SAN ANTONIO – Quite obviously, the Trail Blazers took a tough loss to the Spurs Saturday night. It was a game that was up for grabs in the fourth quarter but San Antonio hit big shots down the stretch and Portland did not.
It turned into a 108-103 loss to a team right on the Trail Blazers’ tail in the Western Conference.
But it may not have been the biggest loss of the night for Portland.
Guard CJ McCollum suffered a leg injury with 7:08 left in the third quarter and had to be helped to the locker room. He said afterward that X-rays were negative but that he was to get an MRI Sunday.
The loss of McCollum at this point of the season would be a big blow to the Trail Blazers. The team’s second-leading scorer and backup point guard to Damian Lillard is really not replaceable by anyone on the roster.
That said, this team may be better prepared to play without him that any other previous season.
Rodney Hood, Seth Curry, Evan Turner and Jake Layman are capable of fill-in minutes at that spot. None of them are CJ, but they can give quality minutes in a two-guard-by-committee situation.
“I think we definitely have guys who can come in and make up for the scoring by committee,” Lillard said, “But that means they won’t be in the role that they’re usually in. Either way you slice it, you’re going to be losing something. We’re going to have to lean on each other a little bit more.”
Portland fell behind by 11 early in the second quarter but rallied to halftime and third-quarter leads. Things were holding up OK until the 3:39 mark of the final quarter when Layman was called for a foul on Davis Bertans, who was shooting a three.
The Blazers had big problems with the call and after Bertans nailed all three foul shots, the game was never the same.
“I thought that really changed the momentum of the game,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “We just couldn’t get over it after that.”
Make no mistake, the Trail Blazers’ frustration level is increasing when it comes to officiating. The Spurs shot 30 free throws Saturday night while the Blazers got just 14.
“The game has gotten more physical coming down the stretch toward the playoffs,” Lillard said. “You know how it is – sometimes as a competitor you see one play get called against you and then it doesn’t get called for you, it’s like it gives you that feeling that ‘I’m being cheated.’
“Even though you know their job is tough, as a competitor that’s what you think. One time they called an ‘and-1’ when Jake caught an elbow in his face.
“(The referee) said ‘I didn’t see it.’ I told him, 'I was right behind you and I saw it.'
“They’ve got a tough job. The game is so fast it’s easy to miss a play. Sometimes we think we see something as a player and then you look at the replay and you were wrong.”
Still, had the Blazers been able to make shots – particularly from deep – they would have won the game. They made only 7 of 28 from three-point range and almost made up for it with their defense and rebounding.
Now, though, they will sit around Sunday waiting for the results of McCollum’s MRI.
And that will be the most important result to come out of this game against the Spurs.