Only this team, during this strange season, could mix such positives with such negatives, on the same night, and walk away with a victory.
While it's true that all that really mattered on this night is that they got a win, and started this long six-game road trip with a victory, this one was far from conventional. The Blazers combined a season-high 59 percent shooting clip, with a season-high 28 turnovers, and beat Minnesota 100-98. It was the third time the Blazers have beaten the Timberwolves this season, and have now won 20 of the last 22 in the series.
After our broadcast, after I interviewed LaMarcus Aldridge in front of our broadcast position, I started leafing through my game notes and then probably spent too much time tossing out all of the strange stats from this game and odd numbers that are stacking up this season.
As you undoubtedly know by now, this is not a good front-running team. At times it seems they can't stand prosperity. The Blazers have trailed late in so many games and have come from behind so often this season, they don't seem to know how to handle actually sustaining or building on a lead. Because of that, even when they led by 19 points in the second half, nothing felt comfortable. I suspect we weren't the only ones feeling that way.
So, as we were enjoying talking about a 19-point lead, I decided to toss out the fact that the Trail Blazers have only had four wins by more than 10 points this season, and that every single game seems to come down to the wire. I had been talking to a couple of nice people sitting behind our broadcast table throughout the night, and during one time out, when Portland seemingly in total control, I was told that we had this thing in the bag. I simply said to the guy, "don't leave early. This thing will go down to the wire. They always do."
Dirk Nowitzki made a comment the other night about the fine line in the NBA between winning and losing in this league. He was referring to the fact that Dallas has lost so many close games this season, and had just lost thanks to a game-winning shot by LaMarcus Aldridge. They have established failure in those moments, and Dirk even admitted as much. The Blazers, on the other hand, have earned a master's degree in "the nail-biter."
I suppose then it all comes down to personal expectations. When you get into a jam, do you expect to win or expect to lose? Past performance certainly dictates future results, especially when it all gets mental. Late in NBA games, in a league where so many players are capable, it's all mental, isn't it? The Blazers, it appears, have simply conditioned themselves to find a way to win.
I've heard others say it's simply luck. While I do believe that there's a bit of truth to that, this has happened so many times this season (and the sample size continues to get bigger and bigger), there's got to be more to it. Are we simply dealing with a team that is very mentally tough, and maintains a belief in even the most dire of situations? The evidence this season is stacking up to back that argument.
The Blazers are now 8-1 in games decided by two points or fewer. Dallas, for example, is 2-8 in games decided by four points or fewer. Portland is 5-1 in overtime games this season. The Mavericks are 1-8 in overtime. It's just a coincidence that I'm talking about Dallas here as I'm sitting in Dallas. Dirk's statement from last week was just fresh in my mind and was even thinking about it during last night's wild finish.
I'm not bagging on the Mavs here, but you could argue that in tight situations the Mavs prepare themselves for the worst, simply because that's what is fresh in their minds. The Blazers serve as the example at the other end of the scale. They've come to expect to to win, in any situation. That's very powerful, and can make all the difference in the world.
The catch here, in all of this, is that things can change quickly. We're talking about short memories here, and we always hear that being able to put the past quickly behind you is the goal. Perhaps that's really only the case when you're fighting negative thoughts. When you've got so many good experiences in your recent past, go ahead and lean on them. The Blazers seem to do that well. That can be the only difference between being 25-23, like the Blazers are, versus being 20-28, where the Mavs currently find themselves. A couple of shots here or there, a couple of turnovers, a couple of free throws.
Speaking of turnovers, I'm not going to get totally caught up in the fact that Portland coughed up the ball 28 times against Minnesota on Monday night. The Blazers lost the all-important points-off-turnovers battle 33-8. That's a staggering number. It would be getting much more attention, obviously, if Portland had lost that game. As it is, at least mentally, it can actually work for them, and add to their mental resolve. "We turned it over 28 times, and won?" Yes, they did.
We gave so much attention to the fourth quarter of Monday night's game, as Portland was outscored 40 to 23. I know, that was crazy. But, the third quarter was just as bizarre. The Blazers had 25 offensive possessions in that quarter. They suffered 9 turnovers, but scored on 13 of the other 16 possessions and actually went on a 20-4 run. Do you realize how nutty that is?
Much was made of LaMarcus Aldridge's statement after Saturday's win over Utah when he called this a "make-or-break" trip. And, losing most of a 19-point lead on the first game of the trip, and losing in Minnesota, would have had everyone using L.A.'s quote in their game stories and saying, "okay, what now?" Instead, we'll all sit on that one for a few more days.
Aldridge ended with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists against Minnesota, and hit another huge shot. After the Timberwolves had closed to within one at 97-96, Aldridge, early in the shot clock, took a long jumper and nailed it. He looked confident in taking the shot, and believed it was going in. It was the biggest shot of the night, another in the clutch, and allowed him to actually be able to smile when talking about missing two free throws at the line moments later that kept the Timberwolves alive. It wasn't because he was happy about missing the free throws, but was simply relieved they were able to win in spite of the misses- and the turnovers, and giving back 18 points of a 19-point lead.
Just another day in the life of this team, during this improbable season.