The game between the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night featured a battle between two of the highest-ranked rookies in the 2023 NBA Draft. Victor Wembanyama suited up for the Spurs, while point guard Scoot Henderson was pressed into starting duty as Anfernee Simons got scratched from the lineup due to illness.
On paper, it was an exciting matchup. In reality, Wembanyama destroyed the Blazers singlehandedly while Henderson worked all game to bring his team back within contact. A 38-14 first period for the Spurs put the Blazers behind the eight ball. Every time they threatened after that, Wembanyama tipped the table.
The end result was a 118-105 victory for the Spurs, only their fifth win of the season. Portland lost their 11th game at home in 15 tries.
Wembanyama finished with a stat line of 30 points on 9-14 shooting with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 7 blocks in just 24 minutes. Jerami Grant and Malcolm Brogdon led the Blazers with 29 points apiece. Henderson scored 25 with 4 assists in 36 minutes but he shot only 8-23 from the field and added 6 turnovers.
Here’s how the game went,
Victor Wembanyama wasted no time making an impact in this game, scoring San Antonio’s first bucket, assisting on their second, then hitting a three-pointer unopposed. Scoot Henderson had a score and left a soft layup for Moses Brown to dunk in, but that wasn’t nearly enough to compensate for Wemby. San Antonio built an 11-4 lead by the 9:00 mark. Portland had about as many answers to Wembanyama as to the meaning of life.
The story did not get better as the period progressed. The Blazers had to respect Wemby inside, leaving the three-point arc wide open. San Antonio did not miss. Those triple-value strikes on top of Wembanyama’s own conversions turned out to be back-breaking. At the 6:00 mark, halfway through the period, the Spurs led 22-4. Yikes.
Wembanyama went out at that point, which should have been good news for Portland. A distinct lack of 7’3 superstars on the other side makes the odds more even. But San Antonio’s next four buckets were layups or dunks, two by the dribbler, point guard Jeremy Sochan. With Portland’s defense so accommodating, the Spurs not only maintained their lead, but expanded it.
The scoreboard read 31-8 for San Antonio at the second timeout of the period. They pushed the lead as far as 26 before settling for a 38-14 edge after one.
Scoot Henderson keyed a Portland run at the start of the second quarter as San Antonio got sloppy on both ends. Henderson hit a smooth step-back three, a pull-up in the lane, and then drew Wembanyama and tossed a layup off the backboard to be slammed home by Ibou Badji. That 7-0 streak cut the lead to 21. When Scoot hit a jumper on the next possession, the margin started with a “1” for the first time in half a quarter.
The two teams played to a standstill over the next few minutes. Wemby was quiet, as they didn’t go through him much. That allowed the Blazers to shave off points as San Antono’s offense slowed down and dried up. Portland cut the lead to 16, then 14, as their energy level exceeded that of the visitors. Doubly so when Wembanyama sat.
When Malcolm Brogdon hit Jerami Grant with a quick post entry pass with 2:32 remaining, Grant converted and brought his team within 12.
Wemby checked in for the final couple minutes of the period to make sure things didn’t get completely out of hand. He calmed down the offense and improved their defense enough to leave the Spurs ahead 59-45 at the half.
The writing was on the wall as the third quarter began. The short-handed Blazers began moving slower, particularly on defense, as perimeter shots came wide open for the Spurs. Malcolm Brogdon disguised it by hitting a trio of threes at the right diagonal in the opening minutes, cutting the lead to 10, 69-59, with 8:14 remaining. San Antonio called timeout to regroup at that point.
Portland would get it as low as 8 with 6:30 left, courtesy of a two-handed jam from Moses Brown off of a Scoot Henderson toss. But the Spurs remained active enough to keep Portland’s defense on their heels. Brogdon would score 11 in the period, but most of those came in the first few minutes. After that, it was labor for him and everybody else.
At this point, the Wembanyama Effect wasn’t bothering Portland as much. It was obvious that he could do whatever he wanted. Fair enough. But watching the Spurs get dunks and layups with Wemby sitting on the bench caused ulcers and heartache for a team needing stops and a comeback roll.
San Antonio led 87-74 after three.
If the Blazers were to have any chance of a comeback, they’d need a big start to the fourth period. San Antonio stole that spotlight, opening up the quarter with an 11-4 run punctuated by a Wembanyama alley-oop slam to put his team up 20 again, 98-78, with 9:48 remaining.
Brogdon hit another three and the Blazers kept fighting gamely, but it wasn’t going to happen. The Blazers still trailed by 17 with 6:00 remaining. There wasn’t enough game left to make it up anymore, not that Portland could have, given the way things trended in this one. Better to pack it up and try again tomorrow night.
Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!
The Blazers face these same Spurs tomorrow night at the Moda Center with the identical start time, 7:00 PM, Pacific.