Portland guns down Spurs for best win of season

As a youngster growing up in Oakland and during his time at Weber State, Damian Lillard followed a number of the game’s premier point guards, he said, including San Antonio’s Tony Parker.

“I really liked him,” the Trail Blazer rookie said, “but I liked guys like Chris Paul and Derrick Rose — people you see all the time (on television). The Spurs are not a team you see all the time, but I’m a fan of his game.”

You see the Spurs quite a bit, however, if you watch the NBA playoffs. They’ve won four championships since 1999, including three with Parker at the controls. It’s been kind of hard to miss him.

In any event, Lillard had the upper hand on the Spurs’ all-star Thursday night in Portland’s 98-90 victory at the Rose Garden.

Lillard notched season highs in points (29) and rebounds (seven) and dished out six assists with two turnovers in 40 stellar minutes as the Blazers (10-12) won their second game in a row.

Parker led San Antonio (18-6) — which dropped its second straight after a 99-96 setback at Utah on Wednesday — with 21 points and had five assists with four turnovers in 37 minutes.

“I knew it was going to be a tough cover for me,” Lillard said. “I wanted to attack the game offensively, and defensively try to make it as tough as possible for him to get his shot off and make those floaters.”

Lillard — the NBA’s November rookie of the month — is a lead candidate for rookie of the year. His performance Thursday night against the Spurs on TNT couldn’t hurt his candidacy.

“I didn’t think about it that way,” said Lillard, who was 11 for 22 from the field and 5 for 5 from the free-throw line. “I just wanted to come out and help the team win the game and focus on what I needed to do to make that happen. Our whole team knew we needed this win. We went out and got it done.”

Lillard wasn’t ready to pronounce it his best performance as a pro.

“I’ve had a few better games, but this is the best I’ve done in a game we really needed,” he said. “That says a lot about our team to win a game against the Spurs.”

Lillard’s play caught the eye of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.

“He’s a wonderful player,” Popovich said. “His skills are obvious, but I like his demeanor as much as I like his skills. He’s aggressive, he’s not afraid of contact ... and he has an understanding of what’s going on out on the court. He can shoot it and he can drive it, and he works hard on D.

“We started to blitz him in the fourth quarter because we weren’t handling him very well. He was smart enough to get rid of (the ball), get it to the first open man and play with his teammates. That’s a sign of an intelligent player.”

Lillard had plenty of help as the Blazers scored its best win of the season — though Coach Terry Stotts wasn’t quite sure he wanted to concede that.

“Beating the Lakers on opening night was really nice,” Stotts said. “I don’t think anybody saw that one coming. The overtime wins (two against Houston, one each against Charlotte and Cleveland). Coming back from 18 down (in the fourth quarter) at Charlotte — that was a pretty impressive win.

“But beating a team like San Antonio — the best team in the West, maybe the best team in the league — it was probably the best because we played an entire game. We didn’t have to come back. We were steady and played well throughout.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made 10 of 16 shots from the field and collected 22 points and six rebounds. J.J. Hickson picked up his fourth straight double-double and 12th of the season with 12 points and 12 boards. Nicolas Batum scored 11 points, dished out a career-high eight assists and made the 3-pointer that all but put the Spurs away with 1:08 left.

The Blazers also got strong performances off the bench from Luke Babbitt (12 points), Meyers Leonard (eight rebounds) and Sasha Pavlovic (six points, four rebounds and four steals).

“It was a team effort,” Stotts said. “A lot of people did a lot of good things.”

The Blazers led nearly the entire way — the Spurs’ biggest lead was two points — but it was nip-and-tuck until Portland forged ahead 72-61 late in the third quarter. The Spurs hung around, though, and trailed only 93-90 when Batum — only 4 for 11 from the field — buried the trey with just more than a minute remaining.

“We just came up short,” said Gregg Popovich, whose Spurs were playing the second of back-to-back games and their fifth game in seven days. “I was really proud of (the Spurs’) effort considering the circumstances. They busted their butts to try and stay in the game, but there was just not enough fuel in the tank.”

Among the Spurs’ 19 turnovers were many of the unforced variety.

“You can call it fatigue or whatever it may be ... we just couldn’t find any rhythm,” said San Antonio center Tim Duncan, who had 16 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes. “Give credit to (the Blazers). They made shots when they needed to and kept us at bay.”

Was this a signature game for the Blazers?

“I wouldn’t say a signature game,” Lillard said. “It’s a steppingstone for us. It shows we can compete with top teams. We just have to keep it going.”

NOTES: The Blazers’ next game is Sunday against New Orleans, the fourth of a six-game homestand. ... Portland has won eight of its last nine games at home in the San Antonio series. ... Lillard had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists through three quarters. ... Batum, who missed the Toronto game with a sore back, played 38 minutes. How did the back feel after the game? “Bad,” he said. “I couldn’t sit on the bench when I was out of the game. I had to lay down. I’m glad we have a day off (Friday).” ... Hickson made several key plays near the end, tipping one offensive rebound to a teammate, scoring on a put-back and a hook shot (“I hadn’t seen that one yet,” Stotts mused) and beating two Spurs to a loose ball near the sidelines. “J.J. may have won the game for us,” Stotts said. “The extra possessions he got us in the fourth quarter really made a difference.”

Portland guard Wesley Matthews (hip) missed his second straight game after having played in 250 straight contests to begin his NBA career. ... San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard (knee) and guard Stephen Jackson (broken finger) did not play. ... During his pre-game meeting with the media, the first question asked of Popovich was, “Are you using your regular lineup tonight?” Responded the San Antonio coach, with a grin, “I wonder why he’d ask a question like that?” The Spurs were fined $250,000 after Popovich sat four of his top players — including Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili — in a 105-100 loss at Miami on Nov. 29. Last season, the veteran San Antonio coach did likewise in a 137-97 loss at Portland. ... The Spurs were on the final stop on a four-game road trip. ... It was Portland’s third win over a team that currently holds a winning record. The others were against Minnesota and Chicago.

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