They say every rose has its thorn, so it could also be said that Rose City's has been a particularly painful one for the San Antonio Spurs, who are now a smooth 27-46 in the city of Portland, Oregon (74-72 overall). Saturday night's 112-109 nail-biter of a victory snapped the Spurs 7-game losing streak in the Rose Garden Arena. The Spurs last victory in Portland was a 72-65 slugfest on April 6th, 2008. San Antonio took two of the three meetings against Portland last season, with the one loss being a lopsided 137-97 road beat down that ended an 11-game win streak. Even through none of the Big Three played in what was essentially a throw-away game at the 2012 Rodeo Road Trip, the loss was still a painful reminder of the Spurs long history of struggles on the Portland Trailblazer's home court.
And for most of the game, it appeared as if that losing streak was going to be bumped up to a miserable 8-straight. San Antonio struggled to control the ball in the first half, turning it over a dreadful 14 times, which led to 16 of the Trailblazers' 52 first-half points. Portland lived outside of paint (42 in first half); running their offense primarily off the same high screens San Antonio has long struggled to defend. 46 of the Trailblazers' first half points were produced via the young trio of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and rookie point guard Damian Lillard.
When the Spurs weren't playing hot potato with the basketball, their offense displayed flashes of their well-known lethal efficiency. Trailing by 10 near the end of the first quarter, the Spurs bench answered with back-to-back-to-back three-pointers (Jackson, Ginobili, and Neal) along with a Manu free throw to tie the game at 26 going into the second quarter. However, the Spurs turnover woes and Lillard led Portland to a dominant second quarter, outscoring San Antonio 26-17.
Tim Duncan was able to mitigate some of the early damage with 12 points and 5 boards (22 and 9 overall respectively along with 3 blocks). but the Spurs found themselves down by 9 going into the break. Stephen Jackson, still recovering from a stomach virus which was making its rounds through the team, was able to provide 8 points off the bench in the half.
Here are the Spurs stats for the first 3:30 of the second half: 3 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, and 4 points on 1-3 shooting (Portland had 9 points in this stretch). Whatever the half time talk from Coach Gregg Popovich was, it sure looked like it left the players even more frazzled than they were in the first half. But if there is anything that the 2011-12 season taught us, it is that the San Antonio Spurs can get hot in a hurry. After an extensive Portland timeout to attend to an injured Wesley Matthews, the Spurs backcourt led a 13-4 run to shrink the 14-point gap down to 5.
After suffering through 17 turnovers in the first 28 minutes of play, the Spurs only lost the ball once in the final 8-plus minutes in the third quarter. Stephen Jackson was also matched up on the hot-handed Aldridge for most of the quarter, sticking with the 6'11 power forward through screens and limiting favorable position down in the post . Portland was able to regain their composure against the revived Spurs squad, making 7 of their final 11 shots in the third and pushing their lead up to 6 (73-79).
The Spurs offensive blitzkrieg continued with a 19-6 burst (including a 14-0 run) to start the fourth quarter, taking back the lead for the first time since the 10:48 mark in the first quarter. Gary Neal (who finished with a new career high of 27 points) led the early fourth quarter charge with 9 points on 4-4 shooting. San Antonio complimented their offensive outburst with solid defense and with concentration on controlling the boards. A Neal three-point "and one" play gave the Spurs their largest lead of 9 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game. After a short 6-0 Portland run, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili got the Spurs to the line in three straight trips, hitting 5 of their 6 combined attempts to push the Spurs lead back up to 8 with just around 3 minutes remaining.
The final minutes of the game were a frenzied whirl of fouls and clutch baskets. After a Portland free throw, Wesley Matthews poked the ball loose from Manu's hands and towards a breaking J.J. Hickson. Lillard and Batum both followed up with three-pointers to cut the Spurs lead to 105-103 with only 1:57 left. From behind, Duncan snatched a rebound out of Aldridge's hands and dunked it, but a Matthews' three-point shot made it a one point game with just 90 seconds to play. Duncan followed up with another basket inside, but Batum hit a catch-and-shoot three from the top over a late Gary Neal to tie the game at 109.
Ginobili made an aggressive drive to get to line for a pair of foul shots with roughly 13 seconds remaining to give the lead back to the Spurs. After Portland missed a chance to tie and a second chance off an offensive board, Stephen Jackson hit one of his two free throws to give San Antonio a 112-109 cushion with 4.4 seconds to go. The Trailblazers just missed on two deep attempts in the final seconds, giving the Spurs their first win in Portland in forty-three months.