The Trail Blazers played one of their best start-to-finish games of the year, battling through foul trouble early in the fourth and keeping their heads up to pick off the West-leading San Antonio Spurs 109-100 on their own court.
Some people were asking a few games ago: Would the Blazers get to 10 losses or 30 wins first? They answered in impressive fashion. There are still 3 more games on this brutal road trip, but what a way to start!
When LaMarcus Aldridge gets cooking, you smell it for miles. His left-handed up-and-unders are really, really nice. Earlier in his career, he would have a wide-open path to the lane and choose the jumper, but more and more, even if it’s after a moment’s hesitation, he’s putting his head down and going north-south. Lunchmeat ate his way to 26 and 13 with a block. LaMVP, indeed.
Wesley Matthews had some clutch threes in the fourth. Momentum-changing, heart-squeezing threes that got the Blazers over the hump when they desperately needed it. His 24 points and 6 rebounds looked even better on the court than it did in the box score, if that’s even possible considering he went 9-14 overall and 6-7 from downtown. Those are just silly bits.
Damian Lillard had an uncharacteristic poor three-point shooting night (1-5), but made up for it in other ways, keeping the Spurs on their heels and finding his teammates for his 21 points, 5 boards, and 8 assists. His +16 was second-best only to…
…Robin Lopez, who had only 8 and 3 in this game, but whose presence was undeniable. He may have only had one block, but his 5 fouls kept the Spurs from feeling comfortable in the paint. His 34 minutes was more than season average, but Portland needed a big body, and he filled that role.
Nicolas Batum’s bad games really aren’t all that bad anymore, are they? He only took 6 shots, opting to look for his teammates instead. Last year, that wouldn’t have worked. This year, with Aldridge, Matthews, and Lillard having career-years and Mo Williams off the bench, it’s just fine. Batum finished with 9-9-7 and a block.
Mo Williams has a role on this team, and he plays it well. He can break down defenses and cause chaos (usually the good kind). Is his shot selection great? Not always. Would the Trail Blazers be where they are without him (or someone very much like him)? No. he had 13 on 4-13 shooting.
CJ McCollum’s floater is like a scoop of fresh ice cream: delicious. He didn’t do a ton, but the Blazers didn’t need him to. He was 2-3 with 4 points.
Joel Freeland had a bad game, but took up space. He never looks incompetent, and unless Meyers Leonard makes a big leap, Freeland’s minutes won’t be threatened any time soon. He had 5 boards and no points in his 13 minutes.
Thomas Robinson played one of his better, if flashless, games. He was 2-2 with 4 points and 3 rebounds with a block, bringing energy to a second unit that needs it from their taller guys. He no longer is an offensive liability, as he no longer starts spinning like a washing machine every time he gets the ball.
Both teams came ready to play from the opening tip. Through the early battle, the Blazers only got their first lead late in the first quarter, but gave it up to go into the 2nd tied at 27.
The Blazers took a 5-point lead into halftime, but the fouls started trending pretty heavily toward favoring the Spurs. This was a development that continued through the third quarter, helped by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich getting two technicals and ejected from the game with his team down by 10. That became 12 after Lillard hit both technical free throws. Popovich’s display seemed to affect both the officials and the Spurs, and they went on a tear, erasing the deficit and getting a 78-77 lead back on an insane Manu Ginobili knuckleball with 0:00 left on the clock.
The fourth began with fouls. And more fouls. And more. The Trail Blazers found themselves in the penalty with 9 minutes to go in the game. With the Blazers down 4 and sporting 5 fouls to the Spurs’ 0, it would have been very easy to hang your head and chalk up a road loss against on the league’s best teams to the officials. But this is the BLAZERS we’re talking about here! They clawed and scratched and pulled their way into treading water, until Matthews hit a second-chance three with 2:49 to go to push the lead to 7… then ANOTHER a little over a minutes later to pump the lead to 9. Those broke the Spurs’ back, and it was game over from then on.
The 30-9 Trail Blazers have no time to celebrate as they take on the 24-17 Mavericks (fresh off a win of their own) in Dallas at 5:30 p.m. PST.
- Batum’s lone block came against Tim Duncan. In the post. Not of the chasedown variety, but of the I-am-right-in-front-of-you-and-timed-my-jump-perfectly variety. It was both unexpected and gorgeous.
- Lillard continued to get punished at the rim, being thrown to the ground three times before he got the whistle. I always wondered what the deal was with the armor-looking sleeves Lillard wears on his knees and quads. I’m not wondering anymore.
- LaMarcus Aldridge has evolved. We’ve known that for a while now… but for someone that screamed “DRIVE!!!” at the TV more times than I can count as he lofted faders, it’s really something else seeing him plow his way to the middle (and find success, too!).
- The Blazers as a team have evolved, and we knew THAT already, too… but I really didn’t think they would recover from getting in the penalty, on the road, against the Spurs, with 9 freaking minutes left in the game. Shows what I know.
- Also, the Blazers “only” took 16 threes to the Spurs’ 20, but both teams hit 8 of them. It’s not often the Blazers limit their distance shooting like that, but they played a measured game, and it worked in their favor.
- The Oregonian’s Mike Tokito reported that Spurs fans were clapping at the end of the game. A classy organization and a classy fanbase recognizing a really good game between two of the league’s best teams. Sometimes, your faith in professional basketball is restored. That was one of those moments.