A former first-round pick is still helping Portland.
The term “track meet” is as apt as ever, as both teams played with feverish pace and very little attention to defense. The score remained close from wire-to-wire, with Portland holding 9-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter before a late San Antonio run flipped the script.
Kevin Knox II led Portland with 24 points off the bench. Drew Eubanks also had a big night with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks.
The Spurs were led by Keith Bates-Diop who had a game-high 25 points, 6 boards and 4 assists. Keldon Johnson and Julian Champagnie both added 24 points apiece.
If you missed the game, read our instant recap here.
Now, here are some observations about the game:
Last Is the New First
While there were little competitive stakes to the game, the win has big implications for the chances of the Blazers potentially landing the number 1 pick the 2023 draft.
With two remaining contests against playoff teams highly motivated to win, San Antonio presented the biggest threat to those odds that Portland would face during the home stretch of the season.
The Spurs are the Bane to the Blazers’ Batman, having lived in the darkness of tanking since the dawn of the season, while Portland has merely adopted losing by design over the past couple months or so. At 21-59, San Antonio has already locked up the best lottery odds possible for any team, which are shared by the bottom three teams in the NBA. The Blazers, however, sit at 33-47, just one game in the win column behind Orlando, Indiana and Washington.
The Blazers’ top weapon over that stretch, rookie Shaedon Sharpe, gave a curtain call before his absence during crunch time of Tuesday’s loss at Memphis and was held out of tonight’s game entirely with “left knee tendinopathy.” Surely a coincidence.
Goonies Never Say Die
Don’t think that tanking translates to effort. Tonight in particular it was the polar opposite. Most of the guys still remaining on the roster do not have guaranteed contracts for next season, and they played like it. From the opening tip, Portland played with energy and purpose, as if personally challenged by the awkward clashing of short and long-term organizational goals.
The Blazers shot the ball extremely well (53%), got out in transition (17 fast break points) and pounded the basket (70 points in the paint). They forced 14 turnovers, dished out 34 assists and even banked in a three-pointer at one point. This team was never going to roll over and die.
NBA players are human. They have the internet too. They certainly hear the noise around the team and credit to them for coming out hungry.
Best Served Cold
If fighting for a future in the league isn’t enough motivation, how about the sweet dish of revenge? With the greenest of lights he may ever see in his career, Eubanks couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to show up is former team. He knocked down a baby hook and an open three in the first 65 seconds and continued to bully Zach Collins and the San Antonio interior defense like they were playing pickup at the local gym. Eubanks had 15 points in the first half and finished with 23 while getting all over the floor on defense.
He and Collins made for a rather fun, if not a little bit sad head-to-head revenge game between the two. Both have a feisty temper and a bone to pick with their old squads. Collins had a night himself, turning in a line of 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
The Blazers will get a day off before heading to Los Angeles for the final road game of the season Saturday against the Clippers. Early afternoon tip is set for 1 p.m. Pacific.