It’s funny what the structure of a game can do to an evening of basketball. 48 minutes, four quarters, one game in a season; even the most logical of endpoints is necessarily arbitrary, and that’s just the nature of the beast. My point is that this game—the Damian shot game—was not the Damian shot game at all for most of it.
For three quarters, this was a best-case scenario against a weaker team. This was the emergence of an open-floor offense with fluid ball movement and balanced contributions. This was the third and most convincing win in the Blazers’ second three-game streak. It was the return of Nic Batum from his recent slump, posting an extremely rare 5 by 5 box score line with 11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 blocks. Cut another way, it could have been a parable for the dangers of a young team taking its foot off the gas. But it’s not any of those things, because the rookie hit the shot.
For a long time, this evening’s game felt like Terry Stotts’ vision taking shape. The Blazers finished with 25 team assists and 11 three-pointers on 29 attempts, passing with rhythm and taking the shots that emerged. And in continuing the trend that has been developing over the past several games, the bench provided solid production. Sasha Pavlcvic, Victor Claver, and Luke Babbitt all integrated themselves into the flow of the game, and Babbitt scored more than ten points for the second straight contest. Sure, it came against a Hornets team that seemed unable to get out of its own way for three quarters, but if you were looking for signs of the Blazers’ growth, you could find a few tonight.
Then the Hornets came back. It was an odd comeback, because even as the margin approached a single possession, the mood inside the Rose Garden was valedictory. J.J. Hickson was playing perhaps his best game as a professional, posting 24 points and 16 rebounds, and Batum was rounding out his stat line. But then, all of a sudden, Greivis Vasquez nearly had a triple-double, and Ryan Anderson seemingly hadn’t missed a shot. Before the crowd knew it, the Blazers had a game on their hands. And then the rookie hit the shot.
And so in a certain way, a game that might have been the most encouraging of the season—a well-rounded effort that conformed to Stotts’ stylistic preferences—became a game that Blazers fans will find even more encouraging for having nearly been lost.
As I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about, this era of Blazers basketball is taking off in fits and starts. Right now, the team is still past and future tense: they did, they were, they could be, they may. And with a few notable exceptions, there aren’t many figures in this organization who would know when a team makes that tensal switch. Maybe it happens because a young team starts moving the ball and holds on to close out a surprisngly feisty opponent. Maybe it doesn’t happen for years, because lasting change resists a single moment. Or maybe it happens when the rookie hits a shot.