SAN ANTONIO – The hard-to-figure out Trail Blazers added to their unpredictable mystique on Wednesday when they followed up a 23-point blowout loss in New Orleans with a 110-106 win over at San Antonio.
The win didn’t come without its faults. The Blazers missed two free throws and threw away an inbounds pass in the final minute, allowing San Antonio to cut a 104-97 lead to 104-102 with 53 seconds left.
But in the end, it was the brilliance of Damian Lillard, a career-night from Noah Vonleh and some clutch fourth quarter play from Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum that allowed the Blazers to beat the team with the NBA’s second best record.
Lillard finished with 36 points and four assists on 12-of-22 shooting. On this crucial late-season, five-game trip, the Blazers’ captain in the first three games has been at his best, averaging 34.7 points and 2.7 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from three point range.
It was Lillard’s foul shots with 5.2 seconds left that gave the Blazers at 108-105 lead. San Antonio was fouled on its last possession with 2.5 seconds left after a wild scramble for the inbound, and Manu Ginobili missed the first and made the second while trying to miss.
Lillard then iced it with two free throws with 1.7 seconds left.
The win pushed the Blazers to 30-37 and within two games of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot with 15 games remaining.
The Blazers went almost exclusively to Nurkic down the stretch, and the big man had mixed results. He scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth, but he missed two free throws with 1:02 left and had two of his five turnovers in the final minutes. He did add nine rebounds and three assists, his last rebound a key chase down of a Lillard miss with 19.1 seconds left.
McCollum was also big in the fourth, when he scored nine of his 26 points, and Vonleh tied his season high with 26 minutes, during which he had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.
San Antonio (52-15) fell one game behind Golden State for the NBA’s best record despite getting the return of star LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the last two games with a heart ailment. Aldridge had 19 points and seven rebounds but struggled through a 9-for-24 shooting night.
It was a nip-and-tuck game throughout, with each team never holding a lead larger than seven.
Lillard was especially brilliant in the third quarter, scoring 16 points and pushing the Blazers to an 82-80 lead heading into the fourth.
It was the type of unpredictability that has come to define this Portland team, as it followed its lowest scoring and worst shooting night of the season – and arguably one of its most disappointing performances – with perhaps the win of the season.
Next up: Blazers at Atlanta, 3 p.m. Saturday (CSN)