The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 97-94, at the Rose Garden on Friday night, dropping Portland's record to 28-32.
Portland never led, got down by as many as 24 points, committed at least four bumbling turnovers down the stretch, played the entire game without a functioning scoreboard and watched as a bird nested on the shot clock during the first half. Despite all of that, the Blazers still not only enjoyed vigorous crowd support throughout the game but got a glass-is-hall-full assessment from interim coach Kaleb Canales.
"I was extremely proud and extremely pleased at the game-winning effort that our guys showed out there," Canales said. "They're the defending champs for a reason. Extremely pleased with the game-winning effort we had, especially down the stretch."
That "We lost but we tried hard" mentality isn't one you hear often in professional sports, certainly not an approach that Nate McMillan would have embraced so openly. But the words were an acknowledgement of the obvious talent, experience and depth disparities between the two rosters without All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge available and a bit of a rallying cry following a recent loss in which the Blazers essentially gave up on defense and rebounding late in the fourth quarter, leading Canales to call multiple late timeouts in an apparent attempt to send a message.
"We lost that third quarter but we won every quarter after that," Raymond Felton said after scoring 12 points, dishing 4 assists and committing 5 turnvoers.
A shake-your-head, unintentionally amusing line, for sure, but it was factually correct. The Blazers did win the fourth quarter, 33-16, applying pressure defense to throw off the Mavericks while benefiting from some sloppy play and poor decisions by Dallas, who coasted with double-digit leads for long stretches of this one. In total, Dallas committed eight fourth quarter turnovers that allowed Portland to close to within four points in the final minute. A loss is a loss but the Blazers were happy to repeat Canales' message afterwards, given the scope of their comeback.
"We were down 20," Batum, who finished with a team-high 20 ppints, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block, said. "A lot of teams could give up. This is the Mavericks, they won the title last year. We could say, 'That game is over.' We don't give up, we keep battling, we keep fighting."
"That's nothing but game-winning effort," J.J. Hickson said. "It all started on the defensive end. That's something I love about coach. He always takes the positive things from games, whether we win or lose, and move on. At the same time, he teaches us a lesson about the things we didn't do well."
Ball control in the fourth quarter was again a problem area.
Jamal Crawford, who finished with 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting, had a buzzkilling turnover at the 5:22 mark. The Rose Garden crowd was coming alive, the lead was down to 11 and then -- whoosh -- his pocket was picked on the perimeter, Delonte West was coasting the other way for a lay-up and Canales was calling a timeout to regroup.
Next, it was Batum's turn. His was of the head-slapping variety, a careless pass to the Dallas bench after Wesley Matthews evacuated the corner by cutting baseline. "Before they gave me the ball I saw Wes running into the corner," Batum said. "So I watched Wes, I threw the ball when I caught it. I go straight [to him] but he kept running. That's my bad. I saw he was there."
Those two were just the table-setters, though, as Felton delivered back-to-back turnovers of his own in the game's final minute to stop the miracle short. Stop me if you've heard that before.
The first, he simply threw away carelessly. The second, he attempted to throw a lob pass to Hickson and Mavericks forward Brandan Wright came over to deflect it at the last moment. Given that it was a must-score possession with the Blazers down four with 20 seconds left, it was a risky play to be sure. Outside the professional level, it was a decision that would draw ire from a coach. His target was the high-flying Hickson, though, so there were grounds to defend the idea. It wasn't idiotic but, obviously, it didn't work.
"No, absolutely not," Canales said, when asked if he had a problem with the lob given the situation. "I thought [Hickson] was open for a minute. I thought Brandan Wright made a great defensive play... I saw exactly what Ray did. J.J. dove and I thought that was open as well. You have to give Brandan Wright credit for making that read."
"Great defensive play," Hickson agreed. "A little bit of contact but you can't expect that call... It was a great defensive play on their behalf and you have to give them credit where credit is due."
Felton fully stood by his decision.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I made the wrong read in that situation," he said. "I feel like I made the right read in that situation... I couldn't throw a bounce pass because there was too much traffic, couldn't throw a direct pass because there was too much traffic. Didn't want to really take the jump shot. Which I could have. I could have taken the jump shot. I could have thrown the lob. Those were the two plays... [It was] not necessarily a calculated risk, it's a 50/50 thing. You make a pass or take the shot. What are you going to do? I made the read. I felt like the lob was there, which it was, and Brandan Wright made a great play by coming over help defense on the weakside."
There have been games this season, even fairly recently, when a late-game error like that in a loss would have left him visibly reeling. But the expectations are gone now -- they left with Aldridge's labral tear. The pride of fighting to mount a comeback against a clearly superior opponent carried the day, even for Felton.
Besides, it was a Friday night after a late-start ESPN game. The critics were mostly long gone, ostensibly with some place better to be. It's hard to muster rage over a loss when the defeated party has already settled for a moral victory. If he was going to beat himself up over it, he would be doing it in peace on this night.
Random Game Notes
- This game was announced as a sellout.
- As mentioned, excellent Rose Garden crowd noise-wise and a lot fewer empty seats than has been the case at recent games.
- Mike Barrett of Blazers Broadcasting quoted center Joel Przybilla regarding the team's medical staff: "I've been around the NBA a long time. The Blazers' training staff is as good as it gets, trust me on that, not many guys have come back from what I had. These guys are the reason why. Jay Jensen is a big reason I came back to Portland. Jay and this medical staff got me back to where I am. I have complete confidence in them, and I know what I'm talking about."
- Jonny Flynn was the first point guard off the bench instead of Nolan Smith on Friday. Kaleb Canales didn't offer much in the way of his thinking on the rotation change (see below). When asked about the move, Flynn said that he found out he would be getting the minutes "when [Canales] looked down the bench and called me." I told Flynn that I was confused as to the reasoning behind the switch and what the plan was going forward over the next two weeks. His response: "We'll see. You know just as much as me... I'm just in the same boat as you. We're in this together." Flynn had 2 points and a team-high 5 assists in his 13 minutes.
- Here are Flynn's thoughts on what Canales wants to see from him: "Just to keep up what Ray is doing. He does a great job of pushing the basketball, really organizing us, getting us into the sets we need to. When I'm on the bench I look to see what plays he's calling, how he's managing the game, and do it with the second group."
- Here's Flynn on what it's like to approach games without knowing that playing time is guaranteed: "It's tough. You want to lock in some times before you get to the gym to really have a game plan personally for what you want to do. It is what it is. I'm thankful for the minutes I'm getting. Even if I have to come to every game not knowing, I'll take that."
- Just so we're clear, Portland's 2011 first round draft pick played 3 minutes in an April game in which Portland has virtually been eliminated mathematically from the playoffs and in which Portland trailed by 24 points.
- Shawne Williams, acquired at the trade deadline but not previously with the team as he recovered from surgery on his foot, was with the team on Friday. Asked by Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com for what he knows about Portland, Williams joked: "The Nines Hotel and the Grand Hotel. That's it."
- Williams on where his health stands: "This is my first surgery. Right now I'm feeling good. Came in without a boot today. Doctors did a great job getting an X-ray. Everything is fully healed. We're just doing some prevention things. Tomorrow we start rehab. I'll be running in like two weeks. Probably in two or three weeks I can play 5-on-5. I'm not going to rush it or nothing. I'm just going to listen to the doc and do whatever he's going to tell me to do."
- Williams on whether he plans to pick up his player option for next year: "Yeah. Why not?" Hey, it's guaranteed money, right? "Yeahhh."
- Hasheem Thabeet completed an alley-oop lob with a clean dunk. No punchline. He did it and it was impressive.
- 50/50 at this point whether or Luke Babbitt registers another assist before the end of the season. Five straight games with zero.
- Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus turned 30 this week. He was carded while ordering a beer on Thursday.
- This message flashed across the marquee at the Rose Garden's Courtside Club.
Kaleb Canales' Post-Game Comments
Down 24 points to the defending champs. I was extremely proud and extremely pleased at the game-winning effort that our guys showed out there. They're the defending champs for a reason. Extremely pleased with the game-winning effort we had, especially down the stretch.
What was the difference late?
I think the Mavericks won the game I don't think we gave them the game. We got stops when we needed. We just didn't make enough plays down the stretch. I thought we had good reads in them. We just came up a little short tonight.
Still happy despite the early hole?
There was no quit in us. Obviously we didn't shoot the ball like we wanted to but I thought we came out the first six minutes in the fourth quarter and responded even though they won that third quarter. To hold the defending champs to a 16-point fourth quarter shows a lot about us and us responding and giving game-winning effort throughout.
Timeout during Dirk Nowitzki's free throws
The thought process behind that was to give our guys a little breather. Make sure we have our breath. Make sure we undrestand we have our assignments on the box out. Depending on make or miss, it was going to dictate whether we called that next time out.
Dallas' defense on J.J. Hickson
Our league is a league of adjustments. It was a point of emphasis. they tried different looks on him and I thought they did of sending the double team to him. He was active. He had 10 rebounds, he still ended up with a double-double. We can't give up a 30-point first quarter and that comes back to our defense and rebounding.
I thought it was the key to the game. Any time you come on the road and get 51 rebounds, you take that.
Pleased with the effort?
Down 24 to the defending champs, proud of the guys in that locker room.
Jonny Flynn over Nolan Smith
We've talked to both guys in terms of being ready, in terms of match-ups game to game. The past couple 2 or 3 games we went with Nolan. Before that we went with Jonny. They both understand they have to be ready to go. They both bring different things to our team. We put in Nolan there with Ray for a bit also. The game kind of dictates our match-ups.
Problem with decision to throw late lob?
No, absolutely not. I thought he was open for a minute. I thought Brandan Wright made a great defensive play. Came over. I saw exactly what Ray did. J.J. dove and I thought that was open as well. You have to give Brandan Wright credit for making that read.
Jamal Crawford sitting for awhile in the fourth quarter
I thought the five guys in there had a good flow going, a good pace. We know we wanted to finish the game with Jamal. In terms of when he comes in, try to stay consistent with it. The game kind of dictates a lot of that.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter