Bates-Diop leads Spurs past Blazers in inaugural Austin game

San Antonio Spurs forward Dominick Barlow, right, drives to the basket past Portland Trail Blazers guard Shaquille Harrison, center, during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Austin, Texas, Thursday, April 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

AUSTIN, Texas – Keita Bates-Diop had 25 points, Julian Champagnie and Keldon Johnson added 24 points each and the San Antonio Spurs beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 129-127 on Thursday night in the first NBA game in Texas’ capital city.

The victory ensured San Antonio (21-59) will not finish with the franchise’s worst record. The Spurs finished 20-62 in 1997, the season prior to drafting Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick.

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Bates-Diop and Johnson made a triumphant return to the city that fueled their development. Teammates at times on the G League’s Austin Spurs, the duo shot a combined 17 for 35 and 3 for 12 on 3-pointers to lead San Antonio to just its second win in nine games.

The Spurs are playing their final two home games at the Moody Center in Austin as part of what the franchise has deemed a regional outreach.

“I think it’s a great arena,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I said that earlier. It is really situated well. That fans are up on top of you, you can hear them, you can feel them, great venue.”

San Antonio erased a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes, hitting three straight 3-pointers in taking a 123-119 lead with 3:09 remaining.

Bates-Diop, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, had 12 points in the final quarter.

“He’s carving out an NBA career,” Popovich said. “In the beginning, it didn’t look like that, but he’s worked on his skills, his confidence, his aggressiveness, everything. Really proud of him.”

Tre Jones had 18 points and 10 assists for San Antonio, which is guaranteed to finish with one of the NBA’s three-worst records. Zach Collins added 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Kevin Knox had 24 points to lead Portland and Drew Eubanks added 23 points against his former team. The Trail Blazers have lost seven of eight.

Portland was without Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons while San Antonio did not have Jeremy Sochan and Devin Vassell.

While the game lacked star power, it did not lack enthusiasm.

The largest crowd ever at the Moody Center on the campus of the University of Texas, roared in appreciation. The sellout crowd of 16,023 was its loudest when Jones hit a 3-pointer followed by consecutive 3s by Bates-Diop to give the Spurs a lead in the final three minutes.

“You kind of feel the crowd getting more and more into it after Tre hit the 3,” Bates-Diop said. “Then I hit mine and you feel that moment coming so I just wanted to knock it down.”

San Antonio finished 10 for 35 on 3-pointers.


Trail; Blazers: Lillard (right calf), Nurkic (right knee) and Simmons (right foot) all sat out due to soreness. Grant had a bruised left quadriceps.

Spurs: Popovich would prefer having Sochan and Vassell in the lineup, “but at this point of the year, with their injuries, it doesn’t make any sense.” ... San Antonio honored former Longhorns point guard T.J. Ford following the first quarter. Ford played nine seasons in the NBA, closing out his career in 2012 with the Spurs.


Trail Blazers: At Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

Spurs: Host Minnesota in Austin on Saturday.


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