coach Terry Stotts is pointing out the highlights of not giving up any fast break points and holding the other guys to just 44 points in the second half. Not when his team gave up 70 points and trailed by 19 at halftime.
On one hand, all the Spurs have done is held the home-court advantage as they now head out to Portland. On the other hand, the Blazers have held the lead for a grand total of 16 seconds in two entire games of playoff basketball.
These are not the Spurs who looked disinterested and disjointed through the first six games against Dallas in the previous round. Now they are back to rolling up and down the court like a road grader, flattening anything in their path. Their deepest-in-the-NBA bench is back. So is their swagger. Manu Ginobili throwing football-style touchdown passes to Leonard on the break. Boris Diaw doing the Jell-O roll through the paint to drop in the kind of shot that was so tasty it made you want to lick the spoon.
These are not the Blazers who looked like the poised ones down the stretch against the discombobulated Rockets.
“No panic,” said the Blazers’ Nicolas Batum. “We know we’ve done bad the last two games.”
On the bright side, nobody was bitten.