The Portland Trail Blazers opened up a six-game road trip with a 121-116 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. CJ McCollum rescued an often-sloppy offense by scoring 32 points, including a blistering 6-11 clip from the three-point arc. Portland blasted out to a huge lead early, then spent most of the game frittering it away through lack of energy before rebounding for the victory in the final two minutes of the game. The win takes their record to 5-8 on the season.
San Antonio came out playing defense like they’d never set eyes on each other in their lives. Half of them appeared to be playing with bowling balls in their shoes, the other half like they wore only socks. The Blazers hit three out of every four shots they took in the period. They led 41-23 after one. The offense resembled Old Country Buffet mashed potatoes—basic as heck—but it was all-you-can-eat night and the Blazers sure did.
Of course, the Blazers cannot have nice things, including leads. As soon as Damian Lillard went out for the second quarter, Portland’s offense stalled into turnovers and rushed shots. They didn’t have enough scorers to threaten San Antonio’s (still pretty terrible) defense, which is saying something. As soon as the Spurs got a little confidence, they translated it into running and attacking the rim. That exposed Portland’s own defensive shortcomings. Hassan Whiteside, in particular, looked like he was auditioning for a role with the Sleepy-Time-Tea Spurs “D”. San Antonio pulled within four before the Blazers could get the offense going again. Lillard’s presence provided enough of a decoy to let CJ McCollum go off. CJ posted 23 in the first half. The Blazers led 66-58 at intermission.
The third period featured early excitement as Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich suggested that a referee might be swiping right on his mom’s Tinder profile and was promptly ejected. (Not having to watch this game made him the most fortunate person in the building.) Coaches Becky Hammon and Tim Duncan took over the reins as the Spurs stiffened their interior defense midway through the period. Meanwhile Portland...did not. McCollum continued to bail out his team with big shots, but turnovers and poor shot selection from teammates scuttled his work. San Antonio charged ahead to lead 96-90 after three.
Portland’s second unit messed around for a few minutes as the fourth period commenced, unable to make a dent in San Antonio’s momentum. Then the Blazers went on an 11-0 run, breathing life into the game again. The run still left them in the dreaded “down 4-6 points” territory though. That margin remained consistent until the 3:02 mark, when Nassir Little dunked hard off of a McCollum pass to cut it to two. McCollum scored on the next possession to tie the game at 111, finally erasing the Spurs’ 15-point lead. Rodney Hood hit an and-one on the next Portland possession, completing a 10-0 run that put the Blazers up for good. After a few free throws and bricks, Portland walked away with a narrow win that should not have been quite so narrow.
The Blazers needed this win the same way a motorcyclist needs to not drive off a cliff. The enormous first quarter made it even more imperative that they not fumble away the game. Explaining how you blew a 20-point lead to a bad team is soul-sucking for all involved. The Blazers Evel Kenieveled it, managing to escape safely. Still, that shouldn’t obscure that this San Antonio team is crazy disjointed right now. Their defense was horrible, their offense barely better. After that first quarter, Portland played down to their level and worse. Win or no win, the Blazers are not in good shape.
Damian Lillard had his second straight tough outing. He scored 22, but 13 of those points came from a perfect night at the foul line. Lillard shot 4-19 from the floor, 1-9 from distance. Opponents are keying in on him harder as the Blazers have begun to falter.
CJ McCollum posted his best game of the season, scoring 32 on 13-25 shooting, 6-11 beyond the arc. Without him playing out of his mind on offense, the Blazers would have lost by double-digits.
Hassan Whiteside alternates between heel and babyface more often than The Big Show. He was key down the stretch, picking up energy on both ends. He altered and hit enough shots that you might consider giving him whatever part of the game ball McCollum didn’t earn. BUT...Whiteside was also responsible for the Blazers being in a precarious situation to begin with. He was little help in the middle parts of the game, moving slow and arriving late. That’s so Blazers. It’s an issue.
Nassir Little started again tonight. Though he couldn’t hit a shot to save his life, he remains among the few Trail Blazers players with the foot on the gas pedal through all his minutes.
Rodney Hood shot 6-8 from the field. Give us more Rodney.
Portland’s bench was outscored by San Antonio’s 40-25. That’s little surprise, as San Antonio played their bench players 87 minutes against just 63 for Portland. Coach Terry Stotts couldn’t afford to leave the reserves in long. That meant 40 minutes for Lillard, 39 for McCollum, and 35 for Whiteside...just to defeat the lowly Spurs. That’s not sustainable.
The six-game road trip continues Monday night in Houston against the Rockets, with a 5:00 PM tip.