It was a game that saw the Trail Blazers testing as many different combinations as a rookie safecracker trying to bust into a bank vault.
In the end, the Blazers found a combination that worked and it opened up a 127-118 Portland win over the Spurs.
In the first quarter, it appeared that former Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge was going to single-handedly carve up Portland. Aldridge hit five of eight shots and scored 13 points in a period that ended with San Antonio holding a 34-31 lead.
But then the Trail Blazers got a little rougher. Meyers Leonard, who was accustomed to battling Aldridge in practice years ago, came in for Portland and got a little bit rougher, a little more physical with Aldridge.
Jusuf Nurkic picked up on it and followed suit. Aldridge would make just 2 of his last 11 shots and score only four more points the rest of the night.
“LaMarcus is a monster down there,” Leonard said afterward. “But I felt we were kind of trying to feel out the game – gauge whether we were going to double off the baseline, guard him individually, things like that.
“My job was just to come in and try to disrupt the game. Be physical. In the second half, ‘Nurk’ did a great job on him. Nurk had a really good second half and LaMarcus plays a lot of minutes. LaMarcus looked to be a little worn down in the second half and that's when shots end up being a little short.
“I try to always come in and be physical and disrupt his rhythm a little bit. On the first post up he bobbled it – maybe he traveled and maybe he didn’t, I don’t know. I just try to make it difficult for him and in the second half, ‘Nurk' was very, very good.”
Nurkic knew he had a battle on his hands with Aldridge.
“We are big guys,” he said. “He’s playing his game and I tried to make it hard for him.”
The Trail Blazers built a 21-point lead with 7:45 to play in the third quarter but the Spurs sprung Rudy Gay loose at the three-point line and they had it tied at 88 with two minutes left in the quarter. But Portland dug in and got the advantage back up to 17 about halfway through the final quarter.
CJ McCollum had 30 points and Damian Lillard 24 for the Blazers. Nurkic totaled 22. Newcomer Rodney Hood made his debut with 14 points, hitting six of his seven shots.
“We started off the game going back and forth,” Lillard said. “Both teams scoring and then kind of got on top of that, had a good second quarter, started the third well, too, and then they had a run.
“A lot of mistakes – losing guys, letting them get open shots, they just had a really good stretch. That happens. It’s a game of runs. They had their run but I was proud of how we handled that.
“We pulled out a good win.”
“We never panicked,” he said. “We know they’re a good team – well coached, and they’re going to execute and play hard.”
Portland Coach Terry Stotts admitted that with the addition of Hood, his job of putting together a rotation and in-game substitutions has gotten more difficult.
“Honestly,” he said, “it’s going to be a challenge for everybody. It’s going to be a challenge for me, it’s going to be a challenge for the team. I mean, there are going to be nights whether it’s Mo or Chief or Zach or Meyers or Jake or Evan or – you go down the list.
“We kind of had a rhythm to what we were doing and that rhythm has been broken and everybody is just going to have to be patient, figure it out and one night it’s going to be one thing and maybe the next night it won’t. That’s just the way it’s going to be until it changes.
Portland finished with a crew of Jake Layman, Hood, Nurkic, McCollum and Lillard -- and Stotts liked it.
"They were really good tonight," he said. "Jake was all over the place. For Jake, he goes one for five from three, but he certainly had a big impact on the game. That lineup gives us a lot of spacing, a lot of mobility and the question will always be, can we defend, matchup-wise. Can we defend the positions?
"It's going to take patience on everybody's part where different lineups may finish games."