The Trail Blazers suffered their second defeat of the season after their fourth quarter comeback fell short against the Spurs, sealing a 113-110 victory for San Antonio. Coach Terry Stotts’ squad maintained a comfortable lead throughout the first half, but a sluggish third quarter triggered a shift in momentum. Down by double-digits, Damian Lillard exploded for 18 points in the fourth quarter to pull the Blazers within striking distance. Unfortunately for Portland, Lillard’s heroics fell just short when his final attempt rimmed out as time expired.
For San Antonio, DeMar DeRozan led the way against the Portland’s Collins-less defense with 27 points.
The Blazers established control early by connecting on their first five three-point attempts. On defense, the Spurs’ three-out, two-in court spacing presented a much friendlier matchup compared to Sunday’s contest against the five-out Dallas setup. Whiteside patrolled the paint, and kept LaMarcus Aldridge contained when the former Blazers big tried to utilize his low-post arsenal. By forcing missed shots and limiting errors, Portland was out and running with an early 19-point lead.
The Spurs managed to get back on track after inserting Derrick White and Patty Mills. The backup duo helped re-shape San Antonio’s spacing, leaving Skal Labissiere on an island in the paint.
The Blazers committed just two turnovers in the opening frame, facilitating a 33-19 lead.
With Damian Lillard and McCollum on the bench, coach Terry Stotts assigned ball handling duties to Mario Hezonja and Kent Bazemore. Of the two, Hezonja looked comfortable creating for himself on the perimeter. Off the ball, Anfernee Simons kept his defender busy by getting out on the break with his eye-popping speed. Defensively, the Blazers did a good job of running the Spurs off the three-point line. On one play, Rodney Hood smothered Marco Belinelli at the top of the arc, forcing the veteran reserve into a contested midrange shot.
Despite trailing by a double-digit margin for the majority of the second quarter, the Spurs clawed back into the contest by getting to the free throw line. Buoyed by six points from Rudy Gay, the Spurs closed the half on a 10-2 run, cutting the Blazers’ lead to six.
The Spurs emerged from the locker room with the same energy and plan of attack on offense. Unlike the first quarter, DeMar DeRozan found and exploited lanes to the basket with ease. The former Raptors frontman notched 18 points in the third quarter, and was the leading catalyst behind San Antonio’s 37-point period.
Whiteside’s struggles in the post led to Tolliver spending time at the five, which worked momentarily due to the veteran big man’s positioning. Offensively, it appeared that Sunday’s slugfest with the Mavericks caught up with the Blazers. Midrange shots started to fall short and rotations were too late. Mills pushed the Spurs lead to 82-71 with a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
After a promising start, the Blazers’ inability to run shooters off the three-point line appeared in the final quarter. Bryn Forbes, Mills and Belinelli all combined to keep the Spurs out in front by double-digits thanks to conversions from deep. With the game slipping away, Portland’s offense stagnated. Instead of progressing through sets, the Blazers’ perimeter players often settled for one-pass possessions and contested shots.
Lillard did his best to generate offense by moving downhill, but the Blazers simply could not cobble together enough stops to cut into the Spurs’ lead. Bazemore’s six-foul exit halfway through the quarter perfectly encapsulated Portland’s frustrations to that point in the period.
Just as the Blazers looked ousted, Lillard’s attempts finally started to drop. Thanks to Lillard’s contributions, Portland completed a 15-0 run to pull within a possession of San Antonio. The Blazers improbable comeback fell just short despite a trio of good looks. Tolliver couldn’t connect on a wide open three-pointer after a Lillard miss. Following two missed free throws from DeRozan, Lillard pulled the trigger on two favorable attempts with just seven seconds remaining. His final shot, with 1.2 seconds left, rimmed out after nearly touching the net.
Thanks to their previous lead, the Spurs secured the 113-110 victory.
In the first half, both Whiteside and Labissiere did a better job of getting big off screen-and-roll actions. Lillard, who is accustomed to having Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, connected with his rolling targets with ease in the early portion of the game. Labissiere added an old wrinkle back to Stotts’ playbook by connecting on an elbow jumper off a short roll. Away from the ball, Whiteside put together two quarters of creating space for Lillard and McCollum off screens, his best showing of the season in that department.
Simons, who had his hands full against the the Spurs’ deep guard rotation, showed off his scoring touch in transition. If the 20-year-old guard receives a few unimpeded steps in space, he is a handful to stop on the break.
Aldridge softened Whiteside’s defense by moving to the perimeter in the second half. In what is becoming a re-occurring theme through four games, the former Heat pivot struggled to adapt. In the fourth quarter, Whiteside fully committed to stepping out above the break to stick with Aldridge. One dribble to the side from the former Blazers star, and Whiteside was on the receiving end of the referee’s whistle.
Outside of the post, Bazemore struggled to navigate screens on defense, resulting in foul trouble. Officials are paying extra attention to that area to start the year, a memo the Blazers appeared to forget in the second half.
The New Post Rotation
Tolliver picked up his first start of the season in the aftermath of Zach Collins’ shoulder injury. The veteran big man looked comfortable as the fifth option and he finally connected on his first field goal of the season. However sweet that first basket was, Tolliver’s missed opportunity at the end of regulation stung.
At center, both Tolliver and Labissiere filled in at the five behind Whiteside. Labissiere, showed off his finishing skills with a pair of well-timed put-back dunks.
This re-tooled rotation held its own against a shallow Spurs frontcourt that lacks polish outside of Aldridge. Future matchups won’t be as friendly. The Blazers will have to adapt quickly if Collins misses an extended amount of time.
Lillard’s Late-Game Heroics
Thanks to a surge in the final five minutes, Lillard notched 28 points and nearly pushed the game to overtime with a corner three-pointer at the buzzer. Along with his scoring, Lillard secured nine rebounds and connected with his teammates to the tune of seven assists.
McCollum finished just behind Lillard with 27 points of his own. He connected on half of his six attempts from beyond the arc. Defensively, McCollum struggled to contain Derrick White.
Mario Hezonja and Simons combined for 18 points off the bench. Both reserves looked at their best when the pace was increased.
The Blazers will face the Thunder on Wednesday before returning home to Portland.