It took all of four minutes for the playoff-tested San Antonio Spurs to deliver a message to the up-and-coming Portland Trail Blazers.
Tony Parker was on the attack, the Spurs defense was swarming and it was 10-2 before the Blazers even knew what hit them. The onslaught kept coming in that first quarter, which made one thing abundantly clear to the new kids on the block from the Northwest — they’re not in Houston anymore.
After feasting on the Rockets’ porous perimeter defense in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, the Blazers appeared to be caught off guard when they stepped up in class to face the Spurs in Game 1 of the semifinals, their first appearance beyond the first round since 2000.
“That,” said Damian Lillard, Portland’s 23-year-old point guard, “is a championship team.”
The Spurs led by 13 after the first quarter and 26 at halftime. By the time Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the rest of the Blazers got their bearings, it was too late and the Spurs cruised to a 116-92 victory.
What the Blazers learned in Game 1 is that all those uncontested 3-pointers that were there for the taking against the Rockets, all those free passes to the basket in transition that helped them erase big deficits in the blink of an eye, are going to be much harder to come by against the Spurs.
San Antonio limited Portland to 37.8 percent shooting and just four 3-pointers while forcing 20 turnovers. Lillard was 6 for 15, Nicolas Batum was 3 for 12 and Wesley Matthews had a quiet 2-for-6 night while spending a lot of energy chasing Parker around.
“Most of the guys on our team haven’t even been in the second round and they’ve won championships,” said Aldridge, one of the most experienced Blazers who had 32 points and 14 rebounds. “They’ve been here. I think they definitely came out and they let us know how it’s going to be. I think every guy on the team understands that.”
Game 2 is Thursday night in San Antonio, and if the Blazers are going to make this a series, they have to regroup quickly and respond against a much better opponent than the one they faced in the first round.
“The key tomorrow is just match their energy,” Parker said after practice Wednesday. “They’re going to come back and they’re going to be very motivated. The way we handle the win, that’s going to make the difference for us.”
Even more encouraging for the Spurs was the return to form of a bench unit that has been one of the team’s strengths all season long. Marco Belinelli scored 11 points total in the seven-game win over the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, but contributed 19 against the Blazers. Aron Baynes had 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds and was outscoring both Lillard and Aldridge at one point early in the game.
“They did a great job for us,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “They helped us sustain the energy. They executed well at both ends of the court. Obviously pretty pleased with them.”
The Blazers actually outscored the Spurs in the second half, which may help as they plan for Game 2. After taking the Spurs’ biggest punches in the first half and early into the third quarter, they were able to recover a bit and show they can compete.
They still lost by 24 points and never threatened to get back in the game, but they were looking for any shreds of positivity they can get.
“A welcome to San Antonio,” Aldridge called it. “I think a lot of guys got taken back, but I thought guys bounced back in the second half and that shows how we’re going to be next game. I thought the second half was much better for us and I think that’s how we’ll start the game next game.”
AP freelance writer Raul Dominguez contributed to this report.
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