Batum's Game Winner Stuns Spurs
Nicolas Batum's heroics on Friday night will go down in Trail Blazers' history.
Not only was it one of the greatest late-game comebacks ever, and not only was it set up by two Batum free throws with 0.9 seconds left, but it was one of the greatest plays in franchise history. And, it all happened in front of his mother, who heads back to France on Saturday. That flight, like our flight to Oklahoma City, will probably seem a lot shorter.
It was a magical final 1:22 of the game, and rarely am I left speechless at any moment of an NBA game. Trailing 96-90, and with the steady, experienced San Antonio Spurs set to add to their league-best 57-14 record, the Trail Blazers turned the tables and set the Rose Garden on its ear.
San Antonio was in prime position to finish off what would have been a statement victory for them. They had the ball, with :40 seconds left, leading 96-92. Andre Miller then picked the pocket of Tony Parker and scored. 96-94 with 30.5 seconds left.
The Blazers weren't in a position to have to foul, and Manu Ginobili decided to work the clock before kicking the play into motion. Wesley Matthews then set him up perfectly, faked left defensively, darted right, and swiped the ball away. Matthews, instead of attacking the rim, kicked it back to Andre Miller, who tried to then drop it back to Matthews. In a wild scrum that followed, Batum was fouled on the arm with 0.9 seconds left. He calmly drilled two huge free throws to tie the game at 96-96.
The Spurs, who are always so clutch, then attempted to lob a pass to Ginobili, who was going to try and get off a game winner. But, the pass was too long and sailed out of bounds without anyone touching it. The Blazers called time out, forwarded the ball, and designed a final play.
As I was leaving the locker room, I stuck my head into Nate McMillan's office to simply tell him it was a great play. He hopped up, grabbed a dry erase marker, and actually showed me what they had called. Roy would be the decoy, Matthews would run to halfcourt, and Batum would fake a pick for Brandon, and circle back to the rim. Ginobili bit on the play, exactly like the expected he would, and Batum would be wide open to receive a lob from Miller.
Perfect play call, perfect execution, perfect pass, and perfect finish by Nic.
Nate was quick to say it was advance scout Larry Greer who gave him that play for that situation. You expect a hard screen to be set, and that was the beauty of it. Batum slipped that pick, and caught the Spurs totally by surprise. He then simply had to jump over his good friend Tony Parker, and finish off the play. He did.
Andre, who was brilliant in this game, told me after the game he couldn't see the rim, couldn't see Batum, and just tried to deliver the ball where he had hoped Batum would end up- almost like a timing pattern in football. He said it was not only the best assist of his NBA career, but the best ending to a game he had ever been involved in.
Batum was quick to point out that he had never hit a game-winning shot in his career- NBA or otherwise. I can predict, and this isn't a stretch, that he'll never have another game where he'll score four points in 0.9 seconds again in his life.
The Trail Blazers ended the game on an 8-0 run, and withstood the best San Antonio can dish out. Tim Duncan didn't play, but as several of the Blazers said before the game, that just made it a much more challenging game. The Spurs shot 73 percen in the fourth quarter (11-15), and lost. That's crazy.
To listen to McMillan's post-game comments, click here
For the first time this season, the Trail Blazers are now 12 games over .500, at 42-30, and badly needed this win. The upcoming road trip will have us at Oklahoma City on Sunday, at San Antonio Monday, and at New Orleans on Wednesday.
So many people after the game were talking about the fact that this game summed up exactly what we've been seeing all season from this Portland team. A gritty, never-say-die, never-quit, attitude, no matter the circumstances.
Not only did the Spurs have the hot-shooting fourth quarter, but shot 51 percent for the game. On the season, when they shoot over 50 percent, they had been 22-1. They had been 10-2 in games decided by four points or fewer, and were 13-2 against the Northwest Division.
The Blazers have now beaten the Spurs six-straight times at the Rose Garden, and have won 7 of the last 8 meetings overall. They've become only the second team in the NBA to have beaten the Spurs twice this season, and have earned at least a split of the season series.
Yes, it only gets tougher now.
Talk to you from Oklahoma on Sunday.