Entering the Blazers’ third home game against the international-laden Spurs, forward Nicolas Batum was one of five Frenchmen on either active roster.
But it was not his fellow French teammates Nando De Colo, Boris Diaw, Joel Freeland or Tony Parker, who missed the game with a stomach virus, that stole the show.
It was Batum, in his first season of his four-year, $46.1 million contract, that scored a game-high 33 points in 39 minutes. The performance did not amount to a win, however, as the Spurs earned their sixth victory of the season, and their first in Portland since 2008.
Batum converted on a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes to alleviate the damage done by reserve point guard Gary Neal. Neal led the Spurs in scoring with 27 points, 15 of which came in the deciding quarter.
The five-year forward born less than 300 miles from Parker missed a prime opportunity to take the lead when his 3-point attempt bounced off the back iron, leaving the Blazers with less than five seconds to make up the deficit.
Batum was joined by one-time All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie point guard Damian Lillard. The three combined for 82 of Portland’s 109 points on 51.7 percent shooting. Wesley Matthews and J.J. Hickson also scored in double-figures.
Their fatal flaw lied in their reserves, who scored four points while shooting 20 percent.
The Spurs compensated for the absence of Parker (stomach virus) and the ineffectiveness of Diaw by trusting the bench. Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili chipped in with 13 and 17 points, respectively.
San Antonio made their first nine attempts of the fourth quarter with a lineup containing only two starters, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, along with De Colo, Neal and Tiago Splitter. The 19-6 run turned the deficit into a nine-point lead.
Tim Duncan replaced Splitter with seven minutes remaining, scoring six of his 22 points in the fourth.
The game nearly went to overtime when Aldridge’s last second heave found the front iron.
Next opponent: The Spurs will get their first taste of the struggling Lakers Tuesday. The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Southwest (FSSW) and nationally on NBA TV at 9:30 p.m. CST.