SAN ANTONIO – Veteran Spurs center Pau Gasol said before the Spurs played Portland on Wednesday night that the Trail Blazers would "come in ready to play."
Gasol was right. The Blazers came out firing and not even the return of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, a forrmer Portland player himself, could save the day.
Damian Lillard scored 36 points and C.J. McCollum added 26 as Portland hung on for a 110-106 victory over the Spurs at the AT&T Center.
The Silver and Black (52-15) had won nine in a row at home before falling to the Blazers (30-37) for the first time in three games this season.
Portland was coming off a 100-77 loss at New Orleans on Tuesday night. That the victory came on the second night of a back-to- back made it all the more gratifying for the Blazers.
"Yeah, we would have liked to win the game last night, too, but we did a better job of executing offensively, moving with the ball defensively, getting stops, and trying to prevent second-chance points," McCollum said. "That was a good win for us tonight.Obviously, they're one of the best teams in the game, not the best team."
Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 34 points. He has scored at least 30 points in 25 games this season. Leonard and Lillard each have six 30-plus games since the All-Star Game.
Aldridge, who returned to the lineup after missing two games with a minor heart arrhythmia, finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Patty Mills (13), Pau Gasol (12) and David Lee (12) rounded out San Antonio's double-figure scoring.
Aldridge made his first two shots, but wound up missing 15 of 24 field-goal attempts.
"I felt like my rhythm was good early and then I think my touch was off around the rim, so that kind of bothered me," Aldridge said. "But I think I definitely played better at the end. It's the first game back, so I'll be better."
Aldridge, 31, pronounced himself "safe and healthy" when he met with reporters after the game. "I'm good to go," he said.
Aldridge went through his usual pregame warmup Wednesday night, working on his jump shot and post-up game under the watchful eye of assistant coach Ime Udoka.
"It felt good to be back out there," Aldridge said. "We didn't get a win, so that's kind of tough to deal with, but happy to be out there with the teammates and just to be playing again. I feel great and I'm happy to be back."
Aldridge played his first nine seasons in the NBA with Portland before signing with San Antonio as a free agent in July 2015.
Lillard hit 12 of 22 shots, including 3 of 8 from the 3-point line. McCollum went 8 for 16 from the field and hit both of his attempts from beyond the arc.
"I thought the Trail Blazers were great," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Lillard and McCollum were super. I thought they executed their offense great. We just didn't guard them tonight the way we needed to. They deserved it."
When Lillard and McCollum weren't burning the Spurs with their jump shots, they worked the pick-and-roll efficiently with center Jusuf Nurkic, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
"They were doing a great job with that the whole game," Nurkic said. "We fight and stick together the whole game, play our game. If we play at their (Spurs) pace, we get too slow. We could beat everyone in this league."
Leonard made 12 of 21 shots, including 4 of 7 from long distance. He also had nine rebounds and six assists.
The Spurs played their fourth consecutive game without starting point guard Tony Parker, who is sidelined with stiffness in his back. Rookie point guard Dejounte Murray (left groin) also was out, missing his third game in a row.
The Silver and Black shot 47.7 percent (42/88) overall and 42.3 percent (11/26) from the 3-point line. The Blazers shot about the same percentage as the Spurs, hitting 38 of 80 field-goal attempts (47.5). They were 40.9 percent (9/22) from the 3-point line.
Two free throws by Nurkic put Portland on top 104-97 with 2:23 left, but Aldridge scored on a dunk, and completed a three-point play to cut the deficit to 104-102 with 53.7 seconds left.
The Blazers lost the ball out of bounds on a turnover by Nurkic on their next possession, but the Silver and Black missed a chance to at least tie the game when Leonard missed a five-foot driving hook shot in the paint with 44.8 seconds left.
The Blazers went ahead by four, 106-102, on two free throws by McCollum with 14.9 seconds remaining. But the Spurs refused to go gently into the night. Mills drained a 3-pointer with 8.8 left to make it a one-point game, 106-105.
Portland went up 108-105 on two free throws by Lillard with 5.2 seconds left. Lillard made two more free throws to extend the Blazers' lead to 110-105 before Ginobili sank one of two freebies for the final score.
The Spurs led 29-28 after one quarter and 55-54 at the half. Portland was ahead 82-80 heading into the final period. Lillard and McCollum scored 20 and 13 points, respectively, in the third quarter.
"They played last night and got their butts kicked, came in here on a back-to-back, and played hard," Popovich said. "We played as hard as they did in the last four minutes of the game. We had a chance to tie it, missed a layup and they got an offensive board.
"In a strange, counterintuitive way, if that would have happened, we might have won, but didn't really deserve it. Maybe it's a good ledsson. It's 48 minutes. Can't wait until the end."
The Spurs, who trail Golden State by one game in the Western Conference standings, play at Memphis on Saturday and host Sacramento on Sunday.
Here is a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the Blazers-Spurs game Wednesday night:
Final: Blazers 110, Spurs 106.
Fourth quarter (41.2): Blazers 104, Spurs 102. Kawhi Leonard missed a running hook shot that would have tied the game.
Fourth quarter (2:42): Blazers 102, Spurs 97. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum lead Portland with 32 and 24 points, respectively. Kawhi Leonard leads the Silver and Black with 34 points.
Fourth quarter (6:34): Blazers 96, Spurs 91. Damian Lillard has 32 points for Portland and Kawhi Leonard has 30 for the Silver and Black.
Fourth quarter (9:59): Spurs 86, Blazers 84. Kawhi Leonard buries a 3-pointer from the baseline. Manu Ginobili with the assists. Leonard has 30 points. Portland calls timeout.
End of third quarter: Blazers 82, Spurs 80. Portland guard Damian Lillard leads all scorers with 32 points. Kawhi Leonard has 27 points for the Silver and Black.
Third quarter (4:59): Spurs 71, Blazers 66. Kawhi Leonard has 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 3 of 4 attempts from the 3-point line.
Halftime: Spurs 55, Blazers 54
First-half notes: The Silver and Black led 29-28 after one quarter and they played the Blazers to a 26-26 tie in the second period . . . Kawhi Leonard scored 12 of his 17 first-half points in the second quarter, hitting 4 of 5 shots, including 3 of 4 attempts from the 3-point line. Pau Gasol scored nine points, all in the first period. Back on the floor after being sidelined for two games by a minor heart arrhthymia, Marcus Aldridge hit his first two shots and had six points in the first half . . . The Spurs shot 57.1 percent (12/21) in the first two quarters and were 3 of 4 from long distance. They had 14 assists on their 22 first-half field goals . . . Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum lead the Blazers with 16 and 13 points, respectively. Allen Crabbe rounds out the Blazers' double-figure scoring with 10 points. Lillard has made 7 of 11 shots and is 2 of 4 from the 3-point line . . . Portland shot 50 percent (20/40) overall and 60 percent (6/10) from beyond the arc
Second quarter (3:38): Spurs 46, Blazers 43. Danny Green nails a 3-pointer to put the Silver and Black by three. Timeout Portland.
Second quarter (5:53): Blazers 38, Spurs 38. Pau Gasol leads the Spurs with nine points.
End of first quarter: Spurs 29, Blazers 28. Pau Gasol leads the Silver and Black with nine points. Portland guard Damon Lillard leads all scorers with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.
First quarter (4:52): Blazers 18, Spurs 16. Portland guard Damon Lillard has 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
First quarter (7:51): Spurs 14, Blazers 7. LaMarcus Aldridge and Dewayne Dedmon have four points apiece.
SPURS GAMEDAY: Even with players out, Silver and Black gathering steam
Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) vs. Spurs (52-14)
Tipoff: 7 p.m., Wednesday, AT&T Center
Blazers’ last game: Lost to Pelicans 100-77, Tuesday, New Orleans
Spurs’ last game: Beat Atlanta Hawks 107-99, Monday AT&T Center
Season series: Spurs lead 2-0
Last meeting: Spurs 110, Blazers 94, Dec. 30, AT&T Center
Blazers’ last 10 games: 6-4, won last game
Spurs’ last 10 games: 9-1, won last two
Notable: The Silver and Black play six of their remaining nine games in March at the AT&T Center.
SAN ANTONIO – Center Pau Gasol had a little fun with a question about Kawhi Leonard after the Spurs’ 107-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
Leonard scored 31 points in his first game back after sustaining a concussion in the Silver and Black’s loss to the Thunder last Thursday in Oklahoma City. He sat out the fourth quarter against OKC and missed Saturday’s home win over Golden State.
So what about the lift Leonard gave the Spurs, who moved into a tie with Golden State for first in the NBA’s Western Conference with the victory against Atlanta.
“Basically, he did nothing tonight,” Gasol said, trying to keep a straight face as reporters laughed. “Did he actually play? Oh, yeah, he did have 31 points and a few good plays here and there.”
Then Gasol stopped the sarcasm and turned serious as he marveled at Leonard’s game.
“Kawhi is a very special player,” he said. “It’s nothing new. He’s playing at a very high level. To come back after the mild concussion and play at this level and give us this lift, it means a lot to this team. It’s a big difference.”
Leonard showed no ill effects from his concussion, hitting 10 of 24 shots, including 3 of 8 attempts from the 3-point line, and adding five rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes.
“I felt good, just like any other game,” Leonard said. “The medicine team and trainers did a good job of getting me prepared.”
The Spurs (52-14) took Tuesday off and get back to the grind Wednesday night with a home game against the Portland Trail Blazers (29-37). The Blazers are coming off a 100-77 loss in New Orleans on Tuesday night.
San Antonio is 2-0 against Portland this season, beating the Blazers 110-90 on the road Dec. 23 and 110-94 at the AT&T Center a week later.
“They’re fighting to get into the playoffs,” Gasol said of the Blazers, who trail Denver by 2.5 games for the last playoff spot in the West. “They’re going to come in ready to play, and we’re going to have to be ready. We have to play with the same aggressiveness and intensity that we have lately.”
The Silver and Black have played their last two games without power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who was diagnosed with a mild heart arrhythmia Friday. The team announced Wednesday morning that Aldridge has been cleared to play and will be on the floor Wednesday night against the Trail Blazers.
Veteran David Lee, a two-time All-Star who signed with the Spurs as a free agent last July, played well while starting in Aldridge’s place the past two games. Lee scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting and finished with six rebounds, four assists, and one block.
“Of course, LaMarcus is a proven All-Star guy we want to have in there every game,” Lee said. “But the strength of our team is the depth. My job when I came here was to be ready for any circumstance. I started for years and years in the league, and a couple of hundred games in a row, I think, I started."
“Then I’ve come off the bench a bunch and found a way to be successful. So my job is when my number’s called, no matter what that role is, is to play hard and play smart."
Tony Parker (back stiffness) and Dejounte Murray (left groin) have missed the Spurs last three and two games, respectively.
Golden State edged Philadelphia 106-104 at home on Tuesday night to take a half-game lead over the Spurs in the West standings. The Silver and Black would get the No. 1 seed in the West if they finish in a tie with the Warriors because they won the season series against them.
“It’s good for us to have this home-court advantage going into the playoffs, but we’ve been here before and lost in the playoffs early,” Leonard said. “The No. 1 seed doesn’t mean anything going into the playoffs. We want to get to the Finals and win. That’s the team goal.”
Next up for the Spurs after Wednesday's game: vs. Grizzlies, 8 p.m., Saturday, Memphis
Next Spurs home game: vs. Sacramento, 6 p.m., Sunday