Blazers clicking as they beat Spurs in home opener
Gregg Popovich, already skeptical about setting foot in the City of Roses, is going to be even more leery after what happened at the Moda Center Saturday night.
Popovich's San Antonio Spurs didn't get run out of the building, but they left the same they have most of the time over the past six seasons -- as losers.
With Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way, the Trail Blazers used excellent shooting and scoring balance to carve a 115-105 victory over the defending Western Conference champions.
It was the ninth loss in the last 10 visits to Portland for San Antonio (2-1), now 5-13 overall against then Blazers since 2008.
Lillard scored 25 points and Aldridge 24 to lead six Blazers in double figures as Portland (2-1) won its home opener for the 13th straight year.
"We have a lot of guys who can score," said Portland's Wesley Matthews, who made 8 of 13 shots from the field en route to a 20-point performance. "That has to be our theme. Any given night, someone can go off for a big night."
"We played a 48-minute game against a good team," said Nicolas Batum, who notched his third career triple-double (11 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) by making a 3-point shot at the buzzer with the game already decided.
Portland led 50-39 at halftime and survived a late San Antonio run to emerge victorious on back-to-back nights. The Blazers beat the Nuggets 113-98 at Denver Friday night, a venue in which they had lost 18 of their last 19 outings.
"This doesn't overshadow the Denver win, because we have had so many problems there over the years," said Aldridge, who also had seven rebounds and four assists and sank 11 of 17 shots form the field. "To beat (the Nuggets) was important, but tonight was great, too."
Portland was outstanding offensively, shooting .556 from the field, .400 from 3-point range and .895 from the free-throw line. The Blazers were strong defensively for a while before Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Marco Bellinelli propelled the Spurs on a late run that gave sweaty palms to an announced sellout crowd of 20,028.
"I was really pleased the first half," said Terry Stotts, who has placed a special emphasis on defense in his second year at the Blazer helm. "We took care of the rim. We took care of the 3-point line. Two-thirds of (the Spurs') shots were mid-range jump shots.
"Both teams caught fire in the second half and it was a shootout, but I was pleased with our poise down the stretch. We kept making plays when it mattered."
'Matthews -- who scored 17 points in the second half -- knocked down back-to-back 3's to lift the Blazers to an 88-76 lead early in the fourth quarter. It was 94-82 when San Antonio began a climb back with a torrid rally led by Bellinelli. The reserve guard, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, sank consecutive 3's, the last drawing the Spurs to within 108-105 with 19.9 seconds left.
"Bellinelli made some unbelievable shots," said Stotts of the 6-5 Italian, a former Chicago Bull signed as a free agent in the offseason. "He almost single-handedly made it a game. The last two 3's he hit were incredible shots."
But Lillard -- who was 7 for 16 from the field and 8 for 8 from the line -- sank a pair of gift shots to make it 110-105 with 17.9 seconds remaining. When Manu Ginobili missed a 3-point attempt, it was over.
The Spurs "made a bit of a push," said Lillard, who had seven rebounds and seven assists in 36 minutes and controlled the Blazers' pace offensively down the stretch. "We knew they would. It happens in most NBA games. I just wanted to make sure we slowed down, had long possessions and got quality looks."
Lillard won his individual battle with Parker. The Spurs' All-Star point guard had 17 points and nine assists but was only 7 for 20 from the field with Lillard drawing primary defensive responsibility.
"Damian stayed after (Parker)," Stotts said. "It's fatiguing to do it at both ends, but he took the challenge of pursuing him. Parker gets a lot of screens. He's running around and it takes its toll (on a defender), but Damian was up for the challenge."
Aldridge is off to a terrific start, shooting .538 from the field while averaging 25.7 points in Portland's three games.
"Doesn't surprise me," Stotts said. "I don't want to ever take LaMarcus for granted. He's been remarkably consistent throughout his career. He's playing his game and playing it well."
"I feel pretty comfortable right now in my second year in Terry's system," Aldridge said. "We are on a better page (in terms) of having our balance of what he sees and what I want to do."
Aldridge is benefiting from the presence of 7-foot center Robin Lopez, who had his best all-around game with 12 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, including a late swat of Duncan with the game still on the line.
"Robin battled with Tim all night," Aldridge said. "He blocked shots, he clogged the paint and played big for us."
"He just kept plugging," Stotts said. "He plays hard at both ends of the court. His presence in the paint makes the difference. You feel his effort and his energy when he's on the court."
The Blazers, who won their final preseason games, then fell flat in a 104-91 loss to Phoenix in their regular-season opener, feel they have regained their mojo.
"The way we've played going back to the preseason is pretty good," Batum said. "The Phoenix game was like a lot of mistakes. a very bad game. but back-to-back wins over Denver and San Antonio means something. Now we have another great team coming in Tuesday in Houston."
NOTES -- Batum apologized to the Spurs after sinking a 25-foot 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second to go to cement the triple-double with the issue already decided. "It was maybe the worst thing I've ever done in my career," he said. "I didn't mean to disrespect that team. I have three triple-doubles in my career, but this one doesn't count. When (the final shot) went in it was like, 'ohhhh.' I don't know why I shot it. That was the worst thing I've ever done in my basketball life. I respect the Spurs a lot, Coach Pop a great team, great players, Hall-of-Fame coach. I know they're going to be mad, but I didn't mean it." The Spurs weren't mad. "Why would I be mad at that?" Popovich said afterward. "He's a good kid. I don't care." Batum is the sixth player in Blazer history with at least three triple-doubles, joining Sidney Wicks, Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Damon Stoudamire.
Portland's 13-game streak of winning the home opener ranks No. 2 in NBA history behind Boston (14 from 1979-92). Duncan, who suffered a chest bruise in the third quarter of San Antonio's opening-night victory over Memphis and missed Friday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers, had 24 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes, making 12 for 23 shots from the field in his 31-minute performance. Portland's Mo Williams came off the bench to score 13 points in 23 minutes on 6-of-9 shooting. "Mo is going to continue to get better the more comfortable he gets," Stotts said. "You saw a glimpse of what type of season he's going to have. He's a formidable offensive player who can get to the paint, make shots and push it up. This was just a taste." Stotts, on Portland's scoring balance: "I like it. It's difficult (for an opponent) to game-plan if you have different players capable of making shots and plays. But as long as the ball is moving and the shots are in rhythm, whether everyone gets double figures or one guy gets 40, that's OK as long as we win."