How the Portland Trail Blazers can avoid elimination in the NBA playoffs


(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs have taken a 3-0 series lead on the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Spurs have jumped out in front early, scored big in the second quarter and run up scoring differentials of plus-24, plus-17 and plus-15 in the first three games. Want to be further depressed for Portland fans? Their team has led for just 33 seconds of the series — 16 seconds in Game 2, 17 seconds in Game 2 — and never beyond the first quarter.

“This is well as I’ve seen [the Spurs] play all season,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “They came out of the gate in Game 7 against Dallas and they haven’t stop since.”

It’s a tough spot for the Blazers: According to WhoWins, teams with this edge have never lost a series in the second round (36-0). But if the Portland wants to stave off elimination in Game 4, here is what they must do.

Make Tony Parker shoot jumpers

Tony Parker is on fire. He scored 20 of his 29 points in the first half of Game 3 and is averaging 26 points, 8.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and a steal per game in the series. His net rating — an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions — is plus-22.1.

“It’s what he does,” shooting guard Danny Green said. “He reads the situations. He makes the right decisions and he gets us all playing the way we want to play.”

In the half-court offense, the Spurs’ primary option is the pick-and-roll (33 percent of their offense in the series according to Synergy Sports). Parker will run his defender off the screen and his first read will be to drive to the basket. By having Tim Duncan’s defender drop down into the paint you can force Parker to instead take the wide-open jumper, where he doesn’t create as many points.

Speaking of points, Portland needs to create them off the fast break

Portland was able to generate 14 points per game off the fast break against Houston in Round 1 but has just 8.7 against San Antonio through three games.

The Spurs have shown they can struggle against teams in transition: In the 2011 series vs. Memphis, the Grizz managed 12.2 fast-break points per game while Oklahoma City put up 16.5 per in their first-round knockout of the Spurs in 2012.

Get Tim Duncan in foul trouble.

The Spurs’ 38-year-old big man scored 19 points with seven rebounds and four assists in Game 3. But he is only committing 2.0 personal fouls per game compared with 2.6 vs. the Mavericks in the first round. When he is on the court, the Trail Blazers have an offensive rating (an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions) of 93.1, but that number grows to 100.4 when he is on the bench. Portland’s effective field goal percentage is 42.1 percent with Duncan on the court and 51.2 percent with him on the bench.

Portland needs to get him into foul trouble and limit his time on the court.

Make three-pointers

In two regular season wins over San Antonio, the Trail Blazers made 44.4 percent of their three-point shots. In the two losses, they made 25.6 percent. So far this series, the Blazers are shooting 19 for 57 (33.3 percent).


Portland’s 3-Point Field Goal Percentage during 2013-14 Playoffs vs. San Antonio Spurs

To recap: Portland needs to stifle the opponent’s hottest shooter, create points off the fast break, get a future Hall of Fame player into foul grouble and be successful with shots that are so difficult they award you an extra point for making them. Oh, and outcoach a three-time coach of the year who has the fourth-highest win percentage in league history.

“We’re going to show our character, we’re going to show our pride, we’re going to come out and play our [buttocks] off on Monday,” Stotts said.

If not, Rip City will become RIP City via a sweep.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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