The Portland Trail Blazers have experienced plenty of head-scratching, avoidable losses this season, particularly at home. Tonight’s game against the San Antonio Spurs was not one of them. The loss came; the final score read 93-91, Spurs. But Portland got beat honestly and narrowly, through a series of unfortunate events and good opponent play rather than self-caused calamity. When LaMarcus Aldridge goes off against overmatched forwards, what are you going to do? It’s a weak balm for a team that has not won at home in a calendar month, but at least the wound doesn’t sting quite so badly.
The first quarter proved to be a feeling-out process for both teams. San Antonio didn’t care where they scored as long as the shot was straight-away and a forward was taking it. Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge blistered Portland’s defense, combining for 16 of San Antonio’s 25 points in the period. The Blazers were more into missing shots, with CJ McCollum going ice cold. But Ed Davis rebounded for put-backs and Portland tried to stay gritty and focused. As it turned out, neither team could get away from the other. The Spurs led 25-22 after one.
San Antonio streaked out to a 39-28 advantage in the second, moving faster down the floor than Portland and passing with pinpoint accuracy. As Portland’s defense struggled to keep up, their offense couldn’t manufacture anything but 20-foot jumpers. Fortunately Shabazz Napier was adept at hitting those long-range looks, keeping the second unit afloat. Every time the Blazers would close the gap, the Spurs came back with an instant answer...often straight from the hands of Aldridge. San Antonio led 54-46 at the half.
Both teams dealt with A.W.O.L. offense to start the third. San Antonio started the second half 1-4, the Blazers 1-7. The news got even worse for Portland as Damian Lillard left the game at the 7:10 mark after appearing to pull his hamstring. But Jusuf Nurkic came to the rescue with a combination of long jumpers and deep paint looks. Behind Nurkic, the Blazers worked their way to a tie, then a small lead with 5:00 remaining. Portland held tight to their edge until the last second, when Spurs forward Kyle Anderson hit a buzzer-beating three. San Antonio led 74-72 after the third.
The Blazers started off the fourth hot, with Napier and a returned Lillard both stroking threes. San Antonio turned over the ball and missed shots in succession. But the Spurs manufactured a 9-2 run as the Blazers lost control of the lane on defense, going up 88-85 with four minutes left in the game.
Portland still trailed by one, 90-89, with 1:25 remaining when Lillard picked Aldridge’s pocket in brilliant fashion as LMA tried to execute his patented spin move, but McCollum could not convert the layup on the ensuing run-out, nor Nurkic a bunny at the rim on the following possession. Then the Blazers let Patty Mills right down the lane for a 5-footer with 28 seconds left, leaving the Spurs up 92-89. Portland missed a three, but McCollum converted the long offensive rebound, pulling them within one again.
The Blazers fouled Aldridge intentionally with 15 seconds left, then were blessed when he made only 1 of 2 foul shots, leaving the score at 93-91, Portland possession. McCollum got a straight-line drive to the rim but Aldridge annihilated it from behind with a block. Then the Blazers inbounded to...Evan Turner? He started spinning around in quasi-post moves against Manu Ginobili before Ginobili mercifully poked it away out of bounds to end that foolishness. By the time all that was done, 2.7 seconds remained on the clock. The ball went to McCollum, who curled for a straight-away three-point attempt which bounced off the rim twice, but didn’t go in. After a nail-biter game and a finger-biting finish, the Blazers ended up losing by 2.
For the latest in a long trail of home losses, this was a good loss. Systemic faults plagued both teams. The difference came down to opportunity, injury, and a couple of cold shooting nights...none of which were particularly changeable. That’s not to say the Blazers deserved to win, nor that the loss was out of their control. Rather they lost for understandable reasons instead of those that cause you to face palm your forehead through the back of your skull.
The Blazers shot poorly. They hit 40% from the field, 24% from the arc, but this was partially mitigated by taking 16 more shots than the Spurs. Portland ended up with 12 offensive rebounds. Had they been able to continue the trend through the fateful fourth instead of ceding the glass to the Spurs, they probably would have won despite the bad percentages.
Portland forced 22 turnovers, committing only 9 themselves...another reason for the field goal attempts disparity. 26 points after turnovers and 20 second-chance points gave the Blazers a window to win. They haven’t often generated such when they’ve been frustrated offensively.
The Spurs forwards fiercely exploited the talent gap between themselves and their Portland counterparts. LaMarcus Aldridge shot 10-17 for 22 points with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Only 5 turnovers made him mortal...though seeing a hobbled Lillard clock his post move in the fourth for the clean pick was priceless. Pau Gasol ended up 8-14 for 20 points and a massive 17 rebounds. None of the Blazers were the right combination of tall and fleet to hang with either.
The Blazers might have been able to return the favor in the backcourt, but that didn’t happen. Lillard’s injury kept him out of the offense late in the game, just when Portland needed him most. McCollum suffered through a horrific shooting night at 5-22 from the field, 0-7 from the arc. San Antonio’s starting smalls—Danny Green, Dejounte Murray, and Bryn Forbes—scored only 14 points combined. Lillard and McCollum combined for 30, but even adding in Evan Turner’s 14, it wasn’t quite enough. Had either starting guard hit their usual 20, the Blazers would have prevailed.
Jusuf Nurkic made up for the starting guard shortcomings (somewhat), shooting 7-12 for 15 points. He looked as comfortable as we’ve seen him post-ankle-twist.
Evan Turner earned himself a Slurpee and a Slim Jim with 7-11 shooting for 13 points.
(Note, though, the distinct lack of extra points for Portland’s high-percentage shooters tonight. No threes for Turner and Nurkic, few free throws.)
Shabazz Napier kept Portland’s bench from stinking with 6-10 shooting and 14 points in 21 minutes. He out-Patty-Millsed the actual Patty Mills, who only scored 10 on 5-8 shooting in 23 minutes.
Ed Davis grabbed 11 rebounds in 23 minutes. That’s what Ed Davis does.
Al-Farouq Aminu and Pat Connaughton followed McCollum into shooting oblivion, going 3-11 and 0-3 respectively.
Pounding the Rock is not just Stone Cold Steve Austin’s hobby, it’s also one of the finest sites in SBNation’s NBA network.
Damian Lillard injury update thread.
The Blazers will try to earn an elusive home win against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.
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