In a battle of two teams whose rotations were untouched by the 2020 NBA Trade Deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers downed the San Antonio Spurs 125-117 on Thursday night. The Spurs played better than the Blazers for much of the game, but the barrage of three-pointers during the fourth quarter propelled Portland to their 24th win of the season.
The Blazers started the game showing no respect for San Antonio’s interior defense. Four of Portland’s first five makes came within 10 feet of the basket, with Hassan Whiteside, Damian Lillard, and CJ McCollum all doing damage. Portland’s offensive range extended as the quarter progressed, with three-pointers and high screens entering the picture. They did fine. They had trouble covering the other end, though, especially when the Spurs shot from mid-range or deeper. LaMarcus Aldridge looked untroubled by whatever Portland threw at him. San Antonio’s outlet shooters had clear looks too. The teams tussled through the period, but the Spurs had more sustained runs. San Antonio led 35-27 after the first.
San Antonio returned the early-game favor as the second quarter commenced, taking the ball inside and scoring easily. Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons countered with a boost from the perimeter. Playing in a three-guard lineup with McCollum, they spurred a 13-2 run to bring the Blazers all the way back. Simons wasn’t done, though. He went nuclear as the middle minutes of the period passed, connecting multiple times with jumpers. It was good enough to keep his team in contact. San Antonio still led at the half, but only 60-59.
Portland’s offense stalled as the third period began. That’s always bad news, as their defense doesn’t hold. The Spurs built up an eight-point lead, but a couple blocks from Whiteside got the Blazers into quicker offense, which jump-started them. Carmelo Anthony contributed big, but Trey Lyles baked the Blazers like a kiln. Clumsy Portland turnovers eventually evened out Whiteside’s blocks. Once San Antonio got running off of TO’s, they scored easily. That produced a late-quarter run that gave the Spurs a 92-86 lead heading home.
The Blazers only fixed one thing in the fourth period, but it was enough. Three-pointers from Anthony, Trent Jr. (x4!), McCollum, Lillard, and Trevor Ariza helped Portland put the bite back in their offense. This made them look 500% better (as pouring in buckets full of points will do). San Antonio spent the period shading towards Lillard, trying to prevent Dame Time. Portland’s shooters made them pay big.
This was your classic game of runs. Both teams produced them; whichever team currently on one looked great. Portland got the last laugh with the downpour of threes. 18-37 from the arc for 48.6%? It’s hard to get runnier than that.
A couple of veterans stepped up big to set the stage for the Threepocalypse. Hassan Whiteside blocked 4 shots, tallying 23 rebounds on a night when his team grabbed 50 total. (That’s 46% of Portland’s rebounds accounted for by a single player.) This held together Portland’s threadbare defense.
According to @SecondSpectrum tracking, LaMarcus Aldridge had only had one shot outside the paint blocked all season before tonight. Hassan Whiteside has done it twice.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) February 7, 2020
Carmelo Anthony contributed points when the Spurs were busy focusing on other players. His open shots were money and he hit a couple classic post-ups. ‘Melo finished the game 8-15 with 20 points. He was one of the only Blazers hitting threes early too, going 4-7 beyond the arc.
Gary Trent Jr. had a memorable performance, hitting 6 of 7 three-pointers attempted. He scored 18 points in 24 minutes. San Antonio wasn’t interested in closing out on him, surrendering the lane or a Lillard layup. Trent Jr. made them pay with interest.
Anfernee Simons hit 4-7 shots, all in that explosive second period. He scored 10 in 15 minutes.
Despite all this, it was hard to view the Blazers as more than a collection of individuals (as opposed to a team) until the fourth period commenced. They looked disconnected, especially on defense. Even their scoring was haphazard. All of that changed when Lillard poked the Spurs in the nose, grabbed their attention, and dished the ball. Dame scored 26, adding 10 assists. That won’t be the stat line of the night, but without him, the Blazers go spiraling down to defeat with defenders in their faces.
Still, three-point shooting is a
Skal skill that the Blazers have cultivated. It was nice to see them heat up just in time to Skald the Spurs. Even after allowing 1.9 million points per quarter in the first three, the Blazers were able to cash in on San Antonio’s Labissierrors and come away with a win. It was a nice ending to an otherwise frustrating day for many fans, giving them a reason or 17 to celebrate.
The Blazers face a quick turn-around, traveling to Utah to face the Jazz at 7:30, Pacific Friday night.