What can be said about Friday night? Let’s start by looking at the stats. Portland gets out shot 51% to 47% from the field, and 48% to 27% from three. Against the best team in the league, those kinds of shooting stats might mean a loss. The Blazers make up the difference by grabbing 12 offensive rebounds, and those offensive boards lead to 10 more field goal attempts. Those ten extra shots at the hoop might be the difference maker, right? Here’s my answer, who cares.
Who cares how Portland won. Really, they shouldn’t have won, so trying to look at stats to figure out how it happened is basically a waste of time. The Blazers won on Friday for two reasons. Reason number one: they never gave up. And reason number two: they called the perfect play at the perfect time and executed it perfectly. They didn’t play a perfect game, not by any stretch, but an NBA game is 48 minutes long. If this game had been 47 minutes and 59.1 seconds long, San Antonio would have been the winners. It wasn’t, and they weren’t. And it’s those .9 seconds that made all the difference.
And it’s those .9 seconds that belong to Nicolas Batum. But Nic doesn’t get all the credit. Andre Miller get’s at least as much credit as Nic. After all he chucked the ball at the rim that Batum guided home over his countryman Tony Parker, and it was Dre that picked Parker clean just before he crossed half court with 32.9 seconds remaining. Also, give Wesley Matthews a ton of credit. He manned up Manu Ginobili and created a steal and a run out with 7.9 seconds left that allowed Nic to tie the game. The reply showed Manu either dribbled the ball of his own foot or Wesley’s foot, but either way the steal was created by heady defense, so give Matthews credit for making a game saving play. Give LaMarcus Aldridge credit. He missed two free throws with a minute and forty seconds remaining in the game that would have cut a three point deficit to one. Without his misses, as he jokingly observed following the game, Nicolas wouldn’t have been able to do the things he did. While we’re at it, give Brandon Roy some credit too. He did basically nothing for his third game in a row, but was put in for the final play as a decoy. If he hadn’t made so many game winners in his career, maybe the Spurs wouldn’t have keyed in on him, leaving Nicolas to make the game winning cut to the hoop. And why not, let’s give Patty Mills some credit too. After being a big part of some big wins not a few weeks ago, Patty has seen his minutes go from limited to none. Instead of complaining or looking sad on the bench, he’s reverted to his old role, this time with two towels. Give him credit for keeping the team fired up when they were down six, and then four, and then two, and for being the first bench guy on the floor following Nic’s big bucket.
So there you go. Friday was that special kind of game. Two Playoff teams playing hard, battling basket for basket most of the way, playing the game like it’s meant to be played, blah, blah, blah. Nobody is going to remember a thing about this game except for the final 33 seconds. That’s fine by me.
What’s to take away for the Blazers Friday? In my opinion, there’s a lot. First of all, they can play with and beat the best team in the league. Sure they needed some luck, but that only gets you so far. Down 10 with five and a half to go in the fourth, Portland could have easily folded it up and gone home, content in knowing that they put up a gallant fight against the league’s best. This team hasn’t played like that at all this year, even when down double figures to teams they should beat, and this late in the season is not the time to start. Friday Portland showed that if they have an identity it is that of a team that will play hard no matter what. What else can the Blazers take away from Friday? How about having faith in their coach. Nate McMillan catches a lot of flack, sometimes for his clock management, sometimes for his subbing patterns, sometimes because he’s stubborn and he doesn’t like being second guessed by the media and the fans. Forget all of that for a minute, go back to your TV or your computer, and watch Portland’s final play one more time. San Antonio had no chance to stop that basket from being scored. That was the absolute perfect play. A catch and shoot would have been a heave, and would have been well covered because that was what San Antonio was looking for. Sending a leaper with long arms at the rim who is going to be covered by a smaller player because the Spurs were sending their bigger players and better defenders at the shooters allowed Portland to get a high percentage shot. How often can you look at a final shot with .9 seconds on the clock, and say that it was a good look. Almost never. That play is on Nate.
This is also more than just a morale win or a confidence booster, this is a win that Portland needed. San Antonio is in the Playoffs, and are basically a lock on the number one seed in the West. Portland is also practically in, but every win still matters. It feels good to get this one, and in the fashion it was had, there is likely none better. But to hit this tough upcoming road trip with a come-from-behind thievery on the best team in the league has to make these Blazers feel like if the Playoffs were to start tomorrow they would be ready.
The Blazers take to the road for a brutal three-game swing that begins Sunday in Oklahoma City, and continues on Monday and Wednesday in San Antonio and New Orleans.
Just a few quick thoughts:
- Spurs forward Steve Novak played one minute and 27 seconds, and had a single stat is his score line. One turnover. The difference between winning and losing.
- Nicolas Batum has gone over 20 points in each of the last three games. It is his first three-game stretch of 20 or more points in his career. Friday was also Nic’s very first buzzer beater in the NBA.
- In playoff seeding news, New Orleans Hornet’s power forward David West was lost for the season due to a knee injury. West joins Memphis Grizzly Rudy Gay in the category of center piece to a team trailing Portland in the Playoff race to go down for the season. Apparently the Blazers aren’t the only team in the NBA that has to deal with injuries.
- Andre Miller was probably the MVP of Friday’s game in my opinion. Following the game, Dre, who is a very reserved and soft spoken individual, gave probably his most animated post game interview, telling Oregonian beat writer Jason Quick that his lob to Nicolas was the best pass of his career, and that Friday was the best win of his career.
- On a personal note, I was not in the building when this happened in 2008-09. And I have to say that Friday’s game was easily the best finish in an NBA game that I have ever seen. And by best I mean the absolute craziest.