With Kawhi Leonard out, Spurs flex versatility in win over Blazers
SAN ANTONIO — Kawhi Leonard sat out his second consecutive game due to gastroenteritis. LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to find shots, and Pau Gasol managed to knock down just 36.3 percent of his attempts.
Somehow the San Antonio Spurs still managed to stymie the Portland Trail Blazers 110-94 on Friday at the AT&T Center, as a strong showing from the supporting cast filled the void left by the majority of its most significant contributors.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Gasol said. “There’s no question about it.”
In two outings prior to Friday’s game, Aldridge had drilled 25 of 32 shots for a total of 60 points, which is precisely why Portland tried to neutralize the power forward, at its own peril. With the Trail Blazers double-teaming Aldridge the majority of the night, the Spurs took advantage out on the perimeter.
Reserve guard Jonathon Simmons scored a game-high 19 points and combined with Manu Ginobili (14 points) to outscore the entire Portland bench 33-28. Starting shooting guard Danny Green, meanwhile, connected on a season-high six 3-pointers as he and point guard Tony Parker scored 18 points apiece.
“It shows I guess that everybody on this team is capable,” Green said. “We have a lot of guys that at any given moment can get hot from LaMarcus and Kawhi, obviously, to Tony, Patty [Mills], Manu on down. Simmons had a great game. Kyle [Anderson] played well.”
With Leonard out of commission, Aldridge and Gasol entered the game as the club’s highest scorers, averaging 17.3 and 12.3 points, respectively. That duo came together for just 18 Friday, with Aldridge attempting just three shots all night.
“Today, [Portland’s] strategy was obviously, ‘We’re not gonna let LaMarcus go off,’” Parker said. “The last two games, LaMarcus has been scoring a lot, and he’s been playing unbelievable. That [was] their strategy, and other guys stepped up. [Simmons] got 19, and Danny was open. That’s what you’re going to have to do against us. You have to make a decision. If you’re going to double LaMarcus, a lot of guys can shoot on this team.”
They certainly showed that against the Trail Blazers, despite falling early into a 10-point deficit. In the first quarter alone, the Spurs turned over the ball nine times, good for 10 points by Portland. At the end of the first half, San Antonio had committed a total of 14 turnovers, with the Trail Blazers scoring 14 points off those miscues.
Portland led by 10 points the majority of the first half, and San Antonio took its first lead since the opening quarter with 3 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter on a Ginobili 3.
“For any team that wants to win, it’s about defense first and then all the fundamentals,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We played good defense in the second half, holding them to 42 points. That’s how we got back in the game. We turned it over three times in the second half instead of 14. So that was the ballgame for us: playing better defense, not turning it over and finding some combinations that worked.”
San Antonio’s slow starts remain one of its only constants 33 games into the season, but the Spurs have managed to win nine of 15 outings in which they’ve trailed by 10 points or more.
Popovich took a relatively calm approach early on despite his team falling behind by as many as 12 in the first quarter. Popovich wanted “to just sit there and let them figure it out,” adding that “tonight, I wanted them to see what was going on for themselves.”
Parker joked that he preferred that approach to Popovich “going Serbian.” But as the coach remained calm, Ginobili assumed his typical leadership role with plenty of instructions to teammates during timeouts.
“It was the same game we played two days ago,” Ginobili said. “We started slow, not enough aggressiveness and we didn’t go get the game. And then in the third quarter, we see the score, we’re down, and then we go and get it. It had nothing to do with me. It was just the team. In the third quarter, we see ourselves in trouble and we bring it. We’ve got to find a way to do it for 48 [minutes]. There will be some games at home where it’s going to get tougher soon, and some teams are not going to let us get back in the game. I don’t think it was about me or Jon[athon Simmons] or anybody. As a group we brought in the second half. It’s exactly what happened in the last game. Bring the juice. That’s our new word now. Be energetic, because it was a matter of that today. Today was about going to get the game, not just waiting.”
Simmons, meanwhile, scored 11 of his points in the second half. Popovich admitted the second-year pro is beginning to “make me trust him more.”
“That’s with anybody,” Simmons said. “Any of these young guys in this league have to gain respect from the coach plus the vets. So I think me showing them that I’m working builds confidence on both parts, mine and theirs.”
Gasol made as much clear after the game.
“We don’t depend on just one or two guys scoring the ball,” Gasol said. “We have multiple weapons. Tonight, they really did a good job of packing the lane, and so they kind of forced our shooters to make plays and make shots. Our shooters did that. So I’m glad we can be versatile and really attack teams with all of our arsenal.”