The Portland Trail Blazers survived their toughest test of the season tonight, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 129-119 in a triple overtime classic that ranks among the best regular-season games in franchise history. Every great game needs a hero. Tonight that role was filled ably by Damian Lillard, who scored a career high 43 points including 16 points and 2 assists in the three overtime periods. Between his scores and dishes, Lillard helped account for 22 of the 32 points the Blazers scored after regulation ended.
Describing a blow-by-blow of this game is nearly impossible. Describe the first time you fell in love. Describe how you felt when your child took their first step. Nothing you could put down in words would be adequate. If you have not seen the game you must find a tape, DVR, friend, stranger with open curtains...however you view it, view it. You will not see its like come along often.
The Blazers started the game short Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum. The Spurs countered with Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard in street clothes. Portland ran Allen Crabbe and Joel Freeland into the starting lineup. Freeland did well, Crabbe was mostly neutral. Neither player would end up hurting the Blazers, which is pretty much what you want with emergency substitutes.
The first period began with both teams trying to score inside but San Antonio doing it better. Absent Lopez, Tim Duncan and San Antonio's guards penetrated and posted with impunity. The Blazers had a bit more "punity", getting off good looks but finding them contested. Offensive rebounding redeemed the Blazers somewhat but it was only good for a 17-20 shortfall in the period.
In a somewhat surprising turn, Portland's bench prospered over their Spurs counterparts in a way the starters couldn't. Joel Freeland scored inside. Steve Blake hit a three and some free throws. When the starters returned the Blazers had played the Spurs fairly evenly, trying to make up the final point of their deficit. Damian Lillard took care of that with 6 points in the last 3 minutes but once again Portland's defense let them down. 3 layups and a dunk in the final 120 seconds of the half kept the Spurs up 46-44 at the half.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Blazers went to LaMarcus Aldridge in the third period. He responded with 14 huge points. That, coupled with more offensive rebounds and a general sense of hustle, kept the Blazers close even though Tim Duncan and Danny Green also had big quarters. The Spurs threw a beautiful 1-2 punch but the Blazers remained standing. San Antonio led 74-69 entering the fourth.
The Blazers got a boost from an unlikely savior in the fourth quarter as Dorell Wright rose from the dead to hit a trio of three-pointers off of fine dishes from Portland's guards. The Spurs did well covering Aldridge and keeping the Blazers contained on the boards; Wright was the price they paid. His barrage left the Blazers even at 89 with 3:41 remaining. Duncan and Green took over once more, scoring 8 points between them. Lillard matched their output exactly, scoring 8 in the final 2:10. Damian's layup with a second remaining in regulation knotted the score at 97. To overtime we went.
The first extra period was a sputtering affair. Tim Duncan scored early but the Blazers clamped down and held San Antonio to a single point in the second half of the frame. One pivotal moment came with 1:27 remaining and the Spurs up 103-97. An offensive rebound set up a Danny Green three-point attempt which went through the net cleanly, giving the Spurs a commanding 9-point lead. Further review would show that the ball left Green's hand the barest fraction of a second too late...a single frame on the replay click-through. With that bucket disallowed, the Blazers faced a more manageable 6-point deficit, closed by yet another Lillard layup, a brace of Wesley Matthews free throws, and a Lillard three splashed with 13 seconds remaining. With the score knotted at 104, we entered the second overtime.
As in the first OT, the Spurs got off to a hot start, forging a 110-104 lead with 1:59 remaining. It would have been 112-104 but a replay once again showed a Tim Duncan shot came a millisecond late and 2 more San Antonio points came off the scoreboard. With his team in dire need for the third straight time, Lillard took over once more. In consecutive possessions he scored, hit Wright for a three-pointer, then hit Steve Blake for another three. That put Portland up 112-110 with 30 seconds remaining but their defense couldn't live up to the offense. Corey Joseph scored on a baseline jumper and the third overtime was nigh.
(Just before the Blazers hit the pair of threes that brought them back, Aldridge blocked a Duncan shot in mighty fashion then dove out of bounds to save it. Ironically enough, replay would later show that Aldridge's foot came out beyond the baseline well before he got rid of the ball, but that play wasn't reviewable. Cue San Antonio fans screaming in agony.)
In the third and final extra frame the Blazers dispensed with the preliminaries and let Lillard loose from the tip. He would respond with 9 points in less than 3 minutes, his final shot a sick, contested bail-out three from the coffin corner that only he and a 12-foot tall, 6-armed deity would have any business making. That shot put the Blazers up 123-112 and San Antonio knew it was over. They subbed out their starters, Aldridge gave them a couple parting points for good measure, and the Blazers walked away with a 129-119 victory.
A couple weeks ago we wrote that Aldridge has been playing so well this season that the Blazers haven't had to push the Damian Lillard Bail-Out button. It not only got pushed tonight, it got worn out worse than the "close doors" elevator button when you're double-parked. Every time the Blazers hit it, Lillard showed up. This wasn't an "improbable stream of three-pointers" performance either. Dame blistered the Spurs with layup after layup in addition to the triples. He had the ball, the opponent, and the game in the palm of his hand tonight. It was one of the greatest performances in the history of the franchise.
Nearly as impressive was all the help Lillard got. Nobody scored like him. Plenty of Blazers had off nights. But Aldridge played defense like an evil fiend, Matthews showed up for steals, Blake and Wright hit those shots, Freeland rebounded...every time the Blazers needed a little something, somebody provided. It was a veteran, never-rattled no matter what the circumstances performance. December games mean little in the long run. December games with major players missing for both sides mean even less. But this game showed the difference between the Blazers now and the Blazers a year ago. These guys know how to win with defense, rebound, or whatever it takes.
The evening highlighted plenty of Portland flaws. They committed costly turnovers. They allowed too many offensive rebounds. They needed Aldridge to defend 3 positions instead of 1. They left San Antonio way too many open shots. Had Manu Ginobili not played like crap on toast tonight, the Spurs might have walked away with this one in regulation or either of the first two overtimes. But the Blazers didn't let any of that faze them nor did they let the victory out of their hands. You knew when the Spurs were up only 6 with 90 seconds or so remaining that Portland had a chance...more than a chance, even. This is how they walk, talk, and play this year. If there's any way to win, they'll find it.
Playing 3 overtimes consisting of 50+ minutes for Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews may cost the team tomorrow night in New Orleans. But even if Coach Stotts opted to rest all three players and more or less concede that game, it would have been worth it in order to experience this one...not just for our enjoyment, but for the confidence of the team and the confirmation of how far they've come.
--The Blazers attempted 35 threes tonight, hitting 13 for a 37% clip. Those triples provided their big edge.
--Dorell Wright and Steve Blake had excellent games off of Portland's bench. Chris Kaman and CJ McCollum definitely did not. It was night and day...the players looked great or awful.
--Only Crabbe disappointed among the starters, but Blake took his place and performed well.
--Dorell Wright's 12 points nearly equaled his point total for the entire season before tonight (16). His 4 three-pointers made did exceed the 3 he's hit in the last month and a half.
--Wesley Matthews shot 2-9 from distance but made up for it somewhat with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals.
--San Antonio wanted this game badly, playing Tim Duncan 43 minutes. This was their second triple-overtime loss in a row (117-116 to Memphis on Wednesday).
Stat Lines That Shall Never Be Forgotten
Damian Lillard 16-29, 4-9 from distance, 43 points, 6 assists, 2 steals.
LaMarcus Aldridge 13-27 (on a night he was well-guarded and had to manufacture most of his shots), 32 points, 16 rebounds, 5 steals (!), and 2 blocks.
Here's your Boxscore. Stick it into a newfangled printer, render it in 3D, and display it as your Christmas centerpiece.
Check out our Instant Recap for post-game reaction plus check all over the site for highlights from this epic contest.
Head on over to Pounding The Rock to see if they thought this game was as great as we did.
Why not celebrate the munificence of the basketball gods, Lillard and Aldridge, bench contributions, instant replay, or all of the above by helping underprivileged youth see Portland's March 30th game against the Phoenix Suns? It's easy to contribute tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here. Please help with a ticket or two (or 10!) if you can. Then you can celebrate your own munificence too!