Trying to forget Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Charlotte Hornets - after which coach Terry Stotts openly criticized the team's effort and focus - the Portland Trail Blazers flew back across the country Monday to face a rolling San Antonio Spurs squad for the second time in six days at AT&T Center.
The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard's return to form (27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), Al-Farouq Aminu (17 Points, 4 rebounds) and CJ McCollum (15 points). The Spurs were led by Kawhi Leonard, who continued his impressive season (19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists) and Manu Ginobili (17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists).
Neither team could get anything going on offense during the first quarter; San Antonio scored the first six points of the game before Portland answered back with a 10-0 run. Both sides shot sub-30% from the field, but offensive rebounds and some carelessness from the Blazers gave the Spurs a few extra possessions to work with. Chris Kaman got the starting nod again but was mostly ineffective. Lillard and McCollum clearly had the quickness advantage against an aging Tony Parker/Ginobili duo and had some success penetrating San Antonio's front line, but were repeatedly challenged by the Spurs' bigs at the rim. On the other side, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw pounded the undersized Portland frontcourt in the paint.
End of First: Portland 13, San Antonio 17
The Blazers' shooting woes did not improve in the second quarter, missing its first five shots before Maurice Harkless's three-pointer. This would be Portland's only field goal until Damian Lillard's top of the key jumper almost halfway through the period. San Antonio didn't necessarily shoot all that much better, but simply out-hustled and out-savvy'd the vastly inexperienced Blazers to build a double-digit lead. Portland only managed to eclipse the twenty point mark with less than five minutes remaining in the half on Mason Plumlee's dunk off a nice feed from Lillard. For the most part, both teams traded bricks for the final couple minutes and amazingly the Blazers found itself still within single-digits heading to the locker room.
Halftime: Portland, 28 San Antonio 36
The offense for both sides finally opened up in the third, but San Antonio slowly continued to build its lead. Kawhi heated up quickly, connecting on two threes and threw down a massive slam-dunk in transition. Lillard, hardly looking for his own three-point shot, kept using his speed to wreak havoc on the Spurs' inside, scoring 16 in the quarter. His first three-point attempt of the game pulled Portland within five at 60-55. However, it was his ability to dissect the San Antonio interior which allowed the Blazers offense to flow. Dame looked as comfortable as we've seen him since his nagging thumbnail injury.
End of Third: Portland 60, San Antonio 65
The Spurs are as well-coached as any team in the league, so you can bet that each player knows the importance of closing out games. San Antonio came out shooting with Ginobili connecting on back-to-back possessions, and Diaw's layup gave the Spurs a quick 12-point lead. Still, Portland showed some resilience of its own, with Aminu hitting back-to-back threes and Lillard continuing to attack the mid-range. Noah Vonleh's first three-pointer of the season pulled the Blazers within three at 81-78, but Ginobili would prove to be too much of a menace, closing out the game with four straight buckets. His three with 70 seconds remaining put San Antonio up by ten and all but sealed it.
Portland travels next to complete its four-game road trip Wednesday in Houston against the Rockets - tip is scheduled for 5 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.