A Character-Building Win
By mikebarrett Posted in: Spurs
Last month the Trail Blazers were in position to knock off the San Antonio Spurs at the Rose Garden. They led by as many as 14 in that game, and even led by as many as six in the fourth quarter, before falling victim to the NBA's best regular-season team down the stretch. Even though the Spurs were without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they survived on that night.
On Thursday night, we got a rematch. Only this time the Spurs were at full strength, and the Trail Blazers certainly weren't. Wesley Matthews, one of the team's most valuable players, sat out, and Nic Batum, who's still nursing a very sore lower back, played, but was far from 100 percent.
Call it a step forward in will, in desire, in development, or perhaps all three, as this time the Blazers made the offensive plays down the stretch, got the big defensive stops, and beat San Antonio 98-90.
Damian Lillard was brilliant, scoring a career-high 29 and outplaying Parker, and got some big-time help from his friends. LaMarcus Aldridge outplayed Tim Duncan, Batum had one of the more gutty efforts of his career, J.J. Hickson posted 12 and 12, and Luke Babbitt provided the punch off the bench with 12 points.
All things considered, you can go ahead and call this Portland's signature win of the season so far. They certainly hope it's a sign of things to come.
This home stand, that started with a lackluster loss to the Sacramento Kings, is suddenly looking much better following wins over Toronto, and now over the Spurs.
Not only did Lillard score 29, but added 7 rebounds and 6 assists, and did it on a national stage. He's constantly exceeded expectations this year, and did it again, this time in a true measuring-stick game. Parker is a handful for everyone, and Lillard was the best point guard on the floor in this game. That's saying something. I'm not saying he should be mentioned in the same breath with Parker yet, when talking about his ranking in this league, but he's climbing the ladder.
Batum has had a lot of games where he's posted more impressive stats, but I'm not sure I remember one where he's been tougher, or bigger in the biggest moments. Clearly uncomfortable most of the night, and in pain, Batum hung with it and delivered in the clutch.
With the Blazers leading by six with 90 seconds left, nothing felt comfortable. San Antonio is in this position all the time, and usually finds a way to win games like this. After they quickly cut the lead in half with a three, Batum answered with his lone three of the night, giving Portland a six-point lead again with 1:08 left. Moments later he blocked Parker's attempt inside, and shortly after that hit two clutch free throws to seal the victory. Nic showed me something tonight, given he was far from healthy, but still had a huge impact on the outcome.
The bench came up big as well, led by Babbitt. The second unit combined for 24 points, and enough players came up with enough plays to provide solid support. That's all they're asked to do. It was Babbitt, who spread the floor with his long-range threat, and Meyers Leonard with his 8 rebounds, who stood out.
The Blazers are now 2-0 without Matthews in the lineup, and I'm not sure I thought that was possible, even if they were both home games. Hopefully he continues to make progress and can rejoin the team on Sunday, but it's nice to know this team appears to be able to absorb a huge loss like that and survive- at least for two games.
Sunday night the Trail Blazers host New Orleans, and the pre-season favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors, Anthony Davis.