On the heels of promising back-to-back performances—offering a glimmer of hope in a trying season—the Portland Trail Blazers fell flat on their face in San Antonio on Friday night, falling to the lowly Spurs by a score of 116-100. It was a nightmarish offensive night for the Blazers, outside of the duo of Anfernee Simons (40 points, 10 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points, 12 rebounds).
The Spurs dominated the paint offensively, and were led by the 31-point, 14-rebound effort of Jeremy Sochan, who was able to take advantage of the gravitational pull towards rookie Victor Wembanyama from the Blazers defense. Wembanyama still turned in a quality, if inefficient performance, with his fingerprints all over the Spurs victory.
The Wemby Effect
There’s a reason so many NBA teams, including the Blazers, looked to do whatever they could to increase their odds of getting the top overall pick in the 2023 draft. The Spurs’ rookie has lived up to the hype. His impact on the game was made immediately clear, with a pair of blocks over a 30-second sequence in the opening minutes of the game. He also drew considerable defensive coverage, as the Blazers seemed determined to not let the rookie beat them.
Wembanyama ended up just 7-18 from the field, and had seven turnovers, but still found a way to turn in a quality effort with 23 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals, along with the pair of blocks. He also connected on a trio of three-pointers, which has been one of the few struggles to begin his NBA career. In addition, his mere presence allowed for complementary players like Sochan and Keldon Johnson to flourish against a defense designed to slow down Wembanyama.
Portland’s offense was a disaster for much of the night, outside of the two-man game of Simons and Ayton, where they found success on the pick-and-roll. It didn’t help that veteran point guard Malcolm Brogdon missed the game due to injury, while Jerami Grant and Scoot Henderson both departed early with injuries of their own. Turnovers plagued Portland in the first half, and the team was ice cold shooting the ball for much of the second half—outside of a hot stretch from Simons on the backend of the fourth quarter. By that point, the outcome had all but been decided. Outside of Simons (7-15), Portland shot just 3-22 from distance.
Defensively, the Blazers hemorrhaged points in the paint all night long. Keldon Johnson routinely attacked the rim, finishing with 21 points on 9-15, with almost all of his damage coming on the drive. San Antonio also dominated the glass, outrebounding Portland 59-37. Johnson had 16, including eight of the 17 offensive rebounds the Spurs pulled down as a team. While the Spurs shot less than 30% from three on the night, they were able to come up with timely baskets to help quell any scoring outburst from Simons, and stop momentum from swinging too far in Portland’s direction—particularly down the stretch.
The Blazers return home to face the Chicago Bulls on Sunday at 6 p.m. PT.