Previewing Game 5 of the Spurs-Trail Blazers Western Conference semifinal series.
2. Where We Are: The Spurs lead the Trail Blazers 3-1 after going up 3-0 before dropping Game 4 in Portland. The first three games were ugly. The Spurs got out to big, healthy leads in the first half in all three wins and even when the Blazers matched them in the second half or won the second half, it was too big of a deficit to overcome. San Antonio has attacked the rim, clogged the paint and taken away the 3-point line. The Blazers responded in each of the three losses, but you can't consistently go down 20 early on and expect to get back against the Spurs.
In Game 4, they didn't do that. Portland managed to match the Spurs' effort and execution early and even held the halftime lead. Once the third quarter came, the Blazers used a huge rush of scoring fueled by their frontcourt. Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Robin Lopez combined for 23 of the 35 points in the third quarter and outscored the entire Spurs team (20). By the time the fourth came around, Gregg Popovich was waving the white flag and resting to try to close it out in Game 5.
3. The Big Number: 50.4. In the three wins by the Spurs in this series, their combined net rating for the first half of games is plus-50.4. That means if those first halves were all melted down into a single 100-possession game, the Spurs would have beaten the Blazers by 50 points. That's absurd. The Spurs are shooting 57.9 percent overall and 58.6 percent from 3-point range in those three first halves while the Blazers were left with their heads spinning. If San Antonio jumps to a big, early lead for the fourth time in five games, it likely ends the Blazers' remarkable season.
4. Key Adjustment: Clog the paint and give up the mid-range game. Lopez was great in Game 4 because he was a huge presence inside. His defense and rebounding allowed the Blazers to close off the paint for much of the game and allow the perimeter defenders to be tighter around the 3-point line. If you can run San Antonio off the arc while not giving up easy shots at the rim, you force them into midrange jumpers they don't mind taking but would prefer to not have to resort to attempting. It will take a total team effort on defense to keep the Spurs' engine in check.
5. The Big Story: The gentlemen's sweep, otherwise known as a 4-1 series win in a seven-game series. However, its truest form is the winning team taking the first three games of the series to essentially end the season for the other team, "allowing" a Game 4 win for the home crowd (often the home crowd) to enjoy, and then taking care of business in Game 5. The Spurs can be quite polite here while dashing the dreams of the Blazers and their fans. If the Clippers and Thunder go the full seven, it will even give the Spurs and their creaky veterans a little more rest for their final push this season.