Spurs Ring in New Season With 106-97 Win Over Trail BlazersIt was a routine opening night for the San Antonio Spurs. First they received their 2007 championship rings and then they beat the Portland Trail Blazers for the tenth straight time, 106-97. While some people speak of a "Big Three" in Boston, the real Big Three--the Big Three that has won two of the last three NBA titles--once again led the way for the Spurs: Tim Duncan had 24 points and 13 rebounds, Tony Parker added 19 points and five rebounds and Manu Ginobili contributed 16 points, eight assists and five steals. Brent Barry provided a spark off of the bench with 12 points. This was a far cry from Miami's listless 108-66 loss to Chicago during the Heat's ring night opener last year. LaMarcus Aldridge scored a game-high 27 points on 12-19 shooting for Portland and Martell Webster chipped in 21 points on 9-15 shooting. Aldridge and Webster each narrowly missed matching their career-highs (30 and 24 respectively). Last year's Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy--battling injuries and Bruce Bowen's defense--had just seven points on 2-10 shooting, though he did have five rebounds and a team-high six assists.
Aldridge got Portland off to a good start by hitting his first two jumpers and then making a hook shot but Parker used his speed in the open court to reel off 11 quick points as San Antonio took a 19-12 lead by the 4:31 mark of the first quarter. Travis Outlaw checked in for Aldridge at that point and he also showcased his jump shot, scoring seven points as Portland rallied to cut the deficit to 29-26 by the end of the period.
Ginobili's three pointer pushed the margin to 39-30 early in the second quarter. A little bit later, Duncan blitzed off seven points in less than two minutes to give San Antonio a 55-39 advantage and it looked like the game might be over by halftime. Instead, the young Trail Blazers kept their poise, made some shots and only trailed 59-49 at the break. Duncan, Aldridge and Parker each had 13 first half points. TNT's Mike Fratello made an interesting observation about the Spurs, comparing their approach to that of a veteran baseball player patiently taking a lot of pitches until he gets one he can hit; the Spurs never rush and never do anything out of character--they stick with their system and execute it very efficiently.
Nearly halfway through the third quarter, the Spurs still led 69-59 but Portland outscored San Antonio 22-14 to get within 81-77 going into the final 12 minutes. Aldridge scored eight points in the quarter. A key momentum shift happened with 2:23 left. Spurs' center Francisco Elson missed a fast break dunk, Portland got the rebound and Aldridge converted a dunk at the other end, a four point swing that left San Antonio clinging to a 73-69 lead.
San Antonio briefly built an eight point lead in the fourth quarter but Aldridge's jumper with 2:01 left made the score 98-95 Spurs. Then Parker took over, nailing a jumper and converting a layup to put the Spurs back in control. A Duncan layup and two Ginobili free throws closed out the scoring for San Antonio. Portland shot 39-78 from the field and battled the Spurs to a 40-40 tie on the boards. The difference in the game was that San Antonio committed just nine turnovers while Portland coughed up the ball 17 times.
What more can be said about the Spurs? They are picking up right where they left off last season. As for the Trail Blazers, it certainly looks like they have a promising young nucleus and if Greg Oden returns to health next year this team could become really good. The one caveat, though, is that every team is going to bring its best game against San Antonio; it remains to be seen if the Trail Blazers will play at this level on a consistent basis.
*Prior to the game, TNT aired a one-hour pregame show. Naturally, the Kobe Bryant saga was a prominent topic. Magic Johnson, who is a Lakers executive, summed matters up very succinctly: "It's a mess." More specifically, he said that one of the problems is that there are too many voices speaking for the Lakers. Johnson recalled that when Jerry West was still running the show that he was the public voice of the franchise. Johnson criticized Bryant for going public with his trade request last summer and Kenny Smith opined that when Bryant did that it made it more difficult for the Lakers to fulfill Bryant's other request, namely to provide him more help if the Lakers did not trade him; Smith suggested that if the Lakers try to make a move now then other teams are going to ask what it would take to acquire Bryant as opposed to figuring out how to hammer out other deals. Charles Barkley, who talked his way out of Philadelphia when the Sixers had a roster much like this Lakers' one that Bryant has complained about, insisted that the Lakers should get whatever they can for Bryant now because if they wait too long then he will opt out of his deal in a couple years and they will get nothing in return. Johnson disagreed, saying that Lakers' fans will not accept Bryant being sent away unless the team gets a legitimate star back; he would like to see the Lakers keep Bryant and try to improve the supporting cast around him. David Aldridge said that a Bryant trade is very difficult to pull off due to Bryant's salary and his no-trade clause that allows him veto power. Both he and Johnson expect Bryant to remain a Laker for this entire season.
*Smith has first hand experience being a solid point guard playing alongside All-Stars and he offered this piece of advice to Boston's Rajon Rondo: learn to say "No." Smith explained that it is the point guard's job to run the team smoothly. Even though Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are unselfish players there will be times when one or more of them come up to Rondo and say that they are open or that they have a favorable mismatch. Rondo must not succumb to even polite pressure and say "no" if the situation calls for it.
*Barkley, Johnson and Smith all stated with conviction that Cleveland will not win the Eastern Conference this year. Barkley went so far as to say that the Cavaliers might not even make the playoffs. Usually when players or teams say that they have been "disrespected" this is just a combination of hype and self motivation but if I were a Cavalier player or coach I would resent that so many analysts--not just the TNT guys--so bluntly call Cleveland's playoff run last year a fluke and dismiss their chances this season.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:23 AM