Lillard leads Blazers past Spurs 128-112 for 3rd straight
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers are feeling better now that Damian Lillard is healthy.
Lillard had 37 points and the Trail Blazers beat the San Antonio Spurs 128-112 on Wednesday night for their third straight win.
Portland has had the NBA’s most efficient offense while winning five of its last six games.
“We’re not going to have the No. 1 efficiency when your best player is not playing,” coach Chauncey Billups said. “So, you’ve got to give him a lot of that credit.”
Lillard is averaging 34.4 points per game in December after missing two weeks in late November with a strained muscle in his right leg.
Anfernee Simons added 23 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Jusuf Nurkic 15 for Portland.
Keldon Johnson led San Antonio with 25 points, Doug McDermott added 14 and Keita Bates-Diop had 13.
The Spurs were seeking their fourth consecutive victory after losing 11 in a row, but they couldn’t slow Lillard.
The star guard dazzled San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, his coach on Team USA when it won a gold medal last year at the Tokyo Olympics.
“He’s amazing,” Popovich said. “I was very happy he was on the Olympic team. Not happy tonight.”
Lillard also had eight assists and five rebounds. He was 14 for 23 from the floor, including 7 of 14 from 3-point territory. He scored 22 points in the first half, the most the Spurs have allowed to an opponent this season.
“His pace, his change of speed is so good right now,” Billups said. “In pick-and-rolls, he’s keeping the defense off kilter so well. Obviously, he’s such a threat to shoot it from wherever, but he’s getting to that basket and he’s making that extra play, the passes for the team. He’s setting an incredible tone for us every night.”
San Antonio cut Portland’s lead to 85-78 with 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter on consecutive 3-pointers by Devin Vassell and Johnson. Vassell was fouled on his jumper and completed a four-point play.
Lillard then hit successive 3s in a 30-second span to help the Blazers maintain control.
“Chauncey is very clear about what he wants and what guys’ jobs are, and everybody is executing,” Lillard said.
Portland shot 60.5% from the field, including 18 for 40 (45%) from 3-point range.
The Blazers closed the first quarter on a 27-15 run after the Spurs took their first lead at 13-12 with 7:23 remaining.
Bates-Diop had eight of San Antonio’s first 13 points in his return from a three-game absence. But the Spurs lost Zach Collins and Romeo Langford to injury Monday, and Jakob Poeltl and Blake Wesley also remained out.
Trail Blazers: Lillard averaged 38 points in his previous three games. … Not only was Blazers G Shaedon Sharpe whistled for traveling midway through the second quarter, official Kevin Scott mimicked Sharpe’s move before signaling the violation. … G Gary Payton II continued his rehabilitation from offseason core muscle surgery. Payton’s season debut is expected in the next couple of weeks as he has entered return-to-competition reconditioning.
Spurs: San Antonio is 0-17 when trailing by double digits this season. … Poeltl has missed seven straight games with a bruised right knee bone. … Collins and Langford both sprained their left ankles in San Antonio’s victory over Cleveland on Monday.
Spurs center Charles Bassey made his first start in 41 career games. He finished with six points and five rebounds in 19 minutes while battling early foul trouble.
“He’s just a young guy that is trying to find his place in the league,” Popovich said. “Those guys (on Portland) are very experienced.”
The Spurs signed Bassey on Oct. 24 after he was cut by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Trail Blazers: At Dallas on Friday.
Spurs: Host Miami on Saturday.
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