SAN ANTONIO &
If only this one night, exacting San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would give his players a break.
With their newest championship banner hanging high above the sellout crowd and the players looking like kids in a candy store as they examined their shiny new championship rings, it was understandably a challenge for the team to buckle down for a regular old basketball game.
The Spurs eventually did, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 106-97 Tuesday night. And even Popovich was willing to overlook the occasional lack of concentration.
"I think the ring ceremony is always a little bit emotional and always a lot of fun," Popovich said. "It probably keeps you from being your best as far as focus is concerned."
But losing focus to the point of losing a game is just not the Spurs' style.
"It's always a special game when you play after a ring ceremony," Parker said. "It's great memories. But we're back to work and ready to defend our title."
Aside from the win and the rings, there was other news to please Popovich. Star Tim Duncan had reached an agreement to stay until the end of the 2011-12 season and likely finish his career in Texas.
Duncan had 24 points and 13 rebounds as the Spurs got their title defense off to a successful start. Parker added 19 points for the Spurs and Manu Ginobili had 16 points and eight assists off the bench.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Trail Blazers with 27 points. Martell Webster added 21 and Joel Przybilla contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for Portland.
"We played a very talented team, a very young team. I think they're going to be pretty good," Parker said. "They played a tough game. They stayed in the game, and we didn't shoot the ball well from outside."
Aldridge said he's using the Spurs as motivation.
"I was so pumped and I was so excited because I feel one day we are going to be in that position where we're going to win and get our rings one night," he said. "I felt like tonight was our first step in that direction."
Despite the long-awaited ring ceremony to kick things off, the game didn't have quite the excitement that was anticipated when it was announced the Spurs would open against the Trail Blazers, who drafted Greg Oden with the No. — overall pick. Oden had microfracture knee surgery this summer, ending his first season before practice even began.
"We were definitely looking forward to having Greg," Webster said. "That doesn't stop our journey. Our journey is to get to the playoffs. ... Can't say anything about championships. Mostly, we want to take this one game at a time."
With Oden out, it only seemed appropriate that this night would be all about the Spurs.
And it was, with the Spurs controlling the game until the Trail Blazers threatened with about two minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Aldridge's basket brought the Blazers within three points, the closest they'd been all quarter, with 2:01 left.
Parker made it 100-95 for San Antonio, then a goaltending call against Aldridge gave Parker another basket, putting the Spurs up 102-95 with 1:07 to play.
Brandon Roy, last season's Rookie of the Year, hit one of two free throws to make it 102-96. But another goaltending call, this time against Przybilla, gave Duncan a basket and the Spurs a 104-96 lead with 36 ticks on the clock.
"We fought the whole game, came back in the fourth quarter," Webster said. "We were so close, we just let that slip out of our hands."
Brent Barry had 12 points for San Antonio. Travis Outlaw scored 11 for Portland.
After the night's highlight, the ring ceremony, it was back to square one: 82 games, make that 81 now, to go before the Spurs can even start thinking about repeating for the first time.
Parker got off to a good start, racing up and down the court and scoring 11 points in the first quarter on 4-of-5 shooting. He and Duncan had rested often during the preseason, and in the first quarter they played with all the energy they had apparently stored up during the layoff.The Spurs were up 29-26 after the first quarter and extended their lead to as many as 16 points in the second, going up 55-39 off Duncan's layup with 4:31 to go.
The Trail Blazers cut the lead in the third, though, as they outscored the Spurs 28-22. They got as close as 79-77 as Webster hit a 3-pointer with 33 seconds to play. The Spurs ended the quarter up 81-77.
Ginobili dunked with just over 10 minutes to go to give San Antonio a six-point lead, then followed with a layup 26 seconds later to put the Spurs up 88-80.
The accolades just kept coming for the Spurs. Popovich received a 2007 Distinguished Graduate Award from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Popovich graduated from the Academy in 1970 and played basketball all four years he spent there. He later served as assistant coach of the Academy's basketball team for six years. ... Darius Washington, a Spurs' training camp invitee who impressed his way onto the team, played backup point guard to Parker and hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth that put San Antonio up 84-77. ... Portland shot 50 percent from the field but had 17 turnovers.
Spurs ring up Blazers
SAN ANTONIO &