The Portland Trail Blazers are a pick-and-roll team failing in their favorite set.
After a scorching-hot series with the Houston Rockets, the Portland offense has cooled off. As usual, San Antonio deserves the credit.
Always reliable, the Spurs have done a tremendous job getting out to opposing shooters. Of Portland’s 82 field goal attempts in Game 1, San Antonio contested a ridiculous 58 of them. In Game 2, the Spurs again got out to shooters quickly, contesting 54 of the Blazers’ 93 field goal attempts. Portland has shot just 38.3 percent on contested jumpers over the first two games of the series.
Considering creating open looks for jump shooters is such an essential part of the Portland offense, the Blazers need to find better ways to score. They’re not getting room against San Antonio, and that means they need Damian Lillard to score out of the pick and roll.
The Blazers are supposed to have one of the most lethal pick-and-roll combinations of any team in the league. Lillard to LaMarcus Aldridge is a tandem that should work against anyone, except the Spurs are making sure it’s not.
With Tiago Splitter often manning Aldridge, the Spurs have showed hard in the pick and roll:
Lillard tries to get to the baseline twice on the same type of screen, but Splitter shows and Parker catches up to him enough to contest two potential shots, one of which Dame actually attempts from the left side and misses.
Portland also tries screening with Robin Lopez, guarded by Tim Duncan. Those sets are usually to create scoring opportunities for Lillard. Lopez is one of the better screeners in the game, but Duncan drops back and plays his usual pick-and-roll defense. With that, Portland continues to struggle:
Parker has done such a good job chasing Lillard around screens that Lillard’s only choice is to run at Duncan, so in these situations, Lillard has either been hesitant to shoot or has been forced into bad shots. When a defense forces the opposition’s best ball handler to dribble right into one of the best defenders in the NBA, it’s going to yield positive results more often than not.
This style isn’t necessarily new for the Spurs. You never see Duncan hedge or show on a screen and roll. It’s not San Antonio’s style. After all, zoning up the pick and roll is a go-to strategy for plenty of teams with bigs who move like 37-year-old men.
In Game 2, the Blazers mostly got away from the pick and roll with Lillard until after they already found themselves down 20. The Spurs’ Game 1 defense dictated the Blazers’ Game 2 offense, and that’s a scary prospect for a Portland team whose offensive attack controlled most of its regular season.
So, what do the Blazers need? They have to figure out exactly how to get open shots for Lillard and Aldridge, the two all-stars who have combined to shoot just 38.6 percent over the first two games of this series. After hitting all those jumpers against the Rockets (Aldridge shot 42 percent on a gluttonous 14.0 mid-range attempts per game in Round 1), the Blazers power forward was due for some regression on the least efficient shot in basketball. And if Lillard is going to be tentative shooting against a zoned-up Duncan, San Antonio will find itself with a much easier job than it thought it had at the beginning of Round 2.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at Bleacher Report or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.