When you find yourself scrapping three hundred words with 57 seconds left in a game either something terrible has occurred or something truly amazing has happened.
A paragraph breaking down the failure to convert two baskets that would have taken the lead with two minutes left in the game leading to yet another Chris Bosh jumper; a line wondering how a team can miss four straight shots right at the basket with eighty-seconds to play; a rhetorical question about whether any of them thought they could actually win this game.
All of it gladly deleted in favor of one word: Witness.
When I found out earlier this week that I would be covering the game tonight it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen LeBron James play basketball in person. I am old enough that I should have caught him in town by now, but for one reason or another I never had the opportunity. I wondered how he would perform knowing it would be the late-night TNT game and he plays well in the Rose Garden. I wondered what sort of outrageous passes he might throw, what defensive plays he might make, what fast breaks he might finish. And as I watched him warm up taking left-corner three after left-corner three, nailing all but a couple, as the rest of the players on the court worked on low-post moves or free throws, I forgot I was on Media Row and was just incredibly excited to watch LeBron James play basketball.
I had the shirt years ago, but tonight I would become a Witness.
Only, it wasn’t LeBron James who would capture the attention of twenty-thousand fans at the Rose Garden tonight. Though flirting heavily with a triple-double (15 pts, 10 reb, nine asst) his game was fairly pedestrian. For him, anyway. Yes, he made a behind-the-back play that made me wish I could skip back five-seconds on my Tivo, he stole the ball twenty-seconds into the second half and again with the third quarter winding down, and connected on a dunk to end the half.
But even with a 12-point lead and seven minutes to play, he and the Heat couldn’t beat the Blazers.
Instead, the crowd and the TNT audience witnessed Nicolas Batum taking control of this game and doing every single thing the Blazers needed to beat the defending champs. In 42 minutes we witnessed an efficient 8-of-15 shooting performance (28 points), seven crucial rebounds, five well-timed assists, plus two steals and a blocked shot for good measure. It was Batum’s most complete game of the season and it lead to a nine-game home winning streak that any team in the league would be proud of.
If Batum hadn’t put his finger prints and gaudy numbers all over this game, the night would have well-deservedly belonged to Wesley Matthews. Wes played incredibly tough defense on James while carrying some of the offensive burden for the team as they struggled to climb back from 12-points down in the fourth quarter. Scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half, Matthews fueled the Blazers’ offensive comeback as they outscored Miami 53-38 in the second half. Punctuated by back-to-back three point makes with under a minute to play, Matthews secured the one-point lead with twenty-six seconds left in the game. Tonight Blazers fans witnessed a scrappy defensive effort by Matthews only outdone but his well-timed shots.
In the locker room Batum was asked what the thought of Wesley’s final shot. Smiling he said, “Well, I thought ‘No! No! Nooooo! YESSSS!’”.
The Blazers beat the Miami Heat for the first time since 2008 in Portland, putting on an incredible performance for basketball fans to witness.
And now what you came here for, Maddison’s take:
- Portland is 12-3 in the last 15 games, tied for second in the league over the last 15 games (LAC 13-2; IND 12-3)
- The nine game win streak is the longest at the Rose Garden since 2009
- LaMarcus Aldridge had a strong night too, collecting 15 rebounds and matching a season-high
- Portland held Miami to 31.6% behind the arc
- Portland’s FG% of 37.5 was the second-lowest in a win
- The national anthem was on point, saxophone guy nailed it