In a Nutshell
The Blazers play around rather foolishly with the Tim Duncan-less Spurs, allowing San Antonio to score at the rim and on open threes and carrying an 8-point deficit into the final 4:30 of the game. Manu Ginobili goes crazy in the final minutes, hitting threes and carrying his team all-around. But Portland snatches victory from the jaws of defeat with miracle steals from Andre Miller and Wesley Matthews in the final minute. The game is tied at 96 with 0.9 seconds left when San Antonio lofts the ball from the sideline over the baseline on an inbounds play, giving the Blazers the ball back with no time elapsed. And then this...
The Blazers started well enough in the opening frame, forcing San Antonio turnovers and converting buckets through LaMarcus Aldridge. But the mojo was short-lived. The problem started with guard penetration by Tony Parker. He ended up at the cup all alone for easy scores. The Spurs didn't have to fast break. They got halfcourt layup after halfcourt layup off of Parker's quick feet and/or accurate passing. When Portland compensated by collapsing guess what happened? Three...ring it up! Three...ring it up! All of a sudden the Spurs had stormed back on video game ball: treys and layups and nothing in between. Meanwhile the Blazers missed several alley-oop attempts, notably at the usually-sure hands of LaMarcus Aldridge. Brandon Roy pulled the Blazers biscuits out of the fire late in the period with some penetration and passing but it was only enough for 24 points. The Spurs had 28 and were shooting above 60% for the quarter.
The second period saw Portland's foolishness intensify. To their credit they did remember to go back through Aldridge on offense. But the Spurs went for broke and double-teamed him aggressively from the weak side every time he thought about making a move. This left a Portland three-point shooter wide open. But Portland's three-point shooters only made their first couple and then began missing consistently. Portland's zone defense messed with the Spurs' second unit for a while but eventually they decided to stroke threes over it and began connecting. The Blazers, instead of abandoning their long volleys, simply dispensed with the "passing to LaMarcus" part first. The Blazers would end up attempting 9 threes in the period. A reminder: this came against a team without Tim Duncan. This came against a team trying to field Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair as interior defenders. This also came against one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league. Suffice it to say Portland chose the battlefield poorly. The Spurs abandoned the three-point-fest earlier than Portland did and surged ahead as the clock wound down. Fortunately the Blazers got back to basics by the end of the quarter and scored with some nice interior play, eventually earning a 23-21 edge in the quarter, San Antonio led 49-47 going into the half.
The third period featured tough offensive rebounding by both teams, who by this time looked like they were simply mirroring each other. Portland's offense ran off of screens and mid-range jumpers, particularly by Andre Miller who was on fire in the period. San Antonio kept attacking the rim with success. But Portland poured on the energy as the period progressed, slapping away balls, controlling rebounds, and playing smarter than they had in the entire first 24 minutes of this game combined. Portland took the third 26-21 and the game looked headed where it was supposed to be with athleticism, depth, and determination overtaking a couple of nice scoring guards. The Spurs needed a two-shot flurry in the final minute to crawl back within three as Portland led 73-70 going into the final period.
At the start of the fourth the Spurs came out looking like champions and the Blazers came out looking like they had zero interior defense to speak of. San Antonio made a deep commitment to getting to the hole, scoring 11 points in the first 4 minutes of the quarter, 8 of them coming within 3 feet of the hoop. The Blazers looked paralyzed. The Spurs ratcheted up the defense too, particularly against LaMarcus Aldridge. DeJuan Blair couldn't out-tall or out-quick LMA but he had the bulk to shove him around, which he did to great effect. (The officials let plenty of physical play go tonight.) With Aldridge taking 12 seconds of the clock to set up and then not getting the ball anyway because he was wearing a full on Blair coat the Blazers were forced into deep attempts against the shot clock. This did not turn out well. As mentioned above, San Antonio would carry an 8-point lead deep into the quarter as the best the Blazers could do was see-saw with them. Then Portland played its last cards, forcing San Antonio turnovers left and right. With the team on the run the Spurs' muscle defense was taken out of the equation and guys like Miller, Batum, and Wesley Matthews came to the fore. That trio would score 17 of the 21 points the Blazers scored in the last 6:00 of the game. Even so, this one still appeared to be going San Antonio's way. Portland had opened the door for just a shot or two on the Spurs' part to make a difference and Manu Ginobili provided more than that, tattooing the Blazers with instant threes and zippy passes. Portland was down 93-90 with 1:39 left to play, going back and forth with the Spurs and trying to stay close enough for a big play to matter, when LaMarcus Aldridge stepped to the foul line and missed two free throws. (This has been a recurring weakness of his. Might be something to work on during the summer.) That looked like the next-to-the-last nail in the coffin. When Nicolas Batum bricked a wide-open three with Portland down 4 a minute later it looked like the final nail had been driven.
Then it began.
Tony Parker got careless taking the ball upcourt and Andre Miller darted in for an impossible open-court steal off of the opposing point guard. Miller swiftly converted a layup and the score was 96-94 with 30 seconds left. After a timeout the Spurs milked the shot clock down to its last seconds but when Manu Ginobili went to make his scoring move above the top of the key the ball ended up in the hands of Wesley Matthews...a second highly improbable one-on-one theft. Matthews tried to lay it in but Matt Bonner blocked his shot. It ended up in the hands of Nicolas Batum who was fouled. He calmly converted both and the game was tied with .9 left. The Spurs tried to give it away by sending 6 guys onto the court but they corrected before the ball was inbounded. What they couldn't correct was Portland's long defenders shadowing the inbounder and the paint. They sailed the ball out of bounds without anybody touching it. The Blazers had a timeout and the ability to advance the ball to their offensive half of the court. That's when your humble observer said out loud to nobody (because he was watching the game on his couch alone), "That was a bad idea against the best alley-oop team in the league."
Go ahead. Watch that video again. I'll wait. And yes, I was up off of that couch with my hands in the air as Nic was making his cut and I was jumping and smiling when it went through.
Nicolas Batum scores at the rim off of a perfect curl, a perfect pass, and perfectly soft hands laying the ball in the cup. The Blazers win a thriller, 98-96.
As you may gather, despite the great ending Portland should be less than thrilled about having to rely on triple miracles to beat this team in its current condition. They might want to go over the game plan again before Monday as I'm comfortably sure it didn't include 7-26 three-point shooting against that lineup.
On the other hand you have to love how the Blazers get solid--and often opportunistic--contributions from nearly everyone on the floor with this shortened rotation. You also have to love how this team doesn't die. When the door was open tonight the Blazers walked through. This is the kind of thing they'll need to do in the playoffs. In that sense it was a great win...maybe one of the best kinds of wins and not just for its emotional value. Portland didn't play it's "A" game but still found a way to victory.
Aldridge only got 12 attempts, making 5 for 14 points. The Spurs got really nasty against him. He did have 8 rebounds. He also had teammates who backed him up, their putrid distance shooting off of his direct passes aside. Perhaps the Blazers are beginning to shake the "Stop Aldridge, Stop Our Team" meme.
Nicolas Batum had 21 points on 7-15 shooting. Honestly I'm not sure I noticed most of his misses because he was so in tune with this game it seemed like almost every shot was great. Bravo on those clutch free throws late that set up the potential game-winning situation. Also huge props for knowing enough to drop the ball through the hoop rather than trying to dunk or lay it in with .9 left. That there is some awareness.
Andre Miller set the Blazers right when they were all askew in this game, playing some of last year's Andre role by taking over and saying, "See? These guys can be scored against. It ain't that hard." He ended the game with 21 on phenomenal 10-16 shooting with 6 rebounds and 8 assists.
Wesley Matthews played some great late-game defense and was the only guy who looked truly confident watching either of San Antonio's premier guards. He only shot 6-14 and missed 4 of his 5 attempted threes but that last steal redeemed everything. 15 points, 2 steals.
Despite 5 turnovers (the ball did look like it had butter on it for a while there) Gerald Wallace had another amazing game. He was all drive and energy on the defensive end and looked like the only Blazer capable of really scaring the Spurs on the offensive end. He went 6-12 for 14 points, had 10 rebounds, plus 2 assists and 3 steals.
Marcus Camby had 8 rebounds in 14 minutes but struggled defensively.
Brandon Roy had a couple moments of life in the second quarter but was otherwise a non-factor, though as I mentioned he still draws attention from opposing defenses when he handles the ball.
Rudy Fernandez had some nice defensive hustle plays but also shot 1-6 from distance.
Stats of the Night
- Spurs 50 points in the paint. That shouldn't have happened.
- Spurs 19 turnovers for 24 Portland points. Coach Pop will say that shouldn't have happened either.
- Spurs 11-23 from distance, 47.8%.
- Blazers 11 steals. That ended up being your game-deciding stat.
Odd Notes and Links
Ton Heinsohn is in my Hall-of-Fame for worst color commentators to listen to but he's too old now to really register. Sean Elliot, on the other hand, is making a huge run to topple the king, scoring serious Tommy Points in the bad announcer category for his incessant use of the word "we" (You know you haven't played for the Spurs in years, right?) and his near-constant whining about the officials. Mind you, both teams combined for only 24 foul shots tonight. The refs let a lot go. The Blazers got some calls but Tony Parker traveled every second move, Ginobili got away with a blatant double-dribble, Blair got to wrestle Aldridge, and more. But to hear Elliot talk every whistle against San Antonio was a capital offense. This team sports multiple World Championships. Stop it. You don't get to whine about officials. Or at least if you're going to whine, pick your spots and sound like a grown-up when you do it. Seriously, if you think Mike and Mike are bad about this (and they've gotten much better this season) take a listen to the Spurs broadcast sometime
Pounding The Rock will give you the agonizing side of this story.
Video of the set-up steals just below.