The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the San Antonio Spurs 110-90 tonight at the Moda Center. Portland has now lost nine of its last 10 games and has fallen to no. 9 in the Western Conference – currently out of playoff position.
Tonight’s loss was punctuated when Damian Lillard sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter. Lillard re-entered the game following a timeout, but was noticeably limited and subbed out after one series of plays. Lillard’s injured ankle/foot was x-rayed after the game. His prognosis has not been announced, but he did leave the arena in a walking boot.
Damian Lillard leaves the arena in a walking boot. On the plus side, Evan Turner left the arena without a boot.— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) December 24, 2016
Kawhi Leonard topped the Spurs with 33 points on only 15 field goal attempts. Former Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge exacted some vengeance by putting up a line of 18 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Patty Mills also got in on the revenge tour, contributing 23 points and 5 assists on the strength of 5-for-7 shooting on 3-pointers.
Lillard and CJ McCollum both had 16 points for the Blazers, but shot a combined 12-for-35 from the field. Lillard added 10 assists before leaving with the aforementioned sprained ankle.
The Blazers opened the game playing like an embarrassed team looking to turn around its losing ways. They moved the ball well throughout the quarter and collected four of the game’s first five assists and jumped out to an 8-4 lead in points in the paint. The Spurs stuck around by drawing six foul shouts to Portland’s one by the 6:36 mark. The quarter ended with an Ed Davis put-back that tied the game at 27.
The second quarter started like the first ended – a Davis rebound and Blazers bucket put Portland ahead 29-27. Unfortunately, Portland developed a case of the turnovers; after committing only two in the first quarter, the Blazers handed the ball over on six possessions in the first 4:43 of the quarter. The Spurs capitalized with a 13-2 run and jumped ahead 40-31. From there, hot shooting propelled the Spurs (7-for-10 on 3-pointers in the first half) to a 57-45 halftime advantage.
Amusingly, Lillard did drain a 70-footer after the halftime buzzer sounded:
Haters will say it's fake. pic.twitter.com/CiKhtNw2r7— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 24, 2016
McCollum opened the second half with seven quick points, and the Blazers offense, in general, looked cohesive. Lillard collected his 10th assist of the game while he still only had nine points, which signified his willingness to spread the wealth. But the Spurs also continued to score as the Blazers tried to mount a comeback. A 16-9 free throw advantage mid-way through the third, offensive rebounds and low block position from Aldridge, and hot shooting from Mills (20 points through three quarters) kept the Spurs rolling. The result: San Antonio still led by 13, 72-59, at the 6-minute TV timeout.
The Spurs clamped down on defense in the second half of the quarter, taking away any easy Blazer buckets, and Mills stayed hot from the field. The Blazers found themselves down 87-72 heading into the fourth.
The Spurs were 18-0 when leading to start the fourth quarter going into tonight’s game, so chances of a Portland comeback were already slim. But ANY thoughts of last minute heroics were snuffed out when Lillard sprained his ankle. From there, the Spurs rolled 110-90. Here’s video of the injury:
Head Coach Terry Stotts told CSN NW reporter Brooke Olzendam at half time, “Our offense actually hurt our defense tonight.”
Stotts was referring to the six turnovers in the first five minutes of the second quarter that sparked the Spurs’ decisive 13-2 run. After playing an impressively controlled and competitive first quarter on defense (we’re grading on a curve), the Blazers handed the Spurs several easy transition opportunities through the turnovers. San Antonio is an incredibly disciplined team who thrive by capitalizing on poor or inefficient play, so giving them opportunities to easily build a lead played perfectly into Gregg Popovich’s gameplan.
Once they had established an advantage, the Spurs used defense to swarm and stifle McCollum and Lillard - the Blazers backcourt shot a combined 34 percent from the field. Meyers Leonard took advantage by scoring 16 points on 4-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc, but the rest of the Blazers players struggled to make a meaningful difference.
The Blazers defense did look solid for long stretches tonight. The rotations were not perfect, but the Portland players displayed more energy and effort than usual. With that said, two bugaboos did jump out: 1) Aldridge repeatedly established low-post position easily and overpowered Al-Farouq Aminu for six offensive rebounds. He’s a bad matchup for the Blazers. 2) On several occasions the Blazers played solid defense for 23 seconds, only to give up an offensive rebound or open last-gasp jumper. That’s somewhat expected against the well-coached Spurs, but it’s a weakness of this team’s defense that pops up all too often.
All eyes now turn to Lillard’s ankle. He has been the one constant for the Blazers this season and his recent effort to play like a true point guard has been getting teammates more involved. If he misses significant time it will be very difficult for the Blazers to win games.
Unfortunately, the Blazers cannot afford to continue losing. Tonight’s loss, coupled with a King’s win, dropped Portland out of playoff position, and 5.5 games back from no. 7 Utah. The Blazers will desperately want to catch Utah or no. 6 Oklahoma City to avoid a presumptive first-round match-up with the Golden State Warriors.
As a best case scenario, if the Jazz or Thunder finish the season with a .500 record from here out they will have about 44 wins. With a record of 13-19, the Blazers will need to go 31-19 over the final 50 games to reach the 44 mark. Remember that this is a best case scenario - it’s likely, that the Jazz and Thunder will finish the season at better than .500, so even a 31-19 record probably won’t be enough to avoid Golden State.
In short, even if Lillard doesn’t miss time it’s going to be a long shot for the Blazers to climb above the 8-seed. If Lillard does miss time, it becomes a virtual impossibility.
Eric Griffith | GoBlazers87@gmail.com | @DeeringTornado
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