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15 Most Important Games Of The Season: Big Win Comes With A Big Price

  1. Written by: DHawes22  / avg. rating: 5.0

    It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of an NBA season. There's little time for reflection when the focus is always on the next game.

    With the 2009-2010 season behind us, now is a good time to count down the 15 games that shaped the season and, possibly, the future of the franchise. Game No. 5: Big Win Comes With A Big Price

    Links: Game Recap || Game Notes || Photo Gallery

    The bright lights of a sold out arena, a primetime, national television audience watching your every step, cameras flashing spasmodically and celebrities sitting courtside more famous than many of the players on the court, this is all a part of the Staples Center aura. Playing in the limelight elevates some to their absolute pinnacle while, at the same time, crushes the confidence in others.

    For the Trail Blazers, playing under a microscope of the NBA’s watchful eye has gotten the better of them since ascending as to one of the league’s up-and-coming teams. No one will ever forget the 20 point drubbing at the hands of the Lakers on opening night 2009 or the humiliating 108-81 defeat suffered against the Rockets in their first playoff game in six years. But April 11th, 2010 would offer up the Trail Blazers a shot at redemption as the matchup between the bitter rivals would be featured in the NBA Sunday Showcase on ABC, the first time Portland had played a nationally televised game on ABC since 2003.

    After their attempt to sweep the season series with the Mavericks fell short just two days earlier, the Trail Blazers found themselves in an unenviable position: defeat the Lakers in Los Angeles or fall an entire game behind the Spurs for the 8th seed, meaning a first round date with said Lakers. But the Trail Blazers seemed to be clicking at the right time, winning 16 of their 23 contests since acquiring Marcus Camby, and were as healthy as they were going to get for the rest of the season. Just when the cloudy skies appeared to be opening up in favor of the rays of sunshine, the thunderstorm known as the 2010-11 season quickly unleashed a downpour of misfortune at the 4:05 mark of the first quarter.

    “My foot got caught and my knee kept going,” Roy said after the game. “I was trying to go out there because we were trying to fight for a higher seed, but I was like, ‘Let me just pass it, I don’t feel like I can move.’”

    Similar to how Greg Oden was injured (contesting a lay-up), Brandon Roy was doing something he had routinely done hundreds of times over his playing career; playing ball denial defense in the post. Freakishly, Roy and Ron Artest got tangled up and Roy’s right knee took the brunt of the collision. At first, many thought it was nothing more than a stinger, easily walked off in a matter of minutes, maybe a mild sprain at worse. But Rip City’s worst fears were confirmed when Brandon took himself out of action late in the second quarter due to the pain and would not return for the rest of the afternoon. With Roy sidelined, the question wasn’t will someone else step up, rather who will be the one to rise to the occasion.

    "We’re hoping that it’s not too serious," said McMillan of Roy's injury. "We decided to hold him the second half and get some x-rays and we’ll look at him again tomorrow.”

    Even without Roy for most of the first half, Portland scored the last seven points of the second quarter to find themselves only down one, 46-45, at the half; fast forward to the fourth quarter. After Andre Miller seemingly closed the door on a surreal victory in Los Angeles with a lay-up at the 54 second mark, giving Portland an 86-81 lead, everything turned upside down.

    Living up to his reputation as the undisputed “closer” of the NBA, Kobe Bryant swished a deep three-point shot and drove the lane for an “and-1” on consecutive possessions, wiping away Portland’s lead in a just 23 seconds. Unfazed by the instantaneous momentum shift, Marcus Camby finished a rebound layup, the most important of his 17 rebounds that afternoon, to swing the lead back in Portland’s favor, 88-87, with 12.1 seconds to play. The emotional roller coaster was in full force but it was nowhere near over yet.

    Immediately after the Blazers regained the lead, Martell Webster inexplicably chased down Bryant in the corner and committed an intentional foul, sending one of the game’s most clutch players in history to the charity stripe for a chance to ice it. Just as indescribable as the decision to foul had to be the fact Bryant not only front rimmed both freebies, but Pau Gasol was able to grab the rebound and kick it out to Derek Fisher who pump faked Andre Miller into committing another foul. Fisher, a career 82% free throw shooter and known primetime performer, shockingly missed the third Laker foul shot in a row before restoring order and tying the game at 88-88 with 4.7 seconds left. It was now put up or shut up time for a Trail Blazers team ready to finally break through under the limelight. But with Roy unavailable, who would have the confidence to take and make the game winning shot?

    “He was like, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going,’” Webster said. “And I kind of looked at it and he was like, ‘This is the time for you to be a winner. Go out there and encourage your teammates and don’t worry about what you can’t control.’ And that’s what I did.”

    After Portland’s initial option,LaMarcus Aldridge, was smothered by the Los Angeles defense, Webster ran to the near side of the court, a few feet behind the three-point line, where he caught the ball and took a running, one-legged heaving attempt from three. While fans and spectators alike were stuck in an emotional state somewhere between bewilderment and amazement, Webster saw something in the defense no one else did. As Fisher tried to close out on Webster’s drive, he stuck his hand out, allowing Marty to jump straight through his extended arm, resulting in a foul and three, pressure packed free throws. As if he were putting the ghost’s of Trail Blazers past prime time games to rest, Webster calmly walked to the line and drilled three consecutive shots, giving Portland a 91-88 victory over L.A, the season series win for the first time in 13 seasons, and putting the Blazers back into a tie for seventh out West.

    "That was just crazy," said Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan. "We fouled Kobe, they foul us, Kobe missed two free throws, Fisher missed a free throw. I mean, just a crazy ending. I’m glad we were on the winning side of that though.”

    Although Portland exorcised a lot of demons in their win over Los Angeles, the win came at a steep price. Heading into the postseason, the Trail Blazers now were faced with the reality of heading into the playoffs without their undisputed leader. While the loss of Oden dampened early hopes of a championship run, the additional loss of Roy, or a non-100 percent Roy, hindered aspirations of advancing past the first round for the first time since 2000. There’s no doubt the remaining players under Coach McMillan’s watch will fight to the bitter end, but grit and heart can only take a team so far in a seven game series.

    “We have to have him. We have to have him,” Coach Nate McMillan said, referring to the long-term picture of the playoffs. “Definitely, what is important is the playoffs, having him right for that. But if we can play him in these (regular season) games we will certainly look at it, but having him right for the playoffs is THE most important thing.”

    Previous Important Games
    #6 || #7 || #8 || #9 || #10 || #11 || #12 || #13 || #14 || #15

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