The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Golden State Warriors, 90-87, at the Rose Garden on Sunday night, improving their record to 23-26 on the season.
If I asked you to name the NBA player whose best statistical game of the season came on a night in which he got booed by his home crowd in the first half -- twice -- and got lit up for a career-high 27 points by a third string benchwarmer, would you need more than one guess?
Blazers point guard Raymond Felton, of course. That kind of season; that kind of night.
This one had all the intensity of a JV vs. JV2 scrimmage for the first two/thirds of the game or so. The Warriors, playing on a back-to-back and without Monta Ellis (traded), Ekpe Udoh (traded), Nate Robinson (injured), Stephen Curry (often injured), Andrew Bogut (always injured) and Andris Biedrins (soft), posed for a seemingly endless stream of photographs with fans prior to the game and, once the game began, played like they had all the pressure of a down pillow on their shoulders.
The Blazers were happy to match that sweatpants loose vibe, managing just six baskets and 14 points in the second quarter. The boos came down when Felton bricked a pair of free throws at the three minute mark before the half, with the Warriors leading by six. They returned a little more than a minute later, when he bricked a three-pointer.
Rather than mail it in, Felton pulled it together, finishing with a season-high 24 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 turnover, shooting 9-for-17 overall and 4-for-7 from deep, including three treys in the fourth quarter. His night turned midway through the third quarter, as his energy picked up noticeably following three consecutive made jumpers. After the third one, we were all witnesses to an honest-to-goodness hustle play.
Warriors forward Brandon Rush lost the ball in the backcourt as the shot clock wound down. Rather than ease up, Felton dove like a marine through a barbed wire bramble, coming up with the loose ball and dishing it to a streaking Nicolas Batum, who finished the basket and drew an and-one call. Batum's free throw gave Portland a 6-point lead.
"We were down, we were making a push," Felton said. "We took the lead. I got a deflection, ran over, dove on the floor, got the ball, threw it to Nicolas, he got an and-one call. It was an all-around great play."
Warriors coach Mark Jackson immediately called timeout, attempting to stamp out the momentum, as Felton turned to the same fans who had booed him an hour earlier, raising his arms repeatedly. It seemed like the happiest moment of his season.
"It was just one of those things, getting the fans involved," Felton said. "I was pumped up so I tried to get the fans into it."
The play wound up being more of a confidence-booster for Portland -- and especially Felton -- rather than a knockout blow. Riding the hot hand of stand-in starting point guard Charles Jenkins, who finished with a career-high 27 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds and 4 turnovers on 13-for-22 shooting, Golden State pushed back to briefly take the lead early in the fourth.
"Look at the kid Jenkins, he had a great game tonight," Felton admitted. "He stepped up. Our gameplan was to make him shoot. He made us pay. He had a great game. My hat is off to him. He had a terrific game stepping up when Nate was down and hurt."
Jenkins only hit one three-pointer but he hit jumpers from just about every spot on the court. "Shots were definitely falling, more than they have been in the past couple games," Jenkins said. Indeed, his 13 field goals were more than he made in his seven previous appearances combined.
"We know he's a good player," Blazers interim coach Kaleb Canales said. "We talked about it at halftime, he hit a couple shots. He got confidence. You have to give the kid credit, he played with confidence throughout the game."
"At the end of the day, we have Steph Curry and Nate Robinson," Jackson said, acknowledging that perhaps everything simply broke right on this night for his team's unlikely hero. "Charles Jenkins is a guy we have tremendous trust in [but] it won't be Jenkins-sanity."
As Portland ramped up the defensive pressure late, Golden State got three-point happy, as Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush attempted to exchange haymakers with Felton who, for once, couldn't miss. After some perimeter back-and-forth, it was Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, though, who delivered the go-ahead winner on a pretty fadeaway to the left baseline.
"I hit a lot of big shots tonight, a lot of big threes," Felton said, matter-of-factly. "But when the game is on the line [Aldridge is] our number one option and he delivered."
"I had missed so many easy shots all night," Aldridge said, after shooting 6-for-12 and finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds. "I felt like my time was coming. The odds had to even up. I just tried to take it as far as I could. They came to double, I went to the baseline, I made it. I've shot that shot so many times, it feels easy to just shoot it."
Aldridge delivering in the clutch is a welcome sight for Blazers fans, but it wasn't even the best looking play of the final minute. That honor belongs to Portland's team defense, which was downright smothering on the game's final possession.
Golden State inbounded down three with twenty seconds remaining in the game. First Batum, and then Wesley Matthews, and then Felton took turns switching out onto Jenkins, denying him space to hoist a potential game-tying three. Felton then harassed Warriors guard Klay Thompson, getting into his body to prevent a dribble move for a pull-up, before poking the ball out of bounds with 8.5 seconds remaining.
"We were just focused on no threes," Matthews said. "We didn't want to foul. So we were just going to switch everything. They went to a smaller lineup with jump shooters. It played into our hands. We were active, we were talking, we were aggressive."
After a second inbounds pass, it was more of the same. Felton and Aldridge switched onto Jenkins, with the All-Star forward rising straight up to contest Jenkins' desperation heave in the game's closing seconds. The shot never had a chance, landing well short. Regardless of the competition, it was a legit stop.
Canales has been sticking to his favorite cliches and keeping his cards comically close to his vest so far during his interim coaching stint. No one can blame him, considering the transition's difficult circumstances. But asked for his thoughts on that final stand, he broke from his self-imposed emotional suppression. He beamed, just a little bit.
"I told the guys that's the only clip we're going to watch tomorrow during film and corrections," Canales said. "I thought the defense, especially those last possessions, was phenomenal. Our communication was great and I thought we got after it... I thought the last possession, we had a great defensive stop."
You see it from coaches in every sport at every level, that moment of elation when a plan gets executed precisely, the results delivered exactly as hoped. A minute later, his brief press statements over, a line of reporters was methodically filing out of the room's only door. Canales was so fired up that he was -- literally -- nipping at their heels as he exited.
Random Game Notes
- This game was announced as a sellout.
- Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that Felton could be heading home to tend to his mother, who is set to undergo heart surgery. Felton said that he may miss "a game or two" later this week.
- Blazers coach Nate McMillan is the straightest shooter you will meet, a company man in the best sense of the phrase: genuine, reliable, respectful, accountable and loyal. Those qualities clearly showed through in his letter of thanks in Sunday's Oregonian.
- But the letter also served -- indirectly -- as one of the most obvious public statements on the organization's chain of command and a reflection of the franchise's true decision-makers. You couldn't help but notice that McMillan name-checked both owner Paul Allen and president Larry Miller without making reference to Acting GM Chad Buchanan. Intentionally or not, "basketball operations" and "scouts" were not among the groups of people specifically called out on his lengthy list, which did include references to arena workers, coaches, trainers, medical staff members, players, fans, friends and supporters.
- Also not included on McMillan's list: the media. (Probably best to permanently omit the media in those situations, although Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus would have killed one of his cats for a sliver of recognition on that grand stage.)
- I can't be the only person puzzled by Buchanan beginning to talk about a four-year window for contention (a realistic, reasonable goal) while Miller is still desperately holding on to the idea that "rebuild" is a word that that I can use but not a word that he will use. While we wait to find out which version of the future is accurate -- or how they plan to parse together the two visions -- it's probably best that we turn our attention to scouting high school sophomores and juniors just in case the four-year plan wins out.
- Andrew Wiggins all day. Google him.
- Blazers owner Paul Allen did not attend the game, opting to travel to Guam with director James Cameron to set a new world record for deepest sea dive. Cameron succeeded in setting the record while Allen tweeted about it diligently, providing updates every 800 feet at one point during the descent. His afterthought: "And Blazers win! Blazers WIn! What a day!" Then back to the diving tweets.
- Cool sign for Kaleb Canales in the crowd: "Si Se Puede."
- That was a big-ish game for lottery positioning as Portland moves two games up on Golden State with 17 to play. Here's a cool chart from Norsktroll -- created on SportsClubStats.com on Sunday morning -- that shows Portland's playoff odds as the season has progressed. The drop on the right hand chart is staggering. Good thing that's not your 401K. (Click to enlarge)
- Jason Quick of The Oregonian reports that the Blazers expect to pick up the [fourth] year option for Luke Babbitt.
- Jamal Crawford (1-for-10) and Wesley Matthews (2-for-12) made each and every Felton make that much more important. "There's been nights where I couldn't hit nothing," Felton said about his teammates' struggles. He then added: "I mean, last game. Lakers game, couldn't hit a shot." Honestly a bit relieved that he didn't forget.
- Quick went off on Felton again.
Tough team down there in the locker room. I thought they had a good game, especially in the first half but our defense came to play for 48 minutes.
Huge second half. We want him pushing the ball and getting easy baskets to build his rhythm. Raymond was big for us tonight.
Perimeter defense on last play
I told the guys that's the only clip we're going to watch tomorrow during film and corrections. I thought the defense, especially those last possessions, was phenomenal. Our communication was great and I thought we got after it.
Offensive foul call on LaMarcus Aldridge could have been a swing call
We talked about resolve. I felt the guys responded tonight. LaMarcus made huge plays down the stretch. He hit a big shot but more than that he made the right reads and made basketball plays tonight.
We like that group. Puts shooters around LaMarcus so the double teams are a little tougher to come. We got it on the defensive end tonight. LaMarcus hit a big shot like I mentioned, he had great reads, but we got it on the defensive end tonight. 16 point third quarter, we felt as a staff that was a swing quarter for us.
Charles Jenkins in the scouting report?
We did. We know he's a good player. We talked about it at halftime, he hit a couple shots. He got confidence. You have to give the kid credit, he played with confidence throughout the game. I thought the last possession, we had a great defensive stop.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter