Only hours after the Miami Heat finished their Eastern Conference Semi-Finals series, the San Antonio Spurs put an exclamation mark on their dominant series win over the Portland Trailblazers. In a 4-1 series win, their average margin of victory was 19.5 points; the biggest of any series win by far this postseason. The Rockets to a certain extent were playing with house money. The foundation for a solid future is there with Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, but no one anticipated a 50-win season and a trip to the second round. This was a case of the varsity vs. the JV team. The Spurs’ age, experience, talent, and execution overwhelmed a team that is still learning … San Antonio is peaking.
CHERRY PICKING – KAWHI LEONARD IS BECOMING THE SPURS’ BEST PLAYER, QUICKLY
Kawhi Leonard came into this season with high expectations from his team, fans, and fantasy owners alike, but a hand injury during the season cost him 16 games and he struggled a bit to find a consistent rhythm. His fantasy season was a disappointment: 12.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 52.2 FG%. His lack of statistical growth can be attributed somewhat to his injury, as well as his limited minutes. Leonard was easily out of the top 20 for small forwards in scoring despite having an average draft position of 26.5 overall in Yahoo! standard leagues.
He came back with a vengeance during this Western Conference semifinal match up. He was top-3 on the Spurs in every major category except assists. Only four Spurs averaged double-digit shot attempts against the Blazers, the Big 3, and Sugar K. Leonard (great nickname by Shaq btw). His line for the 5 games against the Blazers: 17.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG and a 52.9 3-PT%, the best 3-PT shooting percentage of any player in the second round (minimum 15 attempts).
OFF THE BENCH – PATTY MILLS TORCHES HIS FORMER TEAM
Patty Mills filled in admirably for Tony Parker after he tweaked his left hamstring in only 10 minutes of action in Game 5. But even before Parker’s injury, Mills was the best reserve for the Spurs this entire series, including future Hall-of-Famer Manu Ginobili. He averaged the fewest minutes out of any rotation player (14.8) but was still one of only four Spurs to average double-digit points (11.0) during the series, the others being Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard.
Mills’ line for Game 5 when TP went down:
26 MP, 18 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 BLK, 3 STL, 0 TO
That performance made him a better statistical single day fantasy play than every other Game 5 starting guard in the playoffs except John Wall, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and his teammate Danny Green, while also providing huge value because of his relatively low salary.
SWING MAN – SPLITTER SLOWS DOWN ALDRIDGE
Every Spurs championship team has featured a true center that can play opposite of Tim Duncan. Whether it was the Admiral in 1999 & 2003, or even Nazr Muhammad and Fabricio Oberto, Timmy has always had another big man by his side. Popp recognized that Duncan needed a front court teammate that can help him clean the glass at his advanced age, as well as carry the burden of defending another team’s top low-post threat. Splitter proved during this series that his 4-year, $36M was money well spent (well at least money not completely blown). Aldridge shot 46.9 percent from the field with Splitter on the bench, as opposed to the39.5% when he was on the court. Aldridge’s plus/minus with Splitter sitting was -1.4. With Splitter playing it dropped nearly five full points to -6.2. To have such a tangible impact on an All-NBA performer like Aldridge speaks volumes about his value to the Spurs.
AIR BALL (OR HIT THE SHOWERS) –THE TRAIL BLAZER BENCH
The Portland bench was the weak link in their team heading into the postseason. Mo Williams, their only proven reserve, went down with a groin injury after game 2 and missed the rest of the conference semifinals. Against the Spurs, the Trail Blazers’ bench averaged 19.3 PPG, less than 20% of the team’s total offensive output. For the entire postseason, the Blazers bench had a plus/minus of -3.0. Only the Bobcats were worse with a -4.4 against the Heat.