PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — With the trade deadline past and a playoff race ahead, the Portland Trail Blazers understood the importance of their game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Damian Lillard had 26 points and 10 assists, Hassan Whiteside scored 17 points and tied a season-high with 23 rebounds as the Trail Blazers beat San Antonio 125-117, taking two of three games from the Spurs to claim the season series in matchup with playoff tiebreaker potential.
The Blazers are 2 1/2 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Spurs are 4 1/2 games back of Memphis.
“We talked about it,” Lillard said of his team’s mindset heading into the game. “I think we past the point of saying ‘it’s just another game.’ … Every game is important, but games like this are more important because they are one of the teams that we’re fighting for that spot with. It was a tiebreaker game, we’re not playing them no more after this. It also gives us some separation from them. They lost two coming in here and it would be good for us to give them a third. We got the game ahead of them and we got the tiebreaker, so it was a huge game.”
The Blazers got a major boost off their bench from Gary Trent Jr., who scored 18 points. Trent’s points late were important as he hit four 3-pointers and scored 12 points in the fourth quarter as Portland rallied from a 92-86 deficit.
Trent, Lillard says, is giving the Blazers something they need.
“I think he’s giving us something to be excited about,” Lillard said. “He’s been consistent. How he’s playing on the defensive end, how he’s getting to his spots to be effective and making shots. He’s somebody that has to be accounted for, especially on a night like tonight, he came up big for us.”
Trent, who barely played as a rookie, has been getting consistent minutes and is shooting nearly 42% from he 3-point line on four attempts per game.
“It’s like you belong. I work on everything with my coaches every day, it’s just paying off,” Trent said.
Trey Lyles had a season-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, DeMar DeRozan added 21 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 20 points and eight rebounds for the Spurs.
San Antonio built a 10-point lead multiple times in the first half, but Portland stayed within reach on the strength of the play of Lillard (14 points) and McCollum (11 points), trailing 60-59 at halftime.
While DeRozan struggled from the field (6 for 16), he helped the Spurs with 9-for-9 shooting from the foul line.
A pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter by Carmelo Anthony forced a timeout by the Spurs with 5:23 left in the third as they nursed a 75-74 lead. Anthony’ kept Portland close, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half.
The Blazers also got a 10-point performance off the bench by Anfernee Simons.
While Portland had plenty of contributions, Spurs Gregg Popovich says Portland’s success started with Lillard.
“It was a good game, until Damian broke it open with his basketball play,” Popovich said. “I mean, you know, he got through the double teams and split pick and rolls and found his teammates and they knocked down shots.”
A layup by Caleb Swanigan with 3:16 left in the third quarter gave Portland its first lead since the opening quarter. But that advantage was short-lived as the Spurs closed out the quarter on a 9-0 run for a 92-86 lead after three periods.
Spurs: Through 46 games, Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has surpassed his career-high in 3-point attempts for a season. He’s shooting 42% on 3-pointers this season.
Trail Blazers: During an active NBA trade deadline, the Blazers made a small move to help save money in luxury tax payments by trading Skal Labissiere and cash considerations to the Atlanta Hawks. Labissiere has been out since Dec. 28. “I’m going to miss Skal,” coach Terry Stotts said of Labissiere. “I was happy for him that he showed he could help an NBA team. And I was disappointed he got hurt. Hopefully he can rehab with Atlanta and continue his career.” The move helped Portland avoid approximately $5 million in luxury tax payments.