A huge walk by Jerami Grant carries the Trail Blazers over the Spurs

The Portland Trail Blazers returned home Tuesday night after a grueling six-game road trip, in which they are set to face the San Antonio Spurs. Although the Blazers went 4-2 in their swing while the Spurs fell to 6-8 on the season after a hot start, the game ended up fairly even. Blazers forward Jerami Grant had a massive game with 29 points and 8 rebounds, adding plenty of defense besides. But the Blazers couldn’t get the Spurs off the paint and couldn’t hold on to the ball in the second half. This made the game tough no matter who went up for Portland.

Grant may have put Portland in position to win, but their wings — Damian Lillard, Anfernie Simmons and, for a brief second, Josh Hart — put the baby to bed. They each made improbable plays late on to keep Spurs at bay. Portland won by another close margin, 117-110.

First Quarter

The Blazer hit first off Jerami Grant after a San Antonio turnover, but the Spurs rocked from thirteen quick points, interrupted only by Grant’s sweet fade. Coach Chauncey Billups had to call a timeout at 13-4.

After the deadline, things started to look up. Billups went off the bench to look for a spark from Shaedon Sharpe and Drew Eubanks to bring out Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons. Coach Billups wanted some rush, and Sharpe obliged with a quick three. Portland Energy picked up on both ends of the court. Damian Lillard became particularly assertive, and a lady-and-one forced Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout at 22-16 with a free throw yet to come.

San Antonio tried to maintain their first-place advantage with a deep ball, but the Blazers continued to drive up the lead until Three Sharps regained the lead for Portland. A buzzer hit by the Spurs after a turnover with seconds left in the quarter led to a narrow 30-29 lead for the Blazers. Sharpe finished the quarter with double digits at 10 points after an eight-minute electric run.

Second Quarter

Spurs came out with a full court press, and paid a dividend immediately. The Blazers could not get the ball over the half-court line, and the Spurs gathered on three points to regain the lead. San Antonio moved up to eight points with an effective offense with help from Portland. Despite this, Lillard’s brisk drive cut the lead to six as we went to the commercials.

Sharpe returned to the field and picked up where he left off, hitting a tow cap and nearly going home with a huge alley, thwarted by an error by Robbie. Neither team was able to assert control, but the worrying trend was that San Antonio was getting an easy look in the paint, while Portland needed to work hard for everything.

As is typical, the Blazers made a quick run as the period waned. Simmons popped it in, a classic popcorn one-liners that turn deficits into possibilities. Jerami Grant helped move the ball big time, put up an opportunistic defense, hit three late, and worked his way up to 19 points in the first half. Between Grant and Simmons, the Blazers finished the quarter up 62-56.

Third quarter

The teams opened the third 3-indicator back-and-forth trade. Once the defenses spread out to overcome them, they push inward, providing mirror images of each other. Portland had difficulty defending, particularly in the key, but they made up for it with a slew of errant shots. When Portland also began to score on a rushing offense, the Spurs had a hard time keeping up. The home team got the lead up to 8 and seemed to be sailing away.

Portland being Portland, they couldn’t keep the momentum going indefinitely. The San Antonio Blazers delivered mid-quarter with a bunch of turnovers.

Grant proved to be the eraser of one mistake, despite scoring repeatedly, then distracting the defense just enough for everyone to look open. When Damian Lillard is left wide open from a Sagittarius, you know someone else is scoring big.

The Blazers also tightened up on defense late in the period… finally. It’s not like they scored a ton, but slowing the flow of San Antonio’s offense made those shots count. Were it not for their repeated turns, Portland might have gotten away with doing it again. It ended up sending the scoreboard the other way. Portland finished the period slightly higher, 93-89.

The fourth quarter

The fourth quarter started oddly, as Watford’s Trendon got the whistle for a reckless Devin Vassell three-pointer shutout, giving San Antonio an almost even three free throws. The Spurs regained the lead on the next possession. Portland’s second unit looked broken and anxious for one of the first times all season.

Action slowed down after that, with both teams being more cautious, which roughly translates to caution? They seemed temporary, and scored on uphill property. But when you’re talking about a slow, half-court chess match, coach Popović’s team is hard to beat. The Spurs lead 103-98 with 8:00 remaining. The Blazers needed a spark of inspiration again.

As one would expect, Portland has turned on their superhero Damian Lillard. He scored on a great move to the cup, but turned over the ball on the next possession. Then Grant missed a jacket and it looked like Portland’s comeback plan fell a bit short. This was confirmed when, on the next possession, San Antonio’s strong defense forced Lillard and Drew Eubanks to run the screen with the catch, with predictably poor results.

Despite this, Tottenham were throwing stones the whole time. Leave that door open for Portland. Eubanks, of all people, took the lid off the bucket with a gentle roll of a screen play in the bow. Then Simmons hit a birdie. Finally the struggle bus got out of the arena. Portland trailed only 106-104 with 4:00 remaining. Eubanks then made up as Portland’s Wilt Chamberlain converted a single at the rim to give the Blazers the lead, 107-106. When Lillard blocked an attempted serve by Keita Bates Diop and then hit three on the spot, Moda’s center was ablaze. Portland leads 110-106 with 3:15 remaining.

The play got ugly again with a brick by Portland, an unforced turnover for the Spurs. Half the pitch wasn’t kind to either team in the second half. But you fell behind on plays and percentages, Simmons said, and he hit three very competitive contenders at the shot clock bell with 2:05 remaining. San Antonio converted on the next possession but Josh Hart cleared it to steal a breakaway dunk, putting Portland up 5 with 1:21 remaining.

The slow ball worked its magic after that. When Trey Jones missed three wide open goals on San Antonio’s next try, there weren’t enough possessions yet to bring the Spurs back, it wasn’t pretty, but it will go down as another win for Portland.

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The Blazers will host the Brooklyn Nets on Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.

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