With 15.9 seconds remaining and victory assured, Nate McMillan pulled Marcus Camby. It was time for his curtain call.
Playing without Brandon Roy, who is out indefinitely with a torn meniscus, the Blazers needed more firepower. And with a whopping 30 points to go along with his 13 rebounds, Camby answered the came out with guns ablaze. In doing so, he also assured the Blazers would not face the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
As the defensive stalwart walked to the bench the Rose Garden faithful became unhinged. What began as a roar slithered into a lasting and powerful chant of “Marcus Camby!”
Camby said afterward that he hadn’t gotten such a response since his days in The Garden. Asked when he last scored 30, Camby’s mind went blank—it had been some time. A reporter chimed in: December 2nd, 2005.
The usually defensive-minded center scored by cleaning up, getting to the line, making jump shots and even attacking the rim. And while he was obviously satisfied with his individual achievement, Camby also pointed to his teammates.
“They should’ve been chanting the team’s name,” he said. Camby went on to highlight the defense, calling it the real reason for the 103-95 victory over Oklahoma City. He was right on.
Throughout the first half the Thunder scored at will. They were aggressive, made tough shots and got to the line. Kevin Durant came out on a roll. At the half he had 21, nine of which came at the free throw line.
But as the Blazers reemerged to begin the second half, something changed.
Perhaps they sensed the moment—that a loss or a trip back to Los Angeles was too much to bear. Down 43-51 at the half, Portland roared out of the gates, scoring the eight straight points to pull even. They focused collectively on Durant.
The young superstar scored just nine points the rest of the way and got to the line just once—on a Nate McMillan technical. The Blazer coach pointed to a renewed commitment to team defensive rules, rather than the “me vs. you” mentality his team began the game with. At first the Blazers seemed to want to test themselves against Durant, McMillan explained. Later they just wanted to win.
Tied at 88-all with 5:28 to play, the Blazers re-doubled their defensive efforts and scored the game’s next 12 points. Up 100-88 with just 2:29 remaining, all they had to do was hold on.
After learning earlier in the day that Roy could miss significant time—if not the playoffs entirely—coach McMillan was buoyed somewhat by the win. Asked about Roy’s status afterwards the coach could do little more than crack an ironic smile and shrug. It was almost as if the news was to be expected in this freakish, unrelenting season of bizzare injuries. McMillan also pointed with pride to the team’s 50th win this season. A benchmark of good teams, he explained.
Durant, who was clearly dejected by the loss as he loafed slowly around the visitor’s locker room, insisted that the Blazers didn’t guard him any differently in the second half—he just missed shots.
And every bit as good as Camby was, his teammates were right there with him. Andre Miller turned in another fine performance, something coach McMillan made a special point of nothing. Miller filled up the stat sheet with 22 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four steals.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who would’ve usually been the focal point of the offense with Brandon Roy in street clothes, did not take an absorbent amount of shots. He simply made them when they counted. Aldridge finished with 15 points and five boards.
Wile Roy’s status going forward is murky at best, the Blazers’ playoff seeding opportunities are becoming a bit clearer. Monday’s win assured Portland no worse than a seven seed (Oklahoma City’s loss locked the Thunder into eighth). A win Wednesday over the Warriors will secure the Blazers the sixth seed.
Who they will meet, regardless of where they end up, is another matter.
Ezra developed this playoff opponent finder cheat-sheet:
Dallas have locked up the two seed.- Portland could still meet Phoenix, but for that to happen the Suns would have to defeat both Denver and Utah in a back-to-back to do so.
- It’s doubtful (yet not impossible) Portland will play Dallas. As previously discussed, Phoenix has a tough schedule, so odds are they’ll get Utah or Denver. It’s not 100%, just the more likely scenario.
- If the Blazers lose on Wednesday, they’ll likely get the 7th seed, which means Dallas is the probable opponent. Now the big question: should they rest their starters on Wednesday in order to avoid Utah or Denver and get Dallas (with rested players) instead?
- Rudy getting the start means he was the 14th different player who has started for the team this season. That is insane.
- Portland’s 33 wins against the Western Conference are its most in a season since 1999-2000 (38).
- The Trail Blazers have posted back-to-back 50-win seasons for the first time since 1999-2000 and 2000-01.