Barton-Led Comeback Falls Short
Despite a career night from rookie Will Barton, the Trail Blazers came up empty on a final possession with a chance to force overtime, and lost to the Dallas Mavericks 96-91.
It was a strange ball game, and turned out to be a close ball game, as most games between the Blazers and Mavericks end up being. Dallas has lost a lot of leads this season, along with a lot of very close games, and this one looked to perhaps be headed in that direction again. But, their 26-point lead turned out to be just too much for Portland to overcome.
It was all Mavericks early in this game, as they jumped on top of the Trail Blazers and took total control. They held Portland to just 32 first-half points, and were finding little resistance at the offensive end. For most of the night this game didn't have the look or feel of one that would come down to the wire.
Enter Will Barton.
The player who was selected with the 40th pick in the NBA Draft told teammates before the game that this would be a career night for him. I wasn't there, but I would imagine that was met with smiles, nodding heads, and perhaps even a "okay Will, you go and do that." Little did they know.
But, as Barton has been telling anyone who would listen all season, all he needed was an opportunity. And, truth be told, that's all a lot of players in this league need. Only a few ever get it, and even fewer totally take advantage of it the way Barton did on Sunday night.
With Portland down 26, Terry Stotts went to an unconventional lineup, with JJ Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge out of the game. Nic Batum was sitting this one out with a sore shoulder, and Wesley Matthews had left the game in the first half. So, with just Damian Lillard as the sole starter in the game, the Blazer machine started to fire, with Barton providing most of the fuel.
Barton scored from inside and outside, provided high-flying dunks, started grabbing every rebound in sight, and even recorded three steals. He ended with a career-high 22 points, a career-high 13 rebounds, a career-high 6 assists, and a career-high 3 steals. So, yeah, I guess that would qualify as a career game.
Barton also didn't commit a single turnover, and also hit two clutch free throws in the final minute to cut Dallas' lead to just three points. After a defensive stop the Blazers got the ball back with 12 seconds left. The Blazers then ran a play that was designed to get Luke Babbitt (who also played well) a look at a game-tying three in the corner. When that wasn't open, Lillard attempted to get a quick two and darted down the left side of the lane. He took a hard shove from behind and missed at the rim, and Dallas was able to throw the rebound ahead and seal the game with a lay in as time expired.
Some were asking after the game why the Blazers didn't hold the ball and try to get the game-tying three. Again, from what I understand, that was the original plan. But, by getting a quick two as a second option, it would have allowed the Blazers to foul quickly, and send Dallas to the line. At worst, they would have gotten the ball back, down three, facing the same situation, with less time of course, to try for another game-tying three. But, when Lillard's attempt missed, it finished the game.
Clearly, playing like their slim-playoff hopes were the line, like they were, Dallas played with a sense of urgency the Blazers simply couldn't match early in this game. And, while the loss hurts, the battle from behind was good to see. Seeing what Barton is capable of turns into the bright spot on this night. Moral victories stink, but that's kind of where we find ourselves anyway at this point.
Barton became the first rookie in the NBA this season to go for 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. In fact, he's the first rookie to post numbers like that in a game since Grant Hill did it in 1995. That's pretty impressive stuff, on an otherwise unimpressive night. Has a rookie taken in the second round ever done something like this? I'd love to able to confirm that, but I can't imagine that's happened in the modern era.
Next up, it's the Lakers on Wednesday night. It never takes more than that to get the Rose Garden fired up, and now, given what happened around the NBA on Sunday, this game has more meaning than that. Because of Utah's win at Golden State, and the Laker loss to the Clippers, the Jazz have a half-game lead on the Lakers for the 8th and final playoff spot. Because the Jazz own the tie breaker in that series, you can go ahead and consider that lead a game and a-half, because the Lakers would have to finish one game ahead of Utah to win the spot.
So, Portland now has the chance to deliver what very well could be a crushing blow to L.A.'s playoff hopes. It's an opportunity for the Blazers, who could very well be without Batum and Matthews. And, it's a chance to pick up what could be the
moral victory of the season.
Talk to you Wednesday.