Game 52 Recap: Blazers 96, Spurs 93

Long Story Short:  After a fairly even first half the Blazers pretend like they're going to lose the game for lack of energy in the third quarter but stage a sterling comeback in the fourth, only to almost lose it for real via sloppy execution.  But in the end Martell Webster's laser-sighted marksmanship trumps Manu Ginobili's nearsighted heaving and Portland walks away with the victory.

The Game

This game began in fine fashion for the Blazers.  Well, fairly fine anyway.  LaMarcus Aldridge, whom the Blazers fed early, started out the game like he was on a blind date with his jumper.  Neither of them looked sure of the other and the small talk wasn't going well.  But after LaMarcus' jumper had excused itself to go to the restroom a couple of times and was just on the verge of texting Andre Miller's jumper for an emergency escape call the action picked up.  The Blazers accelerated the tempo of their offense, beating the relatively slow Spurs big men down the court.  Not only did this lead to some good, old-fashioned layups it also allowed LaMarcus and his jumper to get to know each other better without those pesky San Antonio defenders chickenblocking.  Sparks flew and all of a sudden LaMarcus and his jumper looked like they were made for each other.  The end of the quarter tally had the Blazers with 9 fast break points and LaMarcus with 9 individual points.  The happy couple owed an assist to LMA's wingmen Rudy Fernandez and Andre Miller, clever matchmakers in this scenario.  San Antonio had opened up a 13-5 lead in the awkward phase of the relationship but the Blazers finished the quarter up 2, 26-24.

The story wasn't as nice in the second period as Tony Parker took the dance floor.  Whereas LaMarcus had proven himself fairly monogamous with the jumper Parker had his suave French mojo working and started swinging jumper, drive, dish, stop-and-pop, and even (to show he wasn't too choosy) free throw around the floor.  Steve Blake tried to restore some decorum and at least limit Tony to one date at a time but he might as well have been the Maitre d' showing Parker and his beauties to a private table.  Nicolas Batum tried to cut in and put a stop to the show but by that time Parker was really warmed up and soon Nic was fetching Tony's Bordeaux and glancing enviously at his dates.  Parker's Lothario-ism had the Spurs up 6 by mid-quarter but the Blazers started speed-dating again with Dante Cunningham scoring at several tables.  That energy brought Portland right back though the Spurs scored twice in the final minute to retain a 2-point halftime lead.

Everything came crashing to a halt on Portland's side in the third period.  The Spurs tightened down on defense, refusing to let the Blazers run out.  Packed into close quarters for an extended period, LaMarcus and his jumper started having problems.  Portland's scoring dried up.  Meanwhile the Blazers started looking slow in their rotations on the other end.  San Antonio got open jumpers and points in the paint.  Two passes gave them a good look.  The lack of Portland stops compounded their inability to run, which compounded the offensive woes.  Now everybody's jumpers banded together in some kind of sisterhood with LMA's, refusing to let any of the Blazers score, especially since the attempts came later and later in the clock.  Frustrated, LaMarcus tried cheating on his jumper with Post Move once or twice.  But Post Move was so butt-ugly that he quickly realized that even if he scored he was going to be the laughingstock of the neighborhood.  Meanwhile the Spurs were scoring free and easy with Ginobili, Duncan, Blair, and Hill.  The Blazers kept losing points...not a ton at a time but in a close game that had become slower-paced 6 points seemed like two dozen.  Finally towards the end of the period LaMarcus, realizing his predicament, made up with his jumper and the two of them reconciled after their trial separation.  A couple of 18-20 footers put the Blazers back within 2 with a minute left.  Fearful that the reunited couple would be named king and queen of the ball, Manu Ginobili and his jumper showed off with a couple of threes in the last minute, leaving the Spurs up 8 and Blazer fans groaning.

The Spurs opened the lead to a full 10 points with 10:00 left in the final period.  The margin pretty much stayed there until Dante Cunningham hit a layup and the penalty free throw with 8:20 left to pull Portland back within 6.  Dejuan Blair got fouled on a putback then LaMarcus hit a little turn-around then Andre Miller put on a sweet move to get a layup and a foul.  Andre calmly stepped to the line to meet Ms. Free Throw.  A connection would put Portland within 5.  He lined up, looked her up and down, and said, "Hey baby, what's your sign?  By the looks of you it's ‘All Night Buffet', right?"

Bonk.  No free throw love for Andre.

The Spurs and Blazers traded buckets again until the 5:20 mark when Miller made another great layup to bring the Blazers within 4.  He was fouled too.  He stepped to the line to bring the game down to a single-possession affair.  He lined up, looked her up and down, and said, "You wanna come back to my place?  I have a shiny new iPod with the Jonas Brothers Vanilla Ice, Nick Lachey, and Miley Cyrus on it.  If you want to get real romantic I have a bootleg recording of Dwight Jaynes: Yodelmaster .  Sexaaay!"

Bonk.  Hey ‘Dre, I though you were supposed to be experienced with the free throws.

Despite the gaffes a couple of things happened for Portland after that.  First Juwan Howard started playing masterful individual defense on Tim Duncan.  He kept his body in front of Duncan and held him until help could come...help which produced two turnovers in the closing minutes of the game.  The Spurs wanted to go to Duncan pretty badly and this put a serious crimp in their style.  Then all of a sudden, as if fresh out of relationship counseling and ready to board the Love Boat, LaMarcus and his jumper started making beautiful music together.  Antonio McDyess was all up in their grill but they just ignored the defense and put together some of the prettiest, longest turn-arounds you've seen.  To complete the evening Martell Webster took the floor with his jumper.  They had tallied some threes earlier in the evening but this was their grand entrance.  They've been together a long time and their moves looked practiced and sure.  Bam!  Three for Martell.  Swish!  LaMarcus strokes the jumper.  Bam!  Another three for Martell!  The crowd is going crazy at this point.  Men are slapping each other on the back.  Women are dabbing tears from their eyes as they witness the romance on the court.  Children are saying to themselves, "Someday I'm going to have a jumper and it's going to be pretty like that!"  The Blazers are now up 4 with but 22 seconds left.

The Spurs call the obligatory timeout and Manu Ginobili hits the obligatory 4-second layup to bring them within 2 with 18 seconds left.  It's time for the intentional foul.  Oh please, foul Rudy!  Foul Martell!  Foul...awwww...they fouled Andre.  For the sake of all that's good and holy, Andre, when you get up there just say, "Hi."  That's it.  Nothing fancy.  Don't try to buy her a drink.  Just...say...hi.

So Andre lines up, looks her up and down, and says, "Are you an angel?  ‘Cuz there's something in my pocket that's happy to see you."

Bonk.

ANNNNNDRRRRREEEEEEEE!!!!

So Martell and LaMarcus pull Miller aside, giving him a few pointers and a How To Pick Up Hot Free Throws Without Really Trying manual.  And finally...FINALLY ‘Dre connects.  Swish.  One point.   The Blazers now lead by 3 with 15 seconds left.

After Manu Ginobili misses a (wide-open) three with 10 seconds left the Spurs foul Martell Webster, who calmly sinks them both.  Blazers up 5 and the game is safe.  But then George Hill hit a three with 4 seconds left making the lead only 2.  But Martell is fouled again and calmly sinks them both again.  Blazers up 4 with 4 seconds left and the Spurs, out of timeouts, going the length of the floor to score.  The game is over no matter what happens.

Except here comes Andre, standing in the rain, half drunk, playing break-up songs while holding a boombox over his head.  Even though they only had a brief connection he's smitten and he misses free throw something awful.  He's sorry for the wrong he's done.  He regrets letting her go.  He longs for her so much that he's got to see her again.  Yes, he's GOT to, even if she's with another man.  So with 2 seconds remaining and an insurmountable 4-point lead the half-drunk, rain-soaked, sappy-song-playing, desperately longing Miller bumps head on into George Hill sending him to the line.  Miss free throw comes out again.  The evening just got ugly.

Hill goes to the line to prove that the girl is his now.  He sinks the first one.  Spurs within 3.  But with 2 seconds left he's got to go with the percentages, let his baby go, and hope somebody on his side can grab the rebound and connect with three-pointer.  He misses.  LaMarcus Aldridge rebounds.  The Spurs immediately hack.  1 second left.  Blazers up 3.  LaMarcus has 2 shots at the line.  But by this time free throw is angry.  She's been insulted, tossed around, and woken out of her sleep by that shmuck Miller and his crazy boombox.  She's having none of it, no matter what's at stake.

Bonk.  LaMarcus misses the game-icing free throw.

"Aw come on, baby.  Don't do me that way.  Can't you just hang out for a min..." Bonk.  The second free throw misses as well.

The only saving grace in the situation was that San Antonio had no time-outs left.  Michael Finley heaved the ball 60 feet before the buzzer went off but it missed and the Blazers walked out victors by 3 points.

Despite the late-game shenanigans you have to give the Blazers credit for even being there.  Their legs and spirits both looked tired in that third quarter.  Fortunately San Antonio, also on the second night of a back-to-back, looked tired as well in the fourth.  But the Blazers had to fight to win this one, particularly at the defensive end, and they did just that.  Portland shot over 51% on the evening, over 46% from three-point range, outrebounded the Spurs by 9, tallied 30 assists on 39 made baskets, and scored 16 fast break points to the Spurs' 3.  A lot of things went right on offense and Portland dug down on the other end when they had to in order to pull out the win.  It was a job well done and it certainly takes some of the pressure off of Saturday's game versus L.A.  That's good, as the Blazers play best against the L*kers when they're playing free and easy.

Individual Observations

LaMarcus Aldridge confounded the Spurs' defense to the tune of 12-22 shooting and 28 points.  Their big men just couldn't stop him while he was playing the perimeter.  He also had 13 rebounds and 2 assists.

Martell Webster hit 5-5 from distance, 6-9 overall, for 21 points.  He made what would have been the game-sealing bucket, a three, were it not for the follies that ensued in the final seconds.  He looked confident in his offense.   His defense stayed passable through most of the evening despite some gaffes but he's not quite the same defensive tiger we were seeing a month ago.  He had 5 rebounds.

Juwan Howard hit 5-5 shots for 10 points, grabbed 8 boards, but most importantly locked down Duncan when he had to.  This shows you how amazing Howard's contributions are and how Duncan has slipped some.  But Juwan was one of the semi-hidden reasons we won this game.

Andre Miller had 10 assists, a few of them gems on the break which really spurred Portland's offensive run.  Except for a couple of nice drives ‘Dre's own offense wasn't working tonight.  He scored 11 on 5-14 shooting and...ummm...1-4 from the line.  He did have 4 rebounds.

Jerryd Bayless went down to injury after 12 minutes of play.  Not sure if there's anything more to the story.  We'll find out as we go.

Rudy Fernandez got 28 minutes off the bench tonight.  His shot wasn't falling.  He missed all 6 of his three-point attempts and ended up with 10 points on 4-10 shooting overall.  (A couple of the two-point shots he hit were pretty.)  But he was aggressively pushing the tempo along with Miller and his 5 assists were more inspirational and important than the number in the boxscore indicates.  He also had 2 blocks.

Steve Blake pulled 15 minutes, didn't attempt a shot, but had 6 assists.  I guess he was E-Harmony for the scorers.

Dante Cunningham had another impressive 19-minute foray, doing a little of everything en route to 9 points and 4 rebounds.  He's starting to get noticed.  The TNT crew couldn't get enough of him.

Nicolas Batum played 23 minutes, played some nice second-half defense, got 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 7 points.  Solid outing.

Jeff Pendergraph had a couple of rebounds in 7 minutes.  Like I mentioned last night it seems like a little of his swagger is gone.  His comfort level isn't as high out there right now as it was when he first started playing.

Final Thoughts

Say what you want about injuries, drama, and the rest...the Blazers seem to get wins when they need to get wins.  I'm not talking about the last dregs of desperation either.  I mean they're getting the wins they need to stay in the thick of the playoff race.  It's impressive.  As predicted, Brandon Roy is scheduled to return on Saturday.  That should be one heck of a fun game.

Boxscore

Read the reflections of Spurs fans at PoundingtheRock

Check out your Jersey Contest score for this game here and enter Saturday's game here.  As with the last home game against the L*kers the four bonus questions are all the same:  Will the Blazers win?  You can go all or nothing with your Yes or No answers, risking all 40 points on one outcome or the other.  If you wish you can answer some of each, mitigating your risk.  It's up to you.  Enjoy!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)    

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