The Spurs had a chance. Despite a forgettable first half, too many turnovers and a weak effort on the defensive boards, the Spurs had a chance to beat the Portland Trailblazers. The defense came through and stopped the Blazers with six seconds left. Roger Mason grabbed the ball and went the other way, passing to a wide open Michael Finley on the baseline from 12 feet out. Off the rim and out. Blazers win 100-99. Instead of a thrilling come from behind victory, the Spurs find themselves 0-2.
Before the game I posted four questions I wanted answered, so I'll revisit those first before adding a couple other thoughts.
First, I wondered if Duncan could repeat his strong showing from Wednesday. They definitely need him to play like a MVP without Ginobili around. He answered with 27 points and 10 rebounds. He was aggressive early on and finished with 12-of-19 shooting. I would have liked to see some more rebounds and a couple blocks, but I think he held back a little bit knowing that he couldn't get in foul trouble. The Spurs spent most of the game playing small out of necessity because Matt Bonner and Kurt Thomas are useless these days, so Duncan has to play as much as he can, which was 42 minutes tonight. I worry that he will burn out because of too much play time early this season, but Pop has no other choice.
I also wondered where the extra scoring would come from. Finley provided an extra scoring punch early on and finished with 16 points. However, the Spurs only had four players score in the first half, and one was Desmon Farmer with two points. Pop's beard must have light into Roger Mason at half because he had yet to attempt a shot. Mason was a different player in the second half, showing a willingness to drive and find his own shot. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Both players will have to continue, especially Mason because he is the best at creating his own shot after Tony Parker.
My third question was whether another big man would step up. That was a resounding no. Matt Bonner should not play. It's as simple as that. Don't expect his game to change. We know what type of player he is by now. He picked up four fouls in 12 minutes and provided five points and two rebounds. He can't defend, rebound, move his feet, dribble or post up. I would rather the Spurs start in smallball mode because it's more effective. Thomas wasn't much better, grabbing five boards and committing three fouls in 20 minutes. He can't jump or stay with faster big men anymore, and the Blazers young bigs abused him. Even their young small forwards abused him down low. The Spurs are traditionally one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, but I don't like how they look right now up front.
Finally, I was curious how Nicolas Batum would play considering many expected him to fall to the Spurs. Unfortunately he played as well as I expected. A 6'8'' small forward who sweats athleticism, Batum simply outhustled the Spurs on numerous occasions to finish with 12 points, 2 blocks and a steal. The Spurs could have used a player like him tonight and pretty much every night from here on out. Only 19 years old, it hurts not having Batum. Just another player to add to the list (Josh Howard, Luis Scola top it).
I just wanted to throw out a couple more thoughts before putting this game behind me.
I really liked how Mason played in the second half. He blew past his man a couple times to finish at the rim, which is something rarely seen outside of Parker or Ginobili. He will have to continue this aggressive play. Normally Pop is slow to integrate new players, but he has no choice but to play Mason major minutes with Ginobili sidelined. However, I do have one complaint. On the last play of the game, Mason was coming down the lane with only one player in his way, and if I remember correctly it was a guard. Instead of passing to Finley he should have gone up strong and tried to dunk or lay the ball in. He had the momentum and an opening to finish strong.
Finally, I must admit that I don't like how the Spurs look right now. Games that used to be gimmes are going to be battles. Duncan and Parker, who finished with 24 points and 11 assists, have to play perfectly every night as long as Ginobili is out. Every night is going to be a battle to score 90-95 points. Bruce Bowen, Jacque Vaughn, Fabricio Oberto, Bonner and Thomas simply aren't scoring options. Perhaps they can average 15 points combined this season, but I honestly don't expect much more than that. Seriously. None of these guys can score. You'll notice that every big man besides Duncan is on that list, which is another major problem. Expect the Spurs to play more smallball this year than before because Duncan has no help up front. Traditionally they are one of the best defensive rebounding teams, but the Blazers abused them with 13 offensive rebounds and attempted 14 more shots. Folks, this could be a long month or two until Ginobili returns. Expectations will have to adjust.
You can't say that you weren't warned.