Damian Lillard made his return, and the Portland Trail Blazers gave themselves a chance, but ultimately couldn’t hang with LaMarcus Aldridge the San Antonio Spurs as they fell 116-105 on the road Saturday.
The loss is the Blazers’ third in a row and lowers the team to 48-32, just 1.5 games ahead of the Utah Jazz, who are idle today, for third place in the Western Conference standings. Portland had a chance to clinch at least the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win, but will now need to focus onward with only two games remaining. By the looks of it, the Blazers may be heading towards a deciding showdown with the Jazz Wednesday -in Portland - on the final game of the regular season to decide both teams’ playoff fate.
It was a close back-and-forth contest through three quarters, but the Spurs caught fire in the final frame and buried the Blazers underneath a barrage of jumpers, particularly by the likes of 40-year-old Manu Ginobili, who had 10 points in the quarter to dismantle Portland.
The Blazers were led by Lillard (33 points, 5 assists), Evan Turner (18 points, 4 assists) and C.J. McCollum (17 points, 3 rebounds).
The Spurs were led by Aldridge (28 points, 8 rebounds), Dejounte Murray (17 points, 5 rebounds) and Ginobili (17 points, 3 rebounds).
Looking fresh. Lillard wasn’t sure he would make his return to the lineup until after warm-ups, but his ankle didn’t look to bother him one bit, as he looked as sharp as ever after missing just one game due to a sprain he sustained against the Rockets. After struggling with his outside shot for a couple of weeks, Dame busted out of the slump and knocked down six treys, many with a high degree of difficulty. Unfortunately for him, his teammates did not share the same success, combining for only five bombs out of 16 attempts. He also was effective off the dribble and if he was hobbled, didn’t seem to lose much of a step. If Portland was worried Lillard might be rushing back before he was 100% ready, those concerns should be put to rest.
Nightmare ex. The Blazers again didn’t have much of an answer for Aldridge, who has been a bear for Portland this season averaging nearly 27 points per in three games. If the weaker Al-Farouq Aminu was covering him, LaMarcus would just overpower him in the post; if the Blazers turned to the bulkier Jusuf Nurkic, he’d just fall back to his mid-range fadeaway. It was much of the heady and steady play Portland fans will surely remember from Aldridge’s time in PDX, but being on the receiving end of it definitely leaves a sour taste.
The Blazers will play their final road game of the season as they head to Denver to take on the Nuggets Monday evening at 6 p.m.