The Portland Trail Blazers came to an unfamiliar Moody Center in Austin with an incredibly unfamiliar lineup. In fact, the third-most familiar player to Blazers’ fans was probably Zach Collins, a former Blazer who now plies his trade for the Spurs. Even Shaedon Sharpe couldn’t escape the, ahem, “injury bug” for this one, sitting out with “knee tendinopathy”.
The San Antonio Spurs came away with the win in this one by a score of 129-127. Contrary to what many were expecting, this was an entertaining, hard-fought contest with long periods of some pretty darn good basketball being played.
Keita Bates-Diop lead all scores with 25 after a fourth quarter flurry. Julian Champagnie and Keldon Johnson added 24. Kevin Knox II matched Champagnie and Johnson with 24 points, leading the Blazers after having a good fourth quarter himself. Eubanks had 23 with 9 rebounds and 5 blocks.
Portland started out with a lineup of Drew Eubanks, Jeenathan Williams, John Butler Jr., Trendon Watford and Skylar Mays. Just like we all expected at the beginning of the season.
The Blazers got off to a fast start largely thanks to one of their more familiar names. Drew Eubanks first shot was a made three(!), followed closely by block on the other end, and yet another block leading to a fast break alley-oop from Mays to Butler. 9-3 Blazers lead early. The lead wouldn’t last though, as the Spurs fought back with a little help from a Watford technical foul for taunting. After the Spurs tied the game at 15, the Blazers were able to get their noses back in front off of a Mays jumper and a hook shot from Eubanks. San Antonio called timeout with 6:46 left in the 1st with the Blazers holding a 19-15 lead.
Both teams were finding all kinds of space, leading to an entertaining game with lots of running, energy and emotion. The Blazers got their lead as high as seven, but the Spurs put together a defense-lead run, forcing Coach Billups to call timeout with the Spurs leading by 1 with 3:22 left in the quarter.
John Butler Jr. impressed with a fine defensive sequence, making two blocks in quick succession, hindering a third put back attempt and tying up the ball for a jump ball after that miss, all in the space of a few seconds. A couple of threes from Knox helped the Blazers earn a five point lead at the end of the quarter, 37-32. Portland shot 68% from the field in the quarter.
San Antonio started the quarter with aggressive penetration, drawing fouls and crashing the boards. The Spurs tied it at 44, but a tremendous drive and dunk from Watford and a three ball from Mays helped the Blazer get slightly back in front before play paused for a San Antonio timeout with the score 49-46.
The second quarter was turning in the Julian Champagnie show. He scored 13 points in a row and was largely responsible for the Spurs taking a 59-56 point lead. The rookie did it from deep and the free throw line, with a layup added for good measure.
San Antonio started to push penetration even more, and they were rewarded with trips to the charity stripe and with open kick outs for solid three point looks. The result was the Spurs building a lead as the quarter wound down. The Blazers’ shooting percentage was falling and turnovers started to be a factor, along with a lack of key rebounds. Way too many second chance points for San Antonio. By the time the halftime horn sounded, the Spurs were in front 69-61. Julian Champagnie was the pace-setter for both teams, pouring in 19 for the half. Drew Eubanks was the leader for the Blazers with 15. Skylar Mays also impressed with 9 points and 4 assists, very much looking the part of a player who belongs in the NBA.
More of the same to start the third quarter for Eubanks. Another three, a drawn foul and a dunk from Drew helped keep the Spurs from extending the lead. Our old friend Zach Collins was turning it on with offense of his own, also notching a three pointer and a dunk, and suddenly Collins was at 19 points for the game.
Watford also got into a bit of a groove in the quarter, working well with Eubanks and Williams to help create opportunities for himself and others. His total went up to 16 points. The Blazers got the lead down to 3, but Champagnie helped temporarily shut the door with five quick points. When Portland called time out, the San Antonio lead was back up to 7 with 2:39 to go in the quarter.
A quick basket-steal-basket sequence for Portland cut the lead to three, causing Popovich to make an angry hockey line change and give the five leaving players quite the earful. Portland kept the pressure on though, and a Knox three tied up the game at 94. Both teams then exchanged a few baskets, but a Knox pull-up seconds before the buzzer saw the Blazers finish the quarter with a 100 to 98 lead.
Keldon Johnson was on a relatively quiet 14 points when the quarter started, but he turned up the volume in the fourth, scoring the Spurs’ next eight point as Portland clung to their two point lead. 110-108 with 8:45 to go in the game.
The Blazers came out of the timeout with more energy and they started to pile up some defensive stops. A Williams to Knox alley-oop extended the lead to 7, forcing a San Antonio timeout with 6:04 left.
San Antonio turned on the gas after the timeout, going on a 13-0 run to take a 6 point lead. Bates-Diop did most of the damage, scoring 8 points in less than two minutes. After a Portland timeout both teams went for it. Bodies were flying and bigs were blocking shots. Portland cut the lead to four, and then two with 1:20 to go. The Blazers had a chance to tie or take the lead, but an offensive foul gave the Spurs the ball with 53.5 seconds to go. Bates-Diop extended the lead to 4, but a Knox jumper cut it back two with 10.6 left. Keldon Johnson though put it back to four with just 10.6 seconds left. Knox wasted no time in driving on Champagnie, drawing the foul. He could only convert one free throw. Portland fouled the rebounder with 5.7 seconds left on the clock down 3. Tre Jones was fouled after the ensuing in-bounds, and he drilled both free throws to seal the game. Butler Jr. buried a inconsequential buzzer-beater three to make the final score 129-127.
Stay tuned for analysis, available soon!
The penultimate game of the season is Saturday at 1:00pm Pacific at the Los Angeles Clippers.