Although there have been a number of close games in the Rose Garden this season, it feels like a while since all of Portland's fans have been on their feet for a few final nervous minutes. But as the fourth quarter wound down Thursday there they were, exercising the collective will.
In a number of ways the Blazer's 96-93 comeback victory over the Spurs was reminiscent of last season, where fans consistently stood up to witness fourth quarter deficits be overcome. And like many of those nail-biters, this one took a bit of luck.
After Andre Miller missed a free throw that would've given the Blazers a two-possession lead, the Blazer defense sputtered. Manu Ginobili--who was putting on his own vintage performance--was allowed a wide open three in the corner to tie. It was the shot the Spurs wanted and they got it. But Ginobili's attempt rimmed out. Later, coach McMillan admitted his team was somewhat fortunate:
On the other hand, Portland had a handfull of reasons to be proud. Before tonight the Spurs were 23-4 when taking a lead into the fourth quarter. The Blazers flipped the script, outscoring San Antonio 30 to 19 in the final period.
The win also washed away the bad taste lest after Wednesday's thrashing in Utah. On the second night of back-to-backs the Blazers have amassed the unlikely record of of nine and three.
Perhaps most impressive is the way each member of the Spurs Big Three (Ginobili, Duncan and Parker) was out-dueled by his Blazer counterpart (Webster, Aldridge and Miller). In two of those the matchups the young up-and-comer bested his veteran opponent.
Of the group, certainly the Man of the Hour was Webster, who did what Ginobili could not: sink a critical three. Webster, who nailed all five of his three point attempts, kept his cool and knocked down four game-clinching free throws. The sequence, as coach McMillan noted, was probably the most pressure-filled moments of Webster's young career. He talked about the game's final moments:
After all the press had gone I also asked Martell what outplaying star veterans (he called them "legends") means to him and his young team.
LaMarcus Aldridge added some late-game pressure on Martell's free throws by missing two of his own. (After the game Nicolas Batum joked with Aldridge that he if made the free throws he would've gotten 30). Despite that lapse, the Blazers' power forward played an otherwise steely game. He finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, hitting numerous late-game shots during the Blazers' comeback charge. Against Tim Duncan, Aldridge came out with more points (28 to 21) and more rebounds (13 to 12). But unlike Webster, Aldridge played it safe when asked what it means to get the better legendary opposition (he did, however, crack a big smile):
Early in the game Tony Parker was running circles around the Blazer defense, and Steve Blake in particular. But when push came to shove, Andre Miller was more effective. Miller got the Blazers out of an early hole by pushing the fast break, and guided the team late (when Parker was nowhere to be found). It was Miller who orchestrated the Webster three, the game's biggest play.
Miller dribbled into the lane, swooped below the basket, and while falling down he found Nic Batum in the corner. Batum swung the ball to the open Webster, who drained the open look. Miller finished with 11 points and 10 assists to Tony Parker's 18 and six.
The win was Portland's fifth straight over the Spurs, and like the others it was extraordinarily meaningful. On one hand, playing without Brandon Roy (who could return Saturday) any win over a playoff bound team is a good one. But as San Antonio has so thoroughly dominated the Blazers until recently, any payback feels especially sweet.
- I wanted badly to talk to Tony Parker about his fellow countryman Nic Batum. Unfortunately Parker dressed quickly and bolted while I was still in the Blazers locker room. All we're left with is Richard Jefferson:
- Juwan Howard had 10 points and eight rebounds.
- Jerryd Bayless had both of his knees wrapped and iced afterwards, and with help from the trainer, said he had a quad contusion, but he seems determined to keep playing.