So when the defending champions failed to close out the Blazers in the first two overtimes, Portland point guard Damian Lillard had a simple message for his teammates.
"Step on them," Lillard said.
Lillard provided the boot, scoring a career-high 43 points, including 16 after regulation, as the Trail Blazers handed the Spurs their second straight defeat in triple overtime by rallying for a 129-119 victory Friday night.
The Spurs overwhelmed the young Trail Blazers in the Western Conference semifinals last season, winning three games at home in rolling to a 4-1 series victory en route to their fifth NBA title.
So, winning in San Antonio in the manner it did was particularly special for Portland.
"This was a big win for us, probably our best win of the season," Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
The Spurs have lost three straight overtime games at home, including a 117-116 defeat in triple-OT to Memphis on Wednesday.
It was the first time a team had played consecutive triple-overtime games since the Baltimore Bullets did so in December 1951.
San Antonio failed to take advantage of another stellar performance by veteran Tim Duncan, who had 32 points and 10 rebounds.
"Timmy in particular was a 'Back to the Future' type of deal," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He was amazing."
Just as they did against Memphis, the Spurs had plenty of opportunities to beat the Trail Blazers.
San Antonio scored the initial six points in each of the first two overtimes but failed to hold the lead.
"They had two opportunities to step on us," Lillard said. "The door was left open a little bit, and we forced another overtime two times, which is not what people do to them. They usually finish you off. We got in a situation that they got in the first two overtimes and I wanted us to know that we just did it to them two times so don't get excited and don't think that what we did was easy, we've got to be better. We did that."
Lillard decimated San Antonio's hopes almost single-handedly, scoring the first nine points in the third OT, including crossing up Green for a 20-foot jumper and a 120-112 lead with 3:04 remaining. Lillard's ensuing 3-pointer gave Portland a 123-112 advantage, prompting Popovich to empty his bench.
"He's a special player," Green said. "That last OT, he just took over pretty much. It didn't matter what we threw at him, he attacked the rim well for them."
Lillard had help.
Duncan hit consecutive turnaround jumpers early in the first overtime, but Aldridge grabbed a missed 3 by Matthews that didn't touch the rim and fed Lillard, who drained a tying 3-pointer with 13.6 seconds remaining.
That led to another tough loss for the Spurs, who play in Dallas on Saturday.
"I'm proud of the whole team and what they have done," Popovich said. "It's a different group every night. It would almost be better if you had two guys injured and you knew it for three months. It is different every night, and it keeps them out of rhythm. We are wearing some guys down, though. Timmy is a big worry in that respect, and so is Manu (Ginobili). (But) I'm really proud of them, and they did a great job under tough circumstances."
Trail Blazers: Lillard's previous career high was 41 points on Jan. 7, 2014, against Sacramento. ... Portland F Nicolas Batum (right wrist and left knee contusion) missed his fifth game this season.
Spurs: Duncan is one game shy of tying former Lakers forward A.C. Green for 19th in career games played. Duncan, in his 18th season, has played in 1,277 games.
Popovich subbed his entire starting lineup once in each quarter, doing so at the 6:41, 9:39, 7:18 and 9:06 marks of each respective period. Popovich said he did the mass substitutions to keep his team fresh after the long game Wednesday.
"First time experiencing that here, and anywhere, honestly," Green said. "I think it was good to keep our energy up and to keep us fresh. It was five minutes at a time, about. We're low on energy right now. We're low on bodies."
Trail Blazers: Visit New Orleans on Saturday.
Spurs: Visit Dallas on Saturday.
- Jason Phillips
- Gary Zielinski
- Brent Barnaky