With five minutes and twenty-four seconds remaining in the second to last quarter of Saturday’s game, Dirk Nowitzki missed a 10-foot jumper, and Portland, as they had been all afternoon, was slow to find the ball. Shawn Marion snagged it, found Dirk, who had drifted back to behind the three-point line, and the big German drilled a three. It was the story of the game. The Blazers had played good defense for most of a possession, only to not claim the rebound on the missed shot, and have that unclaimed rebound turn into a big Maverick bucket. Dirk’s three put Dallas up 16, and this game was over. Three minutes later, Peja Stojakovic knocked down a three, pushing the lead to 23. Over the course of the three minutes between Dirk’s three and Peja’s, Portland had failed to score a single basket, including missing twice at the rim. Not only was this game over, it was becoming embarrassing.
In easily the biggest game of 2010-11, Portland was putting up their worst performance of the season. Blazer fans were no doubt scratching their heads in disbelief, and making plans for the off-season. No way a team that shot 36% through two quarters, and 29% through three, could overcome an 18-point lead against a team that was getting every and any shot they could possibly want.
Stand up Blazer fans; you didn’t go home. And neither did Portland. If I can guarantee you one thing: the kind of comeback that the Blazers put together in the fourth quarter isn’t supposed to happen. NBA teams, especially in the Playoffs, especially teams that imagine themselves to be in the championship picture, aren’t supposed to get beat by 20 in the closing frame of a big game. So take one away from Dallas for choking in historic fashion. I can guarantee you one other thing: this kind of comeback, though not a fluke per say, won’t happen again. If Portland gets down by 23 against Dallas in either game five or game six, they will not be able to come back again.
I’m not trying to be a killjoy, far from it. I’m just trying to be realistic. Saturday’s game, and by Saturday’s game I mean the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, was hands down the most incredible thing I have ever seen. But Portland survived, more than won, and though Dallas might be showing their vaunted inability to close, they’ve still got two more home games to try and win this series. Portland has the rest of this afternoon to celebrate, but that’s it. Monday night is another huge game. A win in Dallas for the Blazers means they get to come back and try to win the series in the Rose Garden. A loss in Dallas means the Mavericks can undo all that was done Saturday by winning a knock-out game in a building that will be 100% against them. Switching to Dallas with the series tied 2-2 means its a whole new ballgame. But it’s also now a one game series.
But it’s still Saturday, and so for now we can bask in what just happened at the RG. Like I said, it was absolutely unbelievable. I was there, and I hardly believe it happened. Portland came into this series with a big question mark hanging over them. Brandon Roy. What can he do? Where’s his head? Can he be the difference for the Blazers? Should he even be on the court? After two games he was broken, and clearly not the guy that was going to be able to put Portland over the top. Then game three happened. Instead of being booed, which some people feared would happen, he was given a standing ovation by the home crowd, and he feed off it, helping Portland claim an all important first win. But let’s get serious for a second Portland fans. Rejoicing over 16 points for B Roy is a significant lowering of the bar. Brandon needed to have a big game, a real big game, for the Blazers to have a chance game four, a game that wasn’t going to have the same homecoming feel as game three.
Through three quarters it hadn’t happened. Entering the fourth, Brandon had scored six points, Portland was down 18, and like I said, this game, this series, this season, was over. But there’s a reason NBA games are four quarters long. You get those final 12 minutes so you can have the kind of drama, and the kind of story that we all saw Saturday. And it was drama. More drama than anybody really needed, but the type of drama we all wanted.
There were many times in Saturday’s final frame where I was sure that Portland was not going to come all the way back. Dallas kept knocking down jumpers, keeping the lead at double digits. Dirk Nowitzki was still getting the momentum killing calls and knocking down the freebies. Jason Terry drilled a corner three at the shot clock buzzer with four minutes to go to jump a seven-point lead to 10. But for each Dallas play there was Brandon Roy with an answer on offense. Along with the offense from Brandon there was some defense. At one point in the fourth, the Mavericks missed five straight from the field, and Dallas scored only two points in the final three and a half minutes of play.
Defense made the Blazers’ closing run possible. But Brandon Roy made it happen. Brandon scored 18 points in the night’s final 12 minutes, hitting eight shots. Beyond scoring, which he did like crazy, he ran the offense, handing out four assists. For all the absolutely bonkers moments coming down the home stretch, the shot that we won’t soon forget came with 1:06 to go, and Portland trailing 82-78. Here’s the thing about a four point deficit, it’s a two possession game. With Portland needing a bucket, a stop, and a bucket, just to tie, Dallas was still in pretty good shape, seeing as, with the 24-second shot clock they could basically burn half the time remaining without really having to worry about giving up the lead. We all know what happened at the 1:06 mark; the four-point play. But here’s the most miraculous thing: Brandon’s three and one was the perfect play at the perfect time. Four-point plays are extremely rare, almost to the point of being mythic. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m willing to bet it’s very infrequent that a four-point play evens a game. Especially in the last two minutes of a Playoff game. Dallas still had the chance to play spoiler, but couldn’t, and Brandon Roy iced maybe the most emotional chapter in his Blazer history with a running bank shot over Shawn Marion.
When Jason Terry’s open look at a heartbreaking three grazed the rim and missed at the horn, there was no doubt in the mind of any Blazer fan that they’d seen something incredible. What it means for the series won’t be clear until Monday, at the earliest. But what it means for Portland and Blazer fans is that there will be at least one more home game this season. That, in and of itself, is pretty amazing.
Just one quick thought:
- The Blazers have still gotten very little from Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, or Rudy Fernandez. Rudy’s the most difficult of that group. Nic and Gerald give Portland strong minutes on defense, and Rudy doesn’t. Rudy needs minutes and touches to get in rhythm and be effective, but his minutes shouldn’t come at the expense of productive minutes on the defensive end from Nicolas or Gerald Wallace. The Blazers have to feel like they’ve got an ace in the hole, considering that a few of their key guys on offense haven’t really come to play. But they’ve also got to figure out a way to get those guys going.