PORTLAND — Wednesday night, there were two unwelcome guests in the Moda Center. One was former Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge, making his first appearance in Portland as a visiting player. The other visitor-an unwelcome house guest that cannot continue to go unnoticed-was the Blazers defense.
Aldridge scored 23 points and grabbed 6 rebounds to lead the San Antonio Spurs to a 113-101 victory over his former team.
After the game, the emotions that were felt in the building the whole night were articulated by Aldridge
“I have so many memories in this arena,” Aldridge said. “First MVP chants, first double-doubles, I remember that first game against Dallas as a rookie, skinny. It’s so many memories and this city, it was hard for me out there.”
When he was announced, the reaction was loud, but mixed. There were fans who stood and cheered and others who rained down boos on the four-time All-Star in a Blazers uniform.
“It was a little bit of both,” Aldridge said about the reaction to his introduction. “I definitely heard the cheers of the fans that showed me love and still supported me. I heard the fans that were mad, rightfully so. It might have been 70-30 cheers to boos.”
Aldridge jerseys could be seen all over the arena and there were signs showing gratitude, but on his first touch, the boos came down the instant the ball hit his hands before swishing an 18-foot jumper.
From that point on, Aldridge was booed on every touch.
“After a while I got used to it,” Aldridge said. “It was my first time being booed like that. At first it did surprise me, but after a while I got used to it.”
If the boos bothered him or not, it was impossible to tell by his play.
In the third quarter, Aldridge got hot scoring eight of his 23 points and discouraging the crowds boos with every made field goal.
The Blazers denied him post touches with Meyers Leonard furiously fronting Aldridge when he tried to get position on the block.
And where every touch of Aldridge’s brought out the boo-birds, every successful Blazers play resonated with the intensity of a playoff game.
Leonard’s night ended prematurely when he dislocated his left shoulder with 4:58 left in the third quarter while jockeying for rebounding position on a free-throw.
But the injuries and the debut of Gerald Henderson were not enough to distract from Portland’s poor defensive performance.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts was forced to call timeouts after two Spurs possessions which ended in lay-ups in the first half.
“I don’t think we had three consecutive stops the whole first half,” Stotts said. “We had two sets of those in the first four or five minutes of the third quarter. The more we can do that, we’ll get better.”
Damian Lillard scored 22 points, nine assists and six rebounds. His backcourt mate CJ McCollum chipped in 21 points.
With 9:26 left in the 2nd quarter, Gerald Henderson saw his first minutes in a Blazers uniform.
The seventh-year veteran scored 12 points off the bench in 18 minutes.
Kawhi Leonard took smaller Blazers into the post, continuing his excellent start to the season.
Leonard scored 20 points, his fourth consecutive game with 20 points or more, to go along with 7 rebounds.
The improved defense helped Portland tie the game with five minutes left in the third quarter.
But, as perfectly written as could be, an Aldridge 17-footer gave the Spurs the lead again on the next possession.
A lead which they never gave up again.
When asked his feelings after spending his first night in the visitors locker room at the Moda Center Aldridge, like the Blazers fans in the arena, didn’t hold anything back.
“The locker room here? I’m glad I’m leaving,” he said before breaking out in laughter.
Down the hallway in the much nicer locker room he used to call home, the laughs, the defense and the wins will have to wait for another night.
The Blazers are now in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season at three games.