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How the Trail Blazers Struggled, but Won, Against the Spurs

How team-wide effort averted a team-wide disaster in the making.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers took on the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night like an overloaded train trying to make it up a steep hill. The throttle was wide open, but progress was slow, at best. A lack of paint defense made the load heavier while turnovers froze ice onto the track. But Jerami Grant provided steady propulsion and Damian Lillard engineered the final climb over the peak as Portland escaped with a 117-110 victory.

If you missed the action, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are other observations from the game.

Taken for Granted

This was one of Jerami Grant’s best overall games of the season. He’s an adept scorer, obviously, but he did little wrong on either end tonight. He rebounded big, for him, nabbing 8 boards. He was busy on defense nearly every moment he was on the floor. He hit 6 of 8 three-pointers on his way to 29 points on 15 field goal attempts.

Grant is largely responsible for at least three wins for the Blazers on the young season. This was certainly one of them. Guards provided the late-game heroics, but those would have been the punctuation on a run-on sentence had Grant not set the table with his sterling performance.

Paint Issues

The Blazers did well in the paint tonight, scoring 46. That paled in comparison to what they let San Antonio do. Every time Portland wanted to streak away, they found their defense circumvented by cutters or offensive rebounders. The Spurs scored 66 inside tonight. San Antonio center Jakob Poetl scored a career-high 31 against a season average of 13. Ouch.

High Percentage

The Blazers have won a lot of close games this season. That’s good. The question we seldom ask is why they’re in so many close games. The answer: defense. Portland may force turnovers on a good night. They also rebound well enough on most nights. But they too often let the opponent shoot high percentages. That gives teams like the Spurs life no matter what else goes on.

The Spurs shot 51.8% overall in the game. Their three-point percentage dove from around 45% at halftime to just 31% at the end of the night. That’s what saved Portland. Part of it was defense, part San Antonio just misfiring.

On the other hand, Portland can claim the same thing and then some. The Blazers shot 51.9% overall, 46.9% from the arc. Those extra threes sealed the deal.

Ironically, most observers will probably call this game ugly, despite both teams topping the 50% mark. The reason for that is...


Turnovers are another reason lots of Blazers games are close. Portland did fine in the first half, but fumbles and follies in the third period killed an otherwise impressive defensive performance. The Blazers could have won this game before the fourth quarter started. Instead they headed into the final frame engaged in a dogfight. Portland committed 17 total turnovers in the game.

San Antonio couldn’t take care of their possessions either, amassing 19 turnovers, a dozen in the first half alone.

With both teams treating the ball it like a greased jellyfish, the finish ended up plenty exciting. Chances are both coaches would have preferred less thrill and better execution.

Foul Play

One of the under-mentioned trends of the early season has been Portland’s dominance at the foul line. The Blazers were averaging 26.5 free throw attempts per game coming into this contest. That’s good for third in the entire league. They give up 21.5, sixth overall. That +5 margin does them plenty of favors. Portland made good tonight too. They attempted 26 foul shots against only 17 for San Antonio.

Simons from Deep

Anfernee Simons played the archer to Grant’s Paladin tonight, getting open for three-pointers and hitting the bullseye. He stroked a particularly important contested three to help seal the game late, the capper on a 5-10 performance from the arc overall. Simons had 23 points, second only to Grant.

Lillard Passing

Damian Lillard had no such luck, shooting only 2-9 from distance, 8-20 overall. But when the Blazers needed plays in the fourth, they went to their captain. His shot may not have been efficient, but he finished the game with 22 points and, more importantly, 11 assists. Lillard was the one feeding the players who helped seal the deal for Portland. He also had a huge block in the post against 6’8 Keita Bates-Diop, the cherry on his passing-to-win sundae.

Sharpe Play

Though he didn’t have a great second half, Shaedon Sharpe scored 13 points in 15 or so minutes in the first half tonight. He gave the Blazers a lift, poking holes in the Spurs’ defense and popping their balloon. When Head Coach Chauncey Billups needed an instant ticket out of Blahs-ville early, Sharpe provided big time.


I’m torn. The new carpet uniforms looked good in the abstract. It was still weird to see the Blazers out there in...teal? Turquoise? It wasn’t red and black for sure. I had to double-take every time I looked back to the screen after updating recaps, trying to figure out which team was Portland. What did you think? Register your opinions below!

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The Blazers will host the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday at 7:00 pm.