If there was a marquee outside AT&T Center tonight it probably read:
San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers*
*Contains less than 2% actual Blazers
Joel Przybilla is out for the year. Brandon Roy was out for the night with shoulder problems. Combined with all of the other injuries that left Portland starting a lineup of LaMarcus Aldridge plus guys who would have been penciled in as the 5th, 9th, 10th, and 11th men on the roster at the start of the year. On paper a disclaimer was necessary. Spurs fans were likely groaning as the starters were introduced that what was supposed to be an entertaining game was going to be a cakewalk. Then the ball went up and...the Blazers won. Yes, that's right. The Blazers won.
The keys to the game were pretty simple. Portland packed the paint on defense, first denying the ball to Tim Duncan then daring him to score over multiple defenders and the rest of the Spurs to hit outside shots instead of driving. It was the only conceivable way to make up for the utter lack of interior power on that end. Once the shot went up the Blazers rebounded hard down to the last man. You saw four, five guys swarming the glass. On offense the plan was clear: take advantage of any mismatches (Bayless, Aldridge), use screens to get them free, and when the main guys got shot down pass the ball out quickly and hope the jumpers fall. They did. San Antonio's did somewhat but it wasn't enough. Combine that with 8 turnovers and more energy than the Spurs and you walk away with a win....as big of a win as you can get at this stage of the season...a win that didn't depend on lucky threes...a win Blazers got on a night when San Antonio shot 6 percentage points better than they. Priceless.
Victory was built on the back of heroic individual efforts tonight. The first and most obvious was that of Jerryd Bayless. The Spurs weren't able to contain him and he hit shot after shot from the perimeter, sprinkling in drives for layups or free throws. He scored 31 off of 10-24 shooting which isn't as impressive as the 9-10 free throw clip and the 2-2 performance from the arc. He also had 7 assists as the Spurs had to commit so much of their attention to him that open teammates were plentiful. His defensive effort was solid. He moved his feet, took charges, and committed only 1 foul. Jerryd has had good games before but this was the first game that the team won specifically (and obviously) because of him. That's a whole different feeling and you could tell he felt it in his post-game interview. This was the game in which he arrived as a real, live, significant NBA player instead of just a player who has some decent individual outings and potential to his credit.
LaMarcus Aldridge rained down jumpers himself to the tune of 9-13 shooting and 22 points. He sat out much of the first half with foul trouble but every time he touched the ball he was a thorn in the Spurs' side. He made their defense look ground-bound and slow. 8 rebounds too.
Earlier in the season people were speculating whether Juwan Howard was worth a plug nickel. Tonight he showed why it's not all bad to have aging veterans who also used to be stars. He can't do everything he used to do but at least he knows what to do and has the potential to step up to the plate and help. Tonight he hit a home run. He shot 6-9 for 12 points and the Spirit of Przybilla flowed through him as he nabbed a dozen boards. That's 12. 12 rebounds. Nod of respect.
Steve Blake was as active tonight as he's been all season and he also hit enough shots to keep the Spurs honest. I don't recall him ever shooting when he was covered. He shot 3-6 overall for 7 points. Continuing the theme of everyone chipping in something extra he had 5 assists.
Martell Webster played 39 minutes and had another good effort game. They didn't get as much scoring out of him as they'd probably like but he did go 3-8 for 11 points so he's not far off.
Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunnigham each had 4 rebounds, Pendy in 17 minutes, Cunningham in 9.
Andre Miller provided the only real party fouls tonight, shooting 2-13 on jumpers that never seemed to arc above the rim. He had 9 points and 4 assists and hit the game-icing free throws with .8 left but it wasn't a good outing for him. Again we saw a situation where either Miller or Bayless was active in the offense, seldom if ever both, let alone both playing off each other. And at this point the reasons to favor Miller are becoming fewer.
There's not much more analysis than that because frankly for me this was an emotional game as much as a rational one. It was hard not to get caught up in it. I will say this: the team looked like the Blazers we know for one of the first times this season, which is ironic because almost none of the Blazers we know played. You could see it in the screens, in the shots, in the boards, in the lines of their bodies. Maybe it was them recapturing that "nothing to lose" attitude that's carried them through the last couple of seasons, letting it wash over that "we're entitled to win" malaise that seems to have typified their approach this year. Whatever it was, the smiles and yells and stride when they walked off the court was everything you could hope to see. Who knows how long it will last? But for tonight that doesn't matter. All that does is this: Blazers 98, Spurs 94, 3-1 on the toughest road trip of the year after the most devastating couple weeks of the season. You couldn't script a movie like this and keep it believable. But this isn't a movie. It's your Blazers.
Check out the impressions at PoundingtheRock.
See your Jersey Contest scores for the game here and enter an all-Jerryd-Bayless form (questions decided days ago, mind you) for the Christmas game over here.