Aldridge steps up, Blazers prevail over Spurs

PORTLAND — While the critics attacked, Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge just kept playing.

He played through pain, frustration and setbacks.

And capturing the will of the team he represents, Aldridge proved during a 96-93 victory over the San Antonio Spurs that playing through adversity is the best answer to dealing with hard problems.

Aldridge scored a game-high 28 points and collected 13 rebounds during one of his most impressive performances of the season Thursday at the Rose Garden before a sold-out crowd of 20,572.

“I think it’s a big win,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who stated that his team’s ability to bounce back and grab a home-court victory after an embarrassing road loss to Utah on Wednesday was a strong step forward.

But Aldridge took the biggest step.

Mixing hard-nosed defense with aggressive low-post moves and soft outside jump shots, Aldridge carried
Portland (30-22) in the first half and then brought the victory home in the second.

Asked whether Aldridge was answering negative criticism with positive play, McMillan said critique is “part of the world we live in.”

“When things go wrong or you’re not winning, people are going to look for someone to blame,” McMillan said.

McMillan credited Aldridge’s ability to play 41 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, while also holding his own against former NBA most valuable player Tim Duncan.

“I think you’re seeing growth from LaMarcus,” McMillan said. “And he’s been good. We needed him to step up on both ends of the floor. He’s rebounding and scoring, and he had a great night tonight.”

Martell Webster poured in 21 points and knocked down all five of his 3-point attempts to help guide the Blazers. Andre Miller scored 11, and Rudy Fernandez and Juwan Howard scored 10 points apiece.

Manu Ginobili scored a team-high 21 points to top the Spurs (28-20), who committed just six turnovers.

Tony Parker added 18 points during his first game back in the lineup after missing three consecutive contests with a left-ankle injury.

Down 74-66 heading into the fourth quarter, Portland took an 88-87 lead after Aldridge sank a jumper with 2 minutes, 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

And a 3 by Webster from the left wing appeared to put the game away, making it 91-87 Blazers with 22.6 to go.

“It felt great; honestly, it did,” Webster said. “Fortunately, I was in that position and my teammates (found) me.”

Ginobili then missed a potential game-tying wide-open 3 from the right baseline with 10 seconds remaining.

But San Antonio pulled within 94-92 after George Hill drilled a 3 from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds left on the clock.

However, two consecutive free throws by Webster iced the game.

“It was really tough for us,” Ginobili said.

McMillan referred to Webster’s ability to knock down much-needed shots as “big.”

“I thought the team the last five minutes started to calm down and work their way back into the game,” McMillan said. “And we made plays to win this game.”

The Blazers shot 51.3 percent (39 of 76) from the floor, and 30 of Portland’s made baskets came via assists.

“That’s the way we need to play,” McMillan said. “Good ball movement; pushing the ball. When you’re open, shoot the ball.”

San Antonio jumped out to a 13-5 lead. The Spurs easily exploited Portland’s lack of an inside defensive presence, and eight of San Antonio’s first eight points came from inside the paint.

But strong play by Aldridge rallied the Blazers, while Fernandez gave Portland an extra charge. The duo combined to score seven consecutive points for Portland to close out the quarter, and the Blazers pulled ahead 26-24 heading into the second period.

Aldridge and Fernandez then continued their burn, and Dante Cunningham’s soft touch — the rookie forward sank three consecutive mid-range jump shots — propelled Portland further.

“We’re seeing some growth with these guys,” McMillan said.

The Blazers shot 57 percent (23 of 40) from the field in the first half, and 82 percent of Portland’s made baskets were via assists (19).

But while the Blazers played efficient, smooth ball in the first two quarters — buoyed by 11 fast-break points — Parker was even smoother.

The pesky point guard easily threaded Portland’s defense, finishing with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and dishing out five assists in the first two quarters.

“(He) was fresh,” McMillan said.

Riding Parker’s hot hand, San Antonio took a 53-51 lead into halftime.

Then Portland froze up.

The Blazers shot just 6 of 18 from the field during the third quarter, and Aldridge was the lone Portland player to score more than three points during the period.

Meanwhile, Ginobili dug in and soared, scoring eight points during the period. His last-second 3 at the end of the quarter gave San Antonio a 74-66 advantage heading into the final 12 minutes.

Blazers guard Andre Miller logged his 30,000 NBA minute during the game. … Portland guard Jerryd Bayless (wrist) and forward Nicolas Batum (shoulder) played despite being listed as questionable. Bayless spent the majority of his time not in the game by riding a stationary bicycle. … Outside of a career-high 52 points on 22-of-31 shooting Jan. 30 against Dallas, Miller has hit just 25.8 percent (16 of 62) of his field-goal attempts in the last eight games. … The Blazers improved to 9-3 in the second game of back-to-backs this season. … Webster ranks third in the NBA in made 3s (101). … Portland swept a season series from the Spurs for the first time since 1996-97. … The Blazers moved past Oklahoma City and into third place in the Northwest Division. Portland sits four and a half games behind first-place Denver.

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