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Spurs hold off Blazers thanks to fourth quarter heroics from Manu Ginobili

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All in all, I enjoyed the second half more.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Game 10 Vs. Portland: Spurs 93, Blazers 80  Rec: 8-2  1st in Southwest, 2nd in West   Streak: W-5

Another double-digit win in front of the home crowd at the AT&T Center and that makes five on the trot, yet not all was hunky dory in Spurs-land. One would assume that if anyone would be happy with the performance it would be Manu Ginobili, who scored 14 of his season-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, including nine in a row for the Spurs to cinch the win. Yet he was far from thrilled afterward, and well, let's hear it from the future Hall-of-Famer's mouth...

Now that we finished the game the feeling is not good [about] the way we played. They played yesterday, in Charlotte, they were losing by 20-something, they made a great run, wasted a lot of energy, and they still came here and almost beat us, so that means we didn't play good enough. We've really got to step up and not be satisfied with the win. The way we played is far from what we want.

It used to be that a win --any win-- over Portland was cause for celebration around these parts given the history between these teams, but that was back when LaMarcus Aldridge was on the other side. The Blazers are going through a rebuild at the moment and feature an undersized backcourt, a front line where none of the three starters thrill you all that much and the usual mediocre bench that's been an Achilles heel for that franchise for pretty much Aldridge's entire time there.

Yet still, even on a SEGABABA where the first game was on the east coast, here were the Blazers, showing admirable character and resolve, chipping away with a 16-6 run to turn a 75-62 Spurs lead into a one-possession game with 3:49 to go after Noah Vonleh canned a three from the wing.

From there Ginobili nailed a pair of long twos and then a long triple from the top of the key with the shot clock dwindling to silence Portland's comeback bid.

Indeed.

Both Ginobili and Gregg Popovich made sure to emphasize that effort was not the problem on the evening. In fact, energy and hustle, particularly on the defensive end was what saved them from an upset loss. "That's the great thing about playing good defense," the Argentine explained afterward. "We kept them at 80 and that's what gave us some air. If this was another game, if we played like this offensively at Portland, we would've lost by 20. So it's good that our defense held us."

Ginobili was certainly correct about buckets coming easier in Aldridge's return to Portland in Spurs colors, as the visitors hit at a 56 percent clip in a 113-101 win in that one with LMA and Kawhi Leonard both scoring over 20. This time around the Spurs shot 42.7 percent, and that was with a hot second half in which they shot 57.1 percent and totaled 57 points.

The first half was similar to Monday's tilt with the 76ers in some ways, with neither team being able to throw it into the ocean, but I don't think the offense was quite as stagnant this time with the starters. The ball was moving, but not quite in snyc. There was an extra dribble, a moment of hesitation, always something. And a lot of open missed jumpers. The Spurs started 2-of-13 from the field. The defense was quite good, however, and while the Blazers missed a couple good looks as well, their shots were more contested in general and the Spurs forced some turnovers as well, with one of them producing this.

The much-beloved Aldridge-Diaw-Leonard-Ginobili-Mills lineup saw exactly one possession worth of action (resulting in a Mills deuce off a pass from Ginobili, naturally), but was quickly discarded for an all-bench lineup for the rest of the quarter. They couldn't hit shots either, but was evident was how much faster the ball was moving from man to man. There was no hesitation. There was hardly a dribble. They even got it up the floor from defense to offense quicker. The rapid passing stretched the Blazers defenders to the point where Boris Diaw and David West could snatch offensive rebounds, and it led to second-chance opportunities.

It was more of the same in the second quarter, with both teams shooting 33.3 percent on the nose in the period, but the Spurs at least didn't turn the ball over. They had 10 dimes and just one giveaway in the half, compared to four helpers and eight turnovers for the Blazers.

West's passing especially stood out. I knew he was unselfish, but had no idea he had this kind of floor vision and decisiveness.

The dam finally burst for the starters in the third quarter, with Duncan and Leonard scoring eight apiece and the quintet combining to shoot 9-of-13 overall with eight assists and just one turnover in the first 7:48 of the period. Leonard hit a couple of threes in there, but strangely Aldridge didn't take a single shot. The Blazers were sending double-teams when he posted up, but not really quickly or aggressively, and Aldridge was content to lay back and wait for them to come before dishing it off.

This was Kawhi's other field goal in the quarter.

I mean, it doesn't count for as much on the scoreboard as a three, but it was okay I guess. Anyway, despite the starters finding their shooting touch in the third, notorious Spurs-killer Damian Lillard had 16 of his own in the quarter and the Blazers trailed by just five going into the fourth.

The final quarter was mostly about Ginobili. It's been a pleasantly surprising start for the 38-year-old sixth-man to say the least. His turnover rate is way down and his shooting percentages are through the roof. Mid-range jumpers and long twos have never been his specialty --I think he went a couple of months before making one to start last season-- but he's shooting 57.1 percent from 10-16 feet and 66.7 from 16-22 feet so far and both of those percentages will go up after tonight's game.

Ginobili had a couple of layups rattle in and out and was noticeably frustrated on the bench after missing an open three in that stretch as well, but he hit his final four shots after a 3-of-10 start.

You figured he'd lead the team in scoring maybe once or twice during the season, but I never would've dreamed he'd take more shots than anybody on the team in any game, under any circumstance, yet we were almost there tonight, with him getting nine shots up in the final quarter and 14 overall. Two takes and makes by Leonard in the final 1:10, with the outcome already assured overtook Ginobili in the final tally.

It made for a bizarre box score in the end. Six Spurs reached double figures, but Aldridge wasn't one of them, and he finished 2-of-8 with just one attempt in 18:38 of action in the second half.

"We've got to find [him]," Ginobili confirmed. "In the first half we sort of gave him the ball and waited for things to happen and in the second half we kind of walked away from him and gave him the ball in tough moments, in tough spots. We've got to give him the ball more in the flow, not just give him the ball and wait. I think it's going to be great for him and great for us. As we all know it's a work in progress."

That describes the Spurs pretty well at the moment. They're beating so-so competition with a good quarter or half of basketball, relying on their defense, and still trying to get in the rhythm. The idea is to get in sync by the time they hit a tougher stretch of the schedule, which starts, oh, five days or so.

Your Three Stars:

1. Manu Ginobili

2. Boris Diaw

3. Kawhi Leonard