Noah Vonleh had a game-winning lay-in at the buzzer, and Shabazz Napier had a career night as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 99-98 Monday, in an unlikely thriller that serves as as a punctuation mark on the team’s arrival to the playoffs.
With the Blazers trailing by one 98-97 with just six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Portland looked to have bungled a final opportunity for a game-clinching shot when... well you just look:
With the eighth seed locked up and a first round playoff matchup with the Golden State Warriors looming, Terry Stotts pulled a page from his opposition’s playbook and gave a well-earned night off to Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe. That combined with Jusuf Nurkic, who continued to recover from a small bone fracture in his leg which has sidelined him for at least the end of the regular season, Portland was left without its top four scorers since the All-Star break. Maurice Harkless also did not see the court.
Shabazz Napier filled in the star role impeccably, finishing with a game-high 32 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists. He also got some help from Evan Turner (16 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds) and Pat Connaughton (15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists).
The Spurs played all of its regulars, although most of them only seeing limited time in the second half. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 18 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker each had 12 apiece.
If you didn’t know beforehand, you probably wouldn’t think these Spurs were the same San Antonio squad challenged by their coach after its most recent loss and criticized for a lack of effort. That’s often a cliche in today’s NBA, but with any Gregg Popovich coached team there comes a certain expectation of response from what amounts to a public chastising. Instead, the Spurs looked as clumsy and discombobulated as ever, tossing as many errant passes through legs, into the backcourt and out of bounds - against Portland’s B-unit nonetheless - that left nothing to do but scratch your head.
The rag-tag Blazer bunch didn’t pack a lot of firepower, but the hungry youngsters straight out-worked San Antonio and “mucked it up,” so to speak, forcing a slow-tempo, grind-it-out half that worked in Portland’s advantage. The Blazers jumped out to an early lead and held on to it for virtually the entire half, even enduring a five-minute stretch at the beginning of the second quarter where neither team managed to score a field goal.
Meyers Leonard led the way in the early going, making five of his first six shots and scoring 13 points in the first quarter, but Portland also got good efforts from Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton filling in to the starting lineup.
The Blazers somehow went into the locker room holding a four-point advantage - Popovich didn’t show a lot of anger visibly on a camera, but a rousing halftime pep-talk was surely in store.
Portland Trail Blazers 47, San Antonio Spurs 43
Energy started to pick up on both sides after the break, and it didn’t take long for San Antonio to restore order. Tony Parker let it fly from mid-range, and the Spurs regained the lead just halfway the third the quarter. That lead was pushed to six on Patty Mills’ three later in the period, but Portland wouldn’t give in.
Pop actually did visibly show his anger this go around:
Pop gets in the face of official... not t'd up pic.twitter.com/Gn8YxCFFCU— CSN Northwest (@CSNNW) April 11, 2017
When the Blazers needed a jolt it was “Napier Time” down the stretch. as Shabazz scored 13 of his 32 points in an exciting back-and-forth final frame that culminated in Vonleh’s incredible finish.
The Blazers will play its regular season finale at home Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans on ESPN - late tip set for 7:30 Pacific Time.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter