Three-Pointers: Spurs dispatch Blazers with one final blowout
The Spurs complete the gentleman's sweep. After a brief detour in Game 4, San Antonio went back to its overwhelming ways on Wednesday to rout Portland, 104-82, and end this second-round series.
• The writing was on the wall. A Game 4 win lent the Blazers' efforts in this series a certain respectability, but let's not kid ourselves: This outcome was foretold through a string of Spurs blowouts. Even keeping competitive with San Antonio's current pace requires more talent and discipline than most opponents have at their disposal. Portland is apparently among them, but it wasn't enough to have a solid top five headlined by two complementary stars. With little bench depth, Terry Stotts and the Blazers' execution on both sides of the ball turned out to be a bit dodgy.
Their playoff end came in waves. During the second quarter the Blazers stood on the receiving end of a 19-6 run. To start the third they suffered a 16-4 blast in what seemed like one continuous fast break. Then, to kick off the fourth quarter, Portland was hit with a 15-2 haymaker -- a run that brought the deficit to 28 points and the series to its functional conclusion. Clearly there was no other way for this series to end than by way of the Spurs' impeccable balance. Of the 15 soul-crushing points, eight came from the starters and seven from the reserves. None was scored by Tony Parker or Tim Duncan. The ball moved, the defense buckled in and the deed was done. This is how San Antonio operates, and it is -- or should be to those two remaining Western Conference teams -- terrifying.
• Tony Parker checked out early but there was no stopping the Spurs. You wouldn't know it from the lopsided margin, but Parker -- All-NBA guard and the engine behind San Antonio's offense -- played just 10 minutes on Wednesday due to a tweaked hamstring. When Parker sat down for good with 8:45 remaining in the second quarter, San Antonio led by just six points. Four minutes later the Spurs had already built the lead to 15, and never again would the game's verdict be in much doubt. Patty Mills (18 points, three steals) was just splendid in helping to fill in for Parker, even if the Spurs play an entirely different style when he's in control of the offense. Nevertheless Mills' quickness in transition and handsy defense paid off as the game wore on, to the point that San Antonio outscored Portland by 17 points with him on the floor.
(Parker's injury, according to the San Antonio Express-News, is not considered to be serious by team officials.)
The real standouts in Parker's absence, though, were the wings who typically feed off his shot creation. It's been a conspicuously quiet playoff run to date for Danny Green (22 points on 13 shots, nine rebounds), though he picked the perfect time to heat up and double his efforts. A nice shooting game would have been welcome, surely, though Green impressed most by committing fully to the little things -- fighting to get a hand on a contested rebound, scrambling to recover on defense or making a smart cut off the ball. Green can crumple into a low-energy player at times when his shot gives him trouble, though on Wednesday a few makes fed into his flow.
Kawhi Leonard (22 points on 15 shots, seven rebounds, five steals) doesn't have the same motor issues, as the Blazers witnessed first-hand:
Every component of that play was spectacular: The close-out on Nicolas Batum in the corner, the way Leonard funneled Batum into the help, the deflection without gambling, the ignition to shoot the gap between Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, and -- not least of all -- the subtle pump Leonard throws in on the dunk. This was easily the most highlight-worthy sequence for Leonard, though basketball fans would do well to watch him for a full game, both on and off the ball. There might not be too many out-and-out highlights, though Leonard does so much to space the floor, help his teammates, move the ball, box out and push the pace that he deserves concerted viewing.
• So long, Blazers. Portland will get its proper post-mortem in due time, though for now we owe at least a moment's consideration to the playoff departed. Not until October will we again see Lillard glide into a pull-up jumper, Batum slink his way around multiple defenders or LaMarcus Aldridge lay roots on the left block. That is a genuine bummer. There's a rhythm to this team that can't be found anywhere else in the playoff picture, a quality to its play that isn't easily replaced. Still, it's good that Portland hung around in the postseason precisely as long as it should and not a minute longer. This team played an essential role in the best first round of NBA playoff history and contributed what is arguably the biggest shot of the postseason thus far. Then, in the second round, the Blazers wound up as fodder for a far better team. There's no shame in that -- not after a season of such improbable success and so many heartening steps forward.