PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers, now locked into the eighth-seed and a first round matchup with the Golden State Warriors once the Western Conference playoffs start this weekend, didn’t have anything tangible to play for Monday night in their penultimate game of the regular season versus the Spurs. Given that, Trail Blazers head coach opted to turn the game over to his bench reserves in order to give the likes of Damian Lillard (right foot strain), CJ McCollum (right hand strain) and Allen Crabbe (left foot soreness) rest and time to heal nagging injuries.
But what the Trail Blazers lacked in numbers Monday night against a Spurs team playing their regular rotation they made up for with effort that extended though all 48 minutes, literally, as Noah Vonleh scooped up a loose ball and put up a game-winning layup as time expired to give the Trail Blazers a 99-98 victory in front of a sold out crowd at the Moda Center.
“Shabazz was hot for most of the game, I think he had a career-high 32 points, so we knew we was going to go to him and finish out the game,” said Vonleh. “We ran a mid pick-and-roll with him and Meyers (Leonard), he attacked, somehow the ball got lost — I think it hit on Meyers leg. It just happened to fall into my hands and I just went up really quick and the game was over.”
The win moves the Trail Blazers to 41-40 and 25-15 at the Moda Center this season. It is the first time that the Trail Blazers have been above .500 since the first month of the season.
While Vonleh hit the game-winner, it was guard Shabazz Napier who led Portland for most of the night, scoring a career-high 32 points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field, 4-of-7 shooting from three and 10-of-11 shooting from the line.
“I was really happy for especially all the young guys who got to play and made the most of their opportunity,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Shabazz did a really nice job of directing the team, scoring, and got a little gassed there but he was carrying us. It was a good game for those guys to get an opportunity to play and they made the most of it.”
Napier, averaging 8.8 minutes in 51 appearances this season, played a game-high 37 minutes and looked every bit like the player who was drafted with the 24th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft after a successful college career.
“I knew Shabazz was locked in from the jump,” said Vonleh. “I was talking to him right before the anthem started, I said a joke, but he was real serious and locked in. I knew right there, I was like here goes UCONN Shabazz. He’s ready to go. Sure enough, he went out there and did what he does.”
Evan Turner started and played 29 minutes, going 7-of-17 for 16 points and a game-high seven assists in 29 minutes. Pat Connaughton, who also started Monday, went for 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes.
“We just kept playing, I think that was the motto of the whole night,” said Connaughton. “A lot of us that don’t play quite a bit got time to show what we can do. I think we took advantage of it and I think we were, most importantly, trying to show people that we can play.”
Meyers Leonard scored all 13 of his points in the first quarter while also adding six rebounds.
As for Vonleh, he put up the only double-double of the game, finishing with 12 points on 6-of-9 shoot and 11 rebounds. Vonleh was the only regular starter to play Monday night, as Maurice Harkless, while in uniform, did not see the court.
“We knew were were going to be down a few guys — Dame, CJ, Moe — I think we had eight or nine guys out there,” said Vonleh. “We’re just trying to get ready for the playoffs. Guys got to be ready when their name is called. Shabazz came in, stepped up, had a great game and lead us to the victory.”
The Spurs were led by Kawhi Leonard, who went 8-of-11 from the field for 18 points in 20 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge added 12 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. Tony Parker added 12 points and Manu Ginobili pitched in 11 points off the bench.
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the New Orleans Pelicans, a team eliminated from playoff contention just over a week ago, in Portland’s final game of the regular season. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM.