The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 106-104, at the Rose Garden on Tuesday night, improving to 23-22.
It's hard to imagine LaMarcus Aldridge, Texan, in the old West. Cowboy boots come with spurs, not air max cushions, and non-hipster flannel wouldn't really suit him. Does Louis Vuitton even make ten-gallon hats? Truth is, he would need to lean back or bend sharply at the knees when riding a horse, lest his feet drag along in the dirt. I pity the old nag already and it's a figment of my imagination.
But there Aldridge was, settling scores on Tuesday night, atoning for an ugly late-game airball in a loss to the Thunder two weeks ago. There he was defending his turf, wheeling and firing, as if in a duel, 10 paces out, bang, nothing but net.
"That one felt great," he said of the deadeye shot, a tumbleweed bouncing past his locker, the sun setting beyond the wide porch at the old inn. "That one felt real easy."
I'm the last person to glorify violence, but I've just seen this scene so many times in so many Westerns.
"This is what you live for," Aldridge said, standing with his weight back on his heels, one hand clutching his belt buckle, the coyote howl from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly kicking in right as he finished speaking.
It's hard not to drift after a finish like that, because a finish like that happens so rarely and because Aldridge is right, that's exactly what we all live for. The ready to die gunslinger and every person who sticks around through a 14-point quarter pursue the same rare ghost through the dust of the night. A 21-point comeback takes on a life of its own, those involved insist, nothing pumps like the final second of a close game and nothing in basketball beats a game-winner.
"We almost gave the crowd a heart attack, but I'll take it," J.J. Hickson smiled.
The Blazers trailed the Mavericks, 69-48, with 20 minutes left in the game. At that moment, they were on pace for 82 points, potentially within reach of setting a new season-low for points. Instead, they closed 58-35 to win the game, taking the lead only briefly in the middle of the fourth quarter before a wild, wild 10-3 run in the final minute.
"Just another win," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said, words escaping.
"We get down like a young team but we fight back like vets," Wesley Matthews said, perfectly. "It's a weird dynamic."
This one went down on Main Street, in broad daylight, with every able-bodied man in a five-mile radius getting in on the action. Ronnie Price made a three-pointer. Sasha Pavlovic took a steal to the house. Darren Collison made an improbable, shot-clock beating three, Matthews poked free a few turnovers, and, slowly, the duel emerged. Dirk Nowitzki poured in a season-high 26 points. Aldridge was headed for a game-high 29 points and 13 rebounds. The two combined for 21 fourth-quarter points, and the stage was set for good by a Nicolas Batum three-pointer that tied the game with 28 seconds remaining.
Nowitzki cradled a zany kick out from Shawn Marion and buried a three-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. The Maverick signaled to the crowd and holstered both of his hands in triumph, purposefully bearing the villain's glare.
"That's supposed to be the dagger and we still didn't hang our heads," Hickson smiled again.
It was merely time for another volley. The Blazers looked to set up Batum for an angle three to tie, only to have the Mavericks send two defenders to him, contesting the shot with excellent pressure. At the final moment, Batum opted to pass to Aldridge, even though a three-pointer was needed given the time-score situation. Aldridge was oh-for-the-season on threes and had made just one in the last 382 days.
"Very little of what happened was how I drew it up," Stotts admitted. "LaMarcus has a nice touch out there, he took his time and made it. It's his first one of the year but I've seen him shoot them in practice. It's not like he's a non-shooter. He has a nice touch, I was glad to see it go in."
Aldridge said that he does not usually practice threes during or after practice, but that the shot "felt good" leaving his hands.
"I was surprised that Nic threw it to me, yes," he said. "But [surprised] that I made it? No. ... I thought everybody was overly hyped for it, I was like, the game isn't over yet."
The shot tied the game with 4.5 seconds remaining, giving the Mavericks one final do-or-die chance in regulation. Or not. On Dallas' ensuing possession, Blazers reserve guard Ronnie Price, perhaps the unlikeliest characters in this whole bit, came across the paint to take a charge on Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo.
"I didn't know," Price told Blazersedge, when asked if he was sure he drew the charge or if he thought he would be whistled for the block on the bang-bang play. "I knew I couldn't jump up and block the shot because I was too late. I just went back to the college, [Utah Valley State coach Dick] Hunsaker's drills. Slide over, quick as you can, and take the charge."
Instinct, instant recall, blind luck, whatever, the sequence shifted the do-or-do-it-all-again-in-overtime moment to the other end of the court. The Blazers turned, as they have before, to a two-option inbounds play that looked to find Batum curling into the corner or Aldridge on the block. The play was designed in the huddle to be run from the right sideline but the officials indicated the ball would be inbounded on the left once the teams took the court.
"I was happy about it," Aldridge said of the change, which allowed him to take up position on his preferred left block. "They threw me ball and I did my shot."
"I'm speechless," Price said. "How lucky is that? That you get L.A. on his block, the block that we try to get him on throughout the game. Get him in position to shoot his shot. That's his money shot. Going back over his right shoulder, shooting that fadeaway. We try to get that in the course of the game. To have that at the end of the game, you can't ask for a better look."
Matthews inbounded the ball to Aldridge, who caught and turned towards the baseline, leaning back into his impossibly high release and launching over Brandan Wright.
"I told [Aldridge] I was going to him," Matthews said. "I tried to throw it right so all he had to do was turn and shoot. It was nothing but net. ...He had the juices going. He just hit the three in the corner. It's [against] his hometown team. He had a game-winner against them last year."
"He turned around and hit it," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We had our longest guy on him, but he made a better play."
"That's how it goes sometimes," Wright said.
The ball wasn't yet in the hoop before Batum was running from his spot in the left corner back down the court, arms raised as if victory was a formality. "Because it was," he said. "I knew it. If I trust L.A. to make a three, I trust L.A. to make a turnaround jump shot in the post. That's why I left, because I knew he would make it."
"He had his hand up," Aldridge chuckled. "He said he had a lot of faith in me. That's good for us. I didn't know yet. I was waiting for it to go in."
It went in and a dog pile commenced. Aldridge has watched Damian Lillard ascend this season, he's watched as Batum has moved into a prominent late-game role, he's stood and faced the many questions that followed his airball, and he's kept to himself, for the most part. Always, always guarded, Aldridge's face broke open as wide as it has in years.
"He was smiling like a rookie, like his first NBA game," Batum quipped.
Smiling like the last man standing after the shootout in the movie, the man who had that one, final bullet.
Random Game Notes
- The Rose Garden attendance was announced at 18,888. There were entire rows empty. One of those games where 100,000 people will be claiming they had tickets.
- If you missed it: video of Aldridge's game-winner and the crazy final sequence.
- I mentioned that crazy Darren Collison three, which oddly felt like more of a back-breaker for the Blazers than Nowitzki's three. Important to note: that wasn't even Collison's craziest shot of the season.
- J.J. Hickson kept Portland in this game, finishing with 26 points and 15 rebounds. He had all sorts of early miscues defensively but for stretches it felt like he was the only player scoring for Portland. He did sit during the bulk of Portland's big push, which came after Stotts switched to a smaller lineup.
- Aldridge apparently treated himself to his first Voodoo doughnut after the game.
- Batum finished with 10 points, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes on four-for-14 shooting. He said his right wrist is bothering him and has been an issue for about ten days. He aggravated it during the first quarter and he said that it was affecting his shot.
- Ronnie Price said he was hesitant to launch his three-pointer: "I shot an airball earlier. I wasn't really wanting to shoot the ball. My teammates told me to quit hesitating and shoot the ball the way I know I can. They had confidence and faith in me. The shot went in."
- Price on his role in the dog pile: "I couldn't jump down there. I just kicked them a few times, punched them a few times, that was it."
- More Aldridge on his three: "I saw it on film [afterwards]. I didn't think I did it like that. I thought I caught it and then took a dribble. I caught it all in one motion and shot it. I don't know. I felt good about it. I just shot it."
- Aldridge comparing his game-winner in Dallas last April to this one: "This was probably a little bit better because I made the three to get there. But that one off the dribble was probably more fun than the one tonight."
- Aldridge said that he already had 27 messages on his phone in the first 20 minutes or so after his winner.
- Lillard finished with 10 points and eight assists on three-for-11 shooting. Quiet night for him overall but he was pleased with another comeback victory: "If we've proved anything this year, we'll give ourselves a chance to win at the end of every game."
- Will Barton got a little veteran schooling from Dahntay Jones, who seemed to use every trick in the book to get whistles on the Blazers rookie.
- In his comments below, Stotts really worked to reinforce the team aspect of the comeback.
- 99 days out of 100, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world doing what I get to do. I live about as boring and structured of an existence as I can, by design. No stress, no drama, no distractions. For no real reason, today happened to be that 100th day, the kind where you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, stressors keep popping up, and every little thing gets on your nerve. Basketball never, ever fails to turn things around.
- With that in mind: Would you consider supporting Blazers Edge Night and help the site send hundreds of kids to a Blazers game? Details here.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
Just another win. [Laughs]
I don't know. I can't get tired of appreciating what our team does as far as competing and fighting and never giving up. We've all seen it a number of times already this year. It never gets old. We kept finding a way. There are too many plays, too many big plays to remember. Just for being down 21, coming back, there were a lot of people who contributed to that comeback. Everybody who played in the second half contributed to that comeback.
LaMarcus Aldridge's first three of the season
Very little of what happened was how I drew it up. Look, Collison banks a three, L.A. makes his three, stuff happens during games. Nic made a nice play. LaMarcus has a nice touch out there, he took his time and made it. It's his first one of the year but I've seen him shoot them in practice. It's not like he's a non-shooter. He has a nice touch, I was glad to see it go in.
Nicolas Batum struggled then hit the late three
That was all Nic. We drew up that play, we drew up some different options. Nic was one of the options, they kinda blew up that play a little bit but he came off. He was struggling shooting the ball, his wrist was bothering him, but he's a competitor. He didn't shy away from the moment.
Wesley Matthews' late defense
I really don't want to single out one guy because when you play the defense we played in the second half compared to the first half, it's a team effort. When we're defending Dirk's pick-and-rolls that means the guys on the pick-and-rolls have to do a job, and J.J. or whoever has to be ready to rotate, everybody has to be ready to cover up his man. Everything we did, team rebounding, I thought everybody contributed. Their team, with O.J. Mayo and Vince and Dirk and Collison and Shawn Marion, they have a lot of guys who can score. That's why it's a team effort. Dallas is a team where everybody on the floor is pretty dangerous.
It was Nic or L.A. Nic came off, if he came off clean he was going to get it otherwise it was a pass to L.A.
Same play that generated three for Nicolas against Cleveland?
Very similar. We tweaked it a little bit because Luke was in the game.
Describe this season
Well, we're only 45 games into it. It's been enjoyable. It's a fun team to coach. I think everybody and certainly I appreciate the effort that the players give. The season -- I don't want to get into a retrospect right now. We're in the middle of a playoff race, to try to put this season into perspective is too soon.
Big plays by LaMarcus Aldridge put his All-Star selection in perspective?
I don't know. It's always been in perspective for me. LaMarcus, there's no question in my mind he's an All-Star. He didn't have to make that shot to prove he's an All-Star. He proves it every night.
Turnaround on defense
In the first half we gave too much space to their shooters. Collison hit three in a row I think. We were slow getting to Dirk. They were pushing the ball. Collison and Beaubois were pushing the ball and we weren't getting back. We weren't being the aggressor, anticipating very well. I thought we did that, all those things, much better in the second half.
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