Game 2 not a "must-win" for Blazers, but they need to prove they can hang with the Spurs

Game 2 not a "must-win" for Blazers, but they need to prove they can hang with the Spurs
May 7, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Lillard- No reason to be embarrassed

SAN ANTONIO -- Getting run out of the gym in the first game of a playoff series usually does one of two things to your team:

No. 1, You get a wake-up call, realize what you have to fix and get right back in the series... OR .. No. 2, You have your heart cut out and never really mentally adjust the rest of the series. Doubt can set in and you can wonder if you really belong hanging with the better teams in the league.

And that's the challenge the Trail Blazers face Thursday night. They must overcome their wire-to-wire drubbing at the hands of the Spurs in Game 2, play harder and smarter, and establish some sort of base with which to play the rest of the series.

And it won't be easy.

First, the on-court challenges. San Antonio plays a physical, unselfish team game. You must defend all five of their players at all times -- including guys named Aron Baynes. On offense, you must fight your way through constant, sometimes brutal screens that made the Portland point guards, especially, look like those little round balls in a pinball machine -- getting banged, bumped and flipped all over the court. When this team sets a screen on you, it's a real screen that can rattle your teeth, not some little nudge you'd get in an elevator.

On offense, Portland has to return to its ball and player movement -- make the Spurs defend while the ball is being reversed from one side of the floor to the other. No easy task, there, either.

All of that is a huge adjustment from round one, where Portland played a Houston team featuring an isolation-oriented offense for two players and, at times, slipshod defense.

But the mental task will be huge. San Antonio showed the Blazers its A game and for a Portland team so full of swagger after the first-round win over Houston, that loss was a tough pill to swallow. Damian Lillard refused to call the defeat an embarrassment but certainly what we saw from Portland was a long way from its best effort.

This is when doubt can creep in -- particularly if good things don't happen right off the bat Thursday night. This is a mighty big stage and when you don't perform at your best it can do funny things to your confidence, individually and as a team.

Do the Trail Blazers belong in the second round of the playoffs? Sure, they beat a good team to get here. But they're playing an even better now. And how the Trail Blazers react to the situation Thursday is critical.

Portland doesn't even need to win Game 2. There's no "must" attached to a road game this early in the series. But, for their own self-confidence, they better play better.