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Spurs get hot just in time, as Blazers' defense suffers again

The Trail Blazers' defense was poor, and the bench was nonexistent. Still, the Blazers took a 79-73 lead into the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night at the Rose Garden.

As soon as the final period began, though, everything fell apart for the Blazers very quickly. The Spurs went on a 14-point run and never relinquished the lead, toppling the Blazers 112-109 before an announced sellout crowd of 20,447.

“(We are missing) a 48-minute game. Not 40, not 46, (we have to play) a 48-minute game,” Blazers forward Nicolas Batum said. “We played three good quarters. In the fourth quarter, their bench had nothing to lose. They just played. They got really hot.”

With the victory, the Spurs ended a seven-game losing streak at the Rose Garden.

The Blazers had a difficult time explaining how the Spurs could have run up 14 points so fast on them.

“They got hot,” coach Terry Stotts said. “They were playing small ball all night, which opens up the court. When you play small, it allows you to score points. It becomes a different type of game.”

Said Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge: “They made tough shots tonight. I thought we played well throughout the whole game. We gave up that one run early in the fourth. That was hard to come back from.”

The Blazers did come back from the Spurs' run … almost anyway.

The Spurs held on to the lead until 40 seconds were remaining. Then Batum sank a 3-pointer that made the score 109-109.

“I got the ball, I had space, so I just shot it,” Batum said. “I felt really good and just watched it go.”

Manu Ginobili then buried two free throws with 12.9 seconds to put the Spurs on top for good.

Portland had two more chances to tie or go ahead. With 7.8 seconds left, Batum missed a 3-pointer, and Aldridge missed another desperation 3-pointer as time expired.

Tim Duncan had 22 points for the Spurs. Kawhil Leonard and Danny Green scored 10 points each.

More important than what the Spurs' starters did was the 63 points that San Antonio got from its bench. On top of Ginobili’s 17 points, Stephen Jackson had 13, and Gary Neal led the Spurs with a career-best 27 points.

“For the most part it felt good,” Neal said. “I was able to get a good feel, and the jump shot felt good. I kept shooting.”

By contrast, the Blazers bench was abominable. Portland’s reserves scored only four points, two from Meyers Leonard and two from Sasha Pavlovic.

Stotts did not see the four points from the bench as being as bad as they looked on paper.

“We’ve got to find ways to win games,” Stotts said. “The bench was effective in the first half. We were positive in the first half with the bench guys on the floor. I’m more concerned about what happens on the court when they’re in the game than actual numbers: points, rebounds. The bench was a positive in the first half, and then we had a bad stretch, a horrible stretch.”

The Blazers' starters were able to put up high enough numbers to make up for the lack of a bench.

Batum led all scorers with 33 points, Aldridge scored 29 points, Damian Lillard had 20 points and J.J. Hickson scored 13.

That the Blazers were able to score 109 and still lost the game points to some serious problems with the team’s ability to defend. San Antonio victimized the Blazers' defense all night, connecting on 40 of 70 from the field (.571) and 7 of 18 from beyond the arc (.389).

“Obviously, we scored enough points to win,” Stotts said.

The game was knotted 26-26 after the first quarter.

The Blazers were able to gain some breathing room in the second quarter and went into halftime ahead 52-43.

In the first half, the Blazers capitalized on the Spurs' 14 turnovers. And while San Antonio settled down in the second half and only turned the ball over only seven more times, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said his team did not make any adjustments after halftime.

“There’s no halftime drills for turnovers,” Popovich said. “You either turn it over or you don’t. If there was a drill for it, I’d be doing it. Last year, we were first in the league in fewest turnovers. This year, we’ve had a little bit of a turnover problem. Hopefully it will pass.”

Late in the third quarter, the Spurs cut the Portland lead to 67-64 before the Blazers went on a 10-3 run and ended the period with a 79-73 edge.

“We were just taking advantage of matchups,” Aldridge said. “We ran through the post, put them in pick-and- rolls. We were trying to push the ball and run at them, and that was good for us early.”

The lead would not hold up for the Blazers, though.

“It’s always one or two plays that make a difference,” Lillard said. “It wasn’t just all in the fourth quarter. There was stuff that we could’ve done to make it a bigger lead, and they just capitalized on it.”