Martell Webster showed the signs of battle. His left foot soaking in a tub of ice while his right was wrapped. But they hurt a little less, the small forward said, because of the way things came together.
After committing a silly foul on Kobe Bryant, something coach Nate McMillan dubbed a “miscommunication,” Webster got the chance to redeem himself. But it wasn’t a selfish thing. What Webster did Sunday was for Brandon Roy, who watched from the training room with an injured right knee. Even more so, it was for the team.
And Webster was ready. Before Sunday’s game Webster got a text message from his dad. It said: “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.”
Sunday’s win in Los Angeles puts the Blazers in control of their own destiny. By winning their final two games at home this week Portland can clinch the sixth seed in the western conference playoffs.
The scene at Staples Center was both weird and familiar. Once again the Blazers were hit with a key injury—this time it was Roy, who tweaked his knee in the first quarter—and once again they came together and rose above wicked opposition and common sense.
After sustaining the injury, which Roy said wasn’t a collision, but getting his foot stuck while wrestling with Ron Artest, Roy tried to re-enter the game in the second quarter. The attempt would be short lived. He explained afterwards in the training room.
Thrust into Roy’s spot were Webster and Rudy Fernandez, each who’ve struggled mightily in the last few weeks, and each who played admirably Sunday in the place of their injured leader. Fernadez scored nine points, made two important threes, and even managed to goad Ron Artest into two offensive fouls.Webster, meanwhile, made three of the biggest, most pressure-filled free throws of his career. They capped a wild sequence in which the Blazers seemed destined to win, then to lose, only to triumph in the most unlikely of ways.
With just under a minute to play the Blazers were up, 86-81. Kobe Bryant, who’d been relatively quiet most of the afternoon, fired off and hit a deep three. Andre Miller brought the ball up and was whistled for a charge of Sasha Vujacic. As expected, Bryant got the ball on the ensuing possession, drove, scored and was fouled. He completed the three point play and the Lakers, in front of a raucous home crowd, had re-taken the lead for the first time since early in the quarter.
In the absence of Roy, the Blazers went inside to LaMarcus Aldridge, as they had been doing all game. Aldridge missed by the rebound was tapped in by a flying Marcus Camby. The Blazers led 88-87 with 12.7 seconds to play.
On the ensuing possession, Webster fouled Kobe Bryant—again, the result of a defensive communication breakdown according to coach McMillan. In the penalty, with the crowd wildly chanting “MVP! MVP!” Bryant stepped to the line.
He missed them both.
But the Lakers gathered the rebound. In a scrum, Andre Miller, who became visibly upset with himself afterwards for the mistake, fouled Derek Fisher, sending him to the line for two. Fisher missed the first and made the second, tying the game at 88 with 3.1 second to play.
After a timeout, the Blazers tried to go inside to Aldridge, but the Laker defense denied the entry pass. Webster came and caught the ball near half court, took a few running steps in, and instead of trying to split the defense as Fisher anticipated, he rose up for a three, causing Fisher to draw the foul.
Webster went to the line for three free throws and sunk them all.
The Lakers final play with 3.1 seconds broke down and center Pau Gasol was left to heave up an ugly three. After the final nail-biting moments, Webster headed over to do the post-game interview on ABC. And while he was the man of the hour, the Blazers got contributions across the board.
Aldridge carried the scoring load and was as feisty down low as he’s been all season. Along with 24 points the Blazers power forward pulled down 11 rebounds.
Marcus Camby was a beast down low on both ends. He tallied 10 points, 17 rebounds, seven of which were offensive, and blocked four shots.
Andre Miller made crucial, run-stopping baskets as has become his M.O. Nicolas Batum played stifling defense on Kobe Bryant, helping to hold the superstar to eight of 23 shooting from the field.
Indeed Sunday the Blazers treated the national TV audience to some of the best and most gutsy play they are so capable of. In terms of confidence—both for Martell Webster himself and the team’s winning without Brandon Roy—the Blazers should be riding high.
There’s just one last thing.
Sunday’s win greatly lessens Portland’s chances of meeting the Lakers in the first round. The Blazers have in their hands the sixth seed—all they have to do is win twice more at home. The seventh seed is also a very real possibility now—more likely than eighth. But one must wonder if these new potential matchups—Utah comes to mind—would be worse than a few more games against the Lakers.
- Portland has won four out of five games against the Lakers for the first time since 1997.