SAN ANTONIO — Devin Vassell had 22 points, Keldon Johnson added 21 points and the San Antonio Spurs maintained their hold on 10th place in the Western Conference by defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 130-111 on Friday night.
“We’re locking in,” said Spurs center Zach Collins, who was a rebound shy of his first career double-double. “All these games are super important right now. We’re all fighting to get in the playoffs. This is a part of us growing, but also that sense of urgency.”
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio’s All-Star point guard, was a late scratch due to a non-COVID-19 upper respiratory illness. But the Spurs had eight players score in double figures, including 15 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five assists by Collins against his former team.
Keon Johnson had 20 points for Portland, which lost its sixth straight — including a 133-96 loss to the Spurs on Wednesday. Brandon Williams added 17.
“It was a rough one tonight,” Johnson said. “Right now, we’re just trying to focus on our principles. Staying consistent with our principles, which is coming in each night, playing hard, giving our all and letting the results be the results.”
The Blazers opened the game with a 10-2 run before the Spurs settled in, going on a 24-8 run fueled by 14 points in the paint.
“I thought we played well,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s a good mental test. We played them pretty well in Portland and they came back and they bust their (butt). (Portland coach) Chauncey (Billups) was that kind of player. He’s going to have high standards. They are going to work hard for him.”
The Spurs extended their lead to 28 points in the second quarter while making five 3-pointers, including consecutive 3s by Johnson.
After missing his first 3-pointer of the second quarter, Johnson ran down the ensuing loose ball and fired a pass to Jakob Poeltl in the lane for an uncontested dunk. The play resulted in the Trail Blazers taking a timeout, allowing Johnson to scream and stomp his way to the bench with the Spurs leading 47-31 with 9:34 remaining in the first half.
Vassell, Josh Primo and Lonnie Walker IV also had thunderous dunks in the first half that brought the crowd out of their seats.
“It changes the game,” Walker said of the dunks. “It changes the tempo of the game. It gets the crowd involved a lot more. At that point, every time we got a dunk, I think we went on a … run or something like that. It really picks up our defensive aggression very quickly.”
San Antonio also finished 16 for 37 on 3-pointers.
The Trail Blazers outscored the Spurs 32-24 in the third quarter, but San Antonio maintained a double-digit advantage throughout.
The Spurs have flip-flopped with the Los Angeles Lakers for the 10th and 11th spots this week. San Antonio will maintain the final spot of the play-in tournament (based on a better conference record) regardless of how Los Angeles fares against ninth-seeded New Orleans on Friday night.
Friday may have been April Fool’s Day, but the Spurs know better than to play the fool with Popovich.
He’s seemed more at ease this season while mentoring San Antonio’s young roster, but his no-nonsense approach has remained unchanged.
“That’s a big no-no,” Walker said when asked if anyone has ever pranked Popovich. “He doesn’t even really like when we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him this year. He just looked at us like, ‘You know you’re going to run, right?’ A prank on April Fool’s? I would be the last person (to do that). Maybe Keldon, he’s crazy.”
Trail Blazers: Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who is out for the season after undergoing abdominal surgery, joined his teammates on the road trip to San Antonio. Lillard sat on the bench between the Blazers’ coaching staff and injured Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic. … Trail Blazers C Drew Eubanks was honored prior to tipoff with a video highlighting his four seasons with the Spurs. He bowed his head and clapped in appreciation as the fans gave him a long and loud ovation. Eubanks was then promptly greeted by Poeltl, who blocked his first attempt seconds into the game.
Spurs: San Antonio has five games remaining, including two at home, as they battle for a berth in the play-in tournament. After hosting Portland on Sunday, the Spurs face playoff-bound Denver, Minnesota, Golden State and Dallas. … The Spurs are 14-1 when holding a 20-point lead this season. … Collins was a rebound shy of his first career double-double.
Trail Blazers and Spurs close out a two-game set Sunday in San Antonio.