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Down 0-2 to the Spurs, Blazers are burying themselves early

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

Lillard and the Blazers have to start out much better. (USATSI)
Damian Lillard and the Blazers have to start out much better. (USATSI)

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This is the problem when you face the San Antonio Spurs.

You can compete with them and you can win stretches of the ball game. You can out work them here and there. You can move the ball better than them and shoot at a higher clip than them during extended stretches for the game. But how you outplay them for a full 48 minutes is often the question when you're trying to stop them from doing what they do so often: win.

The Portland Trail Blazers find themselves down 0-2 after two games in San Antonio to start out the Western Conference semifinals, and the main reason appears to be that they just can't compete with the Spurs when it comes to the first 24 minutes of these games. The Spurs have come out ready to play in both games and the execution has been crisp. They're blowing the Portland defense, which was shaky to begin with at 16th in the NBA this season, out of the water right away.

In the first half of both games, the Spurs have scored 135 on 58.7 percent from the field. They dropped 65 points in the first half of Game 1, behind 17 points and six assists from Tony Parker and double figure scoring from both Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. Three other players scored at least eight points off the bench. Game 2 saw the Spurs even deadlier when they scored 70 points in the first half, thanks to double figure scoring from Parker (10 points and eight assists), Leonard (14 points), and Marco Belinelli (11 points).

San Antonio has 33 assists in their two first halves combined, which is more than the Blazers have had in both full games combined (24).

The Blazers' offense isn't exactly keeping up in these first halves of games either. The 24 assists in 48 minutes of pre-halftime action are only 10 more than Parker's had in his first halves. Portland shot 33.3 percent from the field in the first half of Game 1, when they scored just 39 points on 45 shots. Game 2 saw much better offensive production with 51 points on 49 shots, but it's still not nearly enough to handle the Spurs' machine.

There has to be a better effort on both sides of the court in the first half of Game 3 if the Blazers want to start thinking about making this a series. Perhaps coming out in front of their home crowd will give them the charge, energy, and focus they need to challenge the Spurs right away. Portland did a great job of matching the Spurs in the first quarter of Game 2, but they couldn't keep that focus into the second quarter. From 11:06 to 7:33 of the second period, the Spurs went on a 21-4 run to put some big distance between the two teams.

The reason these first and second quarters are so frustrating for the Blazers and their fans is the second half of each game has been a win for Portland. The Blazers outscored the Spurs 53-51 in the second half of Game 1 and 46-44 in the second half of Game 2. Whatever halftime adjustments the Blazers are making to the game (before garbage time kicks in late in the fourth) is working for Terry Stotts and his players. But the pre-game preparation or the early game execution just isn't there.

How do you put together a full 48-minute effort against this Spurs machine? Is it even possible or do you have to just try to win as many small stretches of the game as possible and hope it adds up to a more potent sum of productive basketball than what San Antonio is able to do over the course of a game?

That's the problem when you face the Spurs. You just have to execute and hope for the best.

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