The Portland Trail Blazers stepped into the Moda Center on Thursday night looking to vanquish the San Antonio Spurs, a team with only four victories to their name all season. But overcoming the Spurs would mean solving the Victor Wembanyama problem. That’s probably beyond Portland’s capacity on a good day, let alone a game they began without three-fifths of their starting lineup. A huge first period put the Spurs ahead by 24. Portland chipped away the rest of the night, but never got close, ultimately suffering a 118-105 defeat.
Wembanyama had 30 points on 9-14 shooting with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 7 blocks in victory. The Blazers were led by Jerami Grant with 29 points, matched by Malcolm Brodgon who shot 6-8 from distance for his 29.
Scoot Henderson got the start against San Antonio, playing 36 minutes and scoring 25 points on 8-23 shooting. He also had 6 turnovers.
If you missed the action, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’re done with that, here are a few others observations that typified the evening.
Before we get too down on the Trail Blazers for an underwhelming performance, let’s remember who wasn’t playing tonight. Anfernee Simons was a game-day scratch due to illness. Shaedon Sharpe still isn’t back, robbing the Blazers of their two most dynamic, defense-confounding scorers. Deandre Ayton is still suffering from knee tendinitis, while Duop Reath—the 25-point hero in Portland’s surprise win against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night—end up a scratch as well.
That left Moses Brown, Scoot Henderson, and Malcolm Brogdon stepping into the starting lineup around Jerami Grant and Toumani Camara. That trio is willing and has proven at least semi-competent, but they’re not exactly setting the world on fire, especially offensively.
Lack of firepower on Portland’s side allowed the Spurs to gang up on Grant, loosening another cog in the machine.
Portland may not have won anyway, but they hardly stood a chance as it was, once San Antonio started scoring big.
Nobody has a true answer for a 7’3, multi-skilled center with point guard handles and shooting guard range. The Blazers didn’t have a prayer of bothering him with this lineup, nor making him work hard on defense, really.
By halftime, Victor Wembanyama had pasted 17 points on Portland via 6-7 shooting. He also had 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 blocks. At the half. It wasn’t fair.
Simply put, whenever San Antonio needed to keep Portland at bay in their desperate comeback attempt following a 38-14 first period, Wembanyama did it. He was the dad picking up the pesky cat off of the desk and depositing it on the floor. He may have to do it a few times before kitty gets the message, but you know who’s going to prevail.
Side Note: You don’t even understand how much Wembanyama affects the defensive end of the court until you notice that his 7 blocks were surrounded by countless plays in which drivers had to veer away from him, changing course and altering shots to stay out of his reach. Once upon a time Portland center Theo Ratliff used to have that effect on opponents. He was one of the best-established shot-blockers of all time, his reputation preceding him into the lane. After 29 total games and about 14 minutes of personal experience in Portland, Wembanyama already earned that respect from the Blazers. Amazing.
All things considered, though, Scoot Henderson didn’t do too badly in his start tonight. He keyed a second-quarter rally to make the game respectable. He timed his moves well, even if he had trouble finishing. His defense was decent. The overall stat line doesn’t look too impressive, but at least San Antonio knew he was out there. He would have been helped by more shooters than just Brogdon in his orbit. The Blazers fired just 11-36, 30.6%, from the arc tonight. That allowed San Antonio to sit on Scoot, forcing him to take a bunch of shots outside, including 7 threes. He hit 3, so no harm done, but his interior attempts came in serious traffic whether Wemby was on the floor or not.
With Ayton out, Moses Brown getting eaten up, and Jabari Walker in and out due to getting banged up, Ibou Badji got his first serious playing time of the season tonight. He was impressive, scoring his first NBA points by ramming home a Henderson layup miss with authority. He also rebounded well, blocked a shot, and played aggressively despite being seriously overmatched on paper. Badji seemed determined to wreck the game if he couldn’t help his team win it. The Blazers might just need a little more of that. His final stat line read 14 minutes, 7 points, 9 rebounds, 3-3 shooting, and 3 big blocked shots. Hello Ibou.
Bad Case of the Runs
Portland’s comeback attempts certainly weren’t aided by a near-constant stream of Spurs points on the run. Portland misses led to easy run-outs too often, let alone the turnovers. San Antonio earned a 21-2 edge in fast break points tonight. That’s a head-shaker. as they’re no better than mediocre typically.
We could point to lots more of things the Blazers did poorly in this game: early turnovers, lack of points in the paint, horrible overall shooting percentage. But let’s point out one of the positives. They snagged 22 offensive rebounds from the Spurs, giving up only 7. for better or worse this remains a point of emphasis for the team, and boy did they emphasize it.
The Blazers face these same Spurs tomorrow night at the Moda Center with the identical start time, 7:00 PM, Pacific.