Game analysis: What a difference a fast start makes for Portland

It might have been the most stunning one-game transformation in recent NBA history.

After scoring seven points in the first quarter Monday night, Portland turned things around in a big way Tuesday night against the Spurs.

And then some.

The hot-shooting Trail Blazers erupted for 41 points, eight 3-pointers and 22 consecutive points in the first quarter of their 137-97 beatdown of the Spurs Tuesday night. It was an NBA season high for points in the first quarter.

It came only a night after the Trail Blazers managed only seven points in their worst offensive quarter of the season in a 103-92 loss. In that game, Portland fell into a 29-7 hole after the first quarter and never were able to challenge the Lakers Monday night.

“We needed to get back on track, we needed to bounce back from that loss that we had and we did it tonight,” Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge told the Associated Press.

Portland’s victory did come against what could charitably be called the Spurs’ junior varsity team as Tony Parker and Tim Duncan both sat out the game as a coach’s decision. The Spurs were also playing without injured starter Manu Ginobili and key injured role players Tiago Splitter and T.J. Ford.

The results were predictable, considering the Spurs were playing without five key players from their normal rotation. It helped endure the Spurs’ worst loss since Gregg Popovich’s first season — a season before Duncan was drafted.

“I thought Portland played great,” Popovich said. “They were aggressive and they started on fire. They jumped on us right off the bat and kept their intensity and focus the whole game. They did a great job.”

It snapped the Spurs’ 11-game winning streak with one game left on the Rodeo Road Trip.

As the game got out of hand, Popovich made the wise decision to give his youngest players the most playing time in the one-sided game. It was a valuable learning lesson, even if it cost them a loss.

The margin of victory probably deserved an asterisk, considering who the Spurs played  for most of the game.

Here’s how it happened.

The game, simply stated: No Parker. No Duncan. No Ginobili. No Splitter. No Ford. Portland jumped on the Spurs from the beginning of the game and never let up in a one-sided end to the Spurs’ recent Rodeo Road Trip success.

Where the game was won: After Richard Jefferson hit a 3-pointer that gave the Spurs a 20-19 lead, Portland blew the game open with a run of 22 straight points as the Spurs missed eight straight shots and committed a turnover during a run that ended only after James Anderson’s 3-pointer to end the first quarter.

Blowing it open: Gary Neal pulled the Spurs within 59-43 on a three-point play with 1:42 left, but Portland scored the last seven points of the half on a spurt capped by a 3-pointer from Jamal Crawford that gave them a 66-43 halftime lead. The Spurs would come no closer, trailing by margins of up to 48 points late in the game. Only an 11-3 run to finish the game kept it from being the Spurs’ worst loss under Popovich.

Player of the game I: Crawford, who was inserted into the starting lineup to boost Portland’s perimeter shooting, did it in a big way Tuesday night. He hit all five 3-pointers in the first half, en route to 18 of his 2o points. He also added eight assists and four rebounds in a strong all-around game.

Player of the game II: Spur killer Aldridge played with his traditional vengeance against the Silver and Black, notching 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes. It marked his second straight game with at least 20 points against the Spurs and seventh in his last 11 games against them.

Player of the game III: Versatile forward Gerald Wallace filled the box score with 19 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. He was also a versatile defender who shuffled between small and power forward and was a matchup nightmare for the Spurs throughout the game. 

Most unsung: Sure, most of it came in garbage time, but rookie Portland guard Elliot Williams went for a season-best 17 points in 17 minutes. In his last seven games, he had scored a combined 16 points.

Attendance: If any city is immune to the woes of the post-lockout glut of games,  it’s Portland. Tuesday’s game attracted a sellout crowd of 20,567 to the Rose Garden. The Trail Blazers have sold out 177 straight games (regular season and playoffs) dating back to Dec. 21, 2007. The Trail Blazers led the Western Conference in average attendance last season (20,510) and ranked second in the league behind only Chicago.

Did you notice I:  When the game got out of hand early, Popovich wisely decided to quickly bench Matt Bonner (5:52 played), Jefferson (18:43), Neal (18:03) and DeJuan Blair (20:40). It provided a learning laboratory for most of the second half for Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Cory Joseph, Anderson and Eric Dawson in a rotation most of Spurs Nation probably hope they won’t be seeing much more.

Did you notice II:  Maybe Popovich was fulfilling his earlier comments where he said he employed the defense only as punishment. Or maybe he was trying to teach his team something. But the Spurs were in a zone defense less than five minutes into the game.

Did you notice III: He hadn’t played much a point guard before this season. But it’s becoming clear that Neal is evolving in his second NBA season. He’s not just a spot-up jump shooter as before. And while his playing time at point guard often is rocky, he’ll be able to play the position in a pinch when the Spurs need him. 

Stat of the game I:  The Spurs’ 11-game winning streak, best in the NBA this season, was snapped. It had been their longest since winning 12 straight from Nov. 1 through Nov. 24, 2010.

Stat of the game II: The Spurs allowed 137 points. It’s the most they have permitted since a 161-153 victory over Denver on Nov. 7, 1990. That game was the second game of the second season for David Robinson and Sean Elliott.

Stat of the game III: San Antonio’s 48-point deficit late in the game was by far the largest the Spurs have faced this season. Their previous biggest margin was 28 points against Miami on Jan. 17.  

Stat of the game IV: Leonard has his  biggest game with the team, notching season-high totals of 24 points, 43 minutes and five steals. He grabbed 10 rebounds as he produced his third double-double of the season. His five steals were the most by a Spur since Ginobili notched five at Boston on Jan. 5, 2011.

Stat of the game V:  The Trail Blazers obliterated their season record book as they notched season bests from the field (.593) and 3-point range (.536) and matched their season high with 15 3-pointers. Portland also had season highs for most points in a quarter (41, first) a half (66, first half), through three quarters (103) and for a game.

Weird stat of the game I: The 22-point streak of points allowed by the Spurs late in the first quarter is the most consecutive points they have allowed this season.

Weird stat of the game II: The Spurs allowed Portland to shoot at least 50 percent from the field in each quarter — 68.4 percent in the first quarter, 50 percent in the second quarter, 60 percent in the third quarter and 58.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The only other time that has happened this season came in the victory at New Orleans on Jan. 23.

Weird stat of the game III: The Blazers had six players who scored 16 points or more in Tuesday’s game. The last time they accomplished that feat was Dec. 20, 1992 against Golden State.

Weird stat of the game IV: Portland has won seven times by at least 20 points. No other team in the Western Conference has more than three 20-point wins.

Not a good sign: The Spurs again were manhandled inside as the Blazers dominated them for a 52-36 edge in points in the paint. Coupled with the game against Utah Monday night, the Spurs have been outscored in the paint 108-66 in the last two games. The Jazz and Blazers have produced two of the top three efforts in paint points against the Spurs this season.

Best plus/minus scores: Jefferson was minus-15 and Blair and Bonner were minus-19, .

Worst plus/minus scores: Anderson was a team season-worst minus-34, Dawson was minus-25 and Neal was minus-24.   

Quote of the game: “It’s a win going into the all-star break coming off a game where we felt like we just played bad, horrible last night, so the thing we take from this is we got us a win. We go into the break with a win and a little confidence,” Wallace to about the turnaround from Monday’s loss to the Lakers.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs will finish the Rodeo Road Trip Thursday night in Denver before the All-Star break. The Trail Blazers don’t return to action until Feb. 29 when they visit Denver.

Injuries: Ginobili (strained left oblique muscle) and Splittler (strained right calf) missed their second games since they were injured Saturday at the Clippers. Ford missed his 23rd game (Spurs record 17-6) with a torn left hamstring. Portland guard Wesley Matthews left early in the fourth quarter with a mild left ankle sprain.

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