SAN ANTONIO — DeMar DeRozan kept hearing coach Gregg Popovich in his ear Sunday night, when he turned a putrid start into near perfection in leading the San Antonio Spurs past the Portland Trail Blazers 131-118.
DeRozan said Popovich has been “preaching” to him the mantra of “no guilt” when it comes to shooting the basketball.
“I’ve been listening to him,” DeRozan said.
That became apparent after halftime, when DeRozan shook off a shaky 3-of-12 start to score 18 of San Antonio’s final 20 points to close the third quarter. DeRozan’ outburst included 15 straight points, marking the fourth time in his career that he has poured in 15 or more points in a row and the first time since 2015 that a Spur scored 15 straight.
The brilliant showing covered half of DeRozan’s team-high 36 points on the night, which registered as a season high in scoring for the veteran.
“That’s why he has been an All-Star for so long,” Popovich said. “You just keep going. If you have a bad stretch, you know the percentages are probably with you. He’s been around a long time. He’s very confident, and he knows what he can do. That’s not going to bother him if he misses a few shots. Scorers shouldn’t have a conscience.”
DeRozan’s penchant for going unconscious as a scorer in crucial moments was on display Sunday.
“When games are on the line, he has the ability to take over,” Spurs point guard Patty Mills said. “He’s done that his whole career. He’s done it multiple times for us this season, and he did it again for us tonight. Just being able to know the time and score and situation, and feel the momentum trying to flip. And then he goes into his aggressive mode, but at the same time, being able to still be a willing passer in those times and get everyone involved.”
DeRozan knocked down a 16-footer to start the game, then missed his next five shots as LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 29 points, carried most of the load offensively for the Spurs with his 16 points in the opening half.
“Going into this game, we said they’ve got two All-NBA players, and everyone else shoots the 3s, so that’s kind of what happened,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “LaMarcus played like an All-NBA player, and DeRozan played like an All-NBA player.”
With the Spurs leading 62-55 to start the second half, DeRozan came out and missed his first three shots. When DeRozan missed his third attempt, San Antonio clung to a one-point lead. By the time DeRozan finally connected on his first bucket, which he made possible with a steal and transition layup, Portland had seized an 81-79 advantage.
By the end of DeRozan’s third-quarter outburst, San Antonio had recaptured the lead 97-90. DeRozan finished the quarter shooting 7-of-12 while hitting 4-of-4 from the line to go with four rebounds and three assists.
DeRozan tacked on another eight points in closeout mode in the fourth quarter on 3-of-6 shooting.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” DeRozan said. “I remember looking up there at the clock. There were six minutes on the clock, and I knew I was going to come out soon. So I was just like, ‘Let me just put some energy into this quarter’ so I could feel good by the time I sat down.”
San Antonio’s 131 points were a season high for the team in regulation. DeRozan now has six games with 30 or more points, and only seven players in the NBA have more so far this season.
“He has a knack for getting to the line and finding his rhythm, and he’s never out of it,” said Aldridge, who finished with 29 points and eight rebounds. “So I have been impressed. It doesn’t matter how it looks early. He always finds a way.”