Oh, the twists and turns in a seven game series. It's a beautiful thing. The story lines, the momentum shifts, the individual performances- this is what is so great about the postseason.
On Thursday night at the Rose Garden we saw a red-hot start by an undrafted second-year player, a return to glory for Portland's all-star, some clutch free-throw shooting from this year's MVP, and a brilliant five and a-half minute stretch from a guy who spent most of this season in the D-League.
Most importantly, we saw the Trail Blazers get right back into their series with the Dallas Mavericks, winning game three 97-92. Portland actually led 95-87, and then had to hang on for dear life in the final minute, as the Mavericks charged back. Dallas still leads the series two games to one, but this showed that the Trail Blazers aren't even considering going quietly.
You knew the Rose Garden would be deafening, and it was. One of the keys to keeping it that way would be getting off to a good start. Wesley Matthews, who got into foul trouble in game one, was on fire early in this game. He hit his first four three-point attempts, had 16 points in the opening quarter, and helped Portland to a nine-point lead right out of the gate.
The Mavericks though, feeling they had taken Portland's best shot, rallied to trail after that first quarter 28-23.
Okay, Brandon Roy. As I said in our web shows, and on various radio interviews the last two days, I felt there was way too much made of all of Brandon's comments after game two. No one on the team felt disrespected by Brandon saying he wanted to play more, Nate McMillan shrugged it off, and even Roy knew to play more, he'd have to earn it.
Badly needing a lift from someone off the bench, Roy provided that, and much, much more. He was huge in this game, and got himself right back in this series. He missed his first shot of the game, and then hit his next four. He had nine points at halftime, and finished the game with 16, on 6 of 10 shooting. He also broke down Dallas' defense, and dished out four assists. This is good Roy, and the Blazers sorely needed it.
In the third quarter, behind a 19-5 run, the Blazers took a 13-point lead and were threatening to put the game away. The Mavericks though, fought right back with seven-straight points, and trailed by only three going into the fourth.
The fourth quarter is where Portland had stalled out in games 1 and 2. And, with Marcus Camby picking up his fourth foul late in the third, it was getting scary. Enter Chris Johnson. That's right, Chris Johnson. He played only 5:36 of this game, but stepped up huge in place of Camby. Credit McMillan for having the courage to toss him into the fire.
Johnson, in his limited minutes, had two huge blocked shots (on balls that were absolutely going in the basket), and grabbed three big rebounds in traffic. He brought the crowd to its feet, and gave his team an immeasurable lift. The team was allowed to protect Camby by leaving him on the bench.
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In the post-game press conference, Dirk Nowitzki, who had one of his shots sent back by Johnson, said, "that young kid really changed the game." I don't think he even knew Johnson's name, and had to check the final box score to see who number 17 was.
After Gerald Wallace hit a three pointer with 8:50 left, the Blazers held an 85-74 lead. Johnson came out moments later, Camby went back in, and the Blazers held off the Mavericks.
As we said before the game, role players play better at home. That was the case in Dallas, for the Mavericks, and it was certainly the case for Portland in this game. The Mavericks had only two players in double figures- Dirk with 25, and Jason Terry with 29. Portland didn't allow that balanced scoring to beat them this time.
Dallas shot the ball extremely well again, actually outshooting Portland in the game 52 percent to 48 percent. But, things like free throws, are much more difficult in a hostile enviornment. The Mavericks, one of the league's best from the free-throw line, were just 13 for 23. Nowitzki, who shot nearly 90 percent from the line in the regular season, was 4 for 7 in this game.
Nowitzki also said he felt like Dallas just took Portland's best shot. Funny, that's what Portland said about Dallas after games 1 and 2. That shows you how evenly matched these teams are. These have been three very good, very tight ballgames.
If the Blazers can get this out of Roy, and continue to find players to step up off the bench, this will turn into a long series. That, as we've said, will benfit the Blazers.
Game 4 is Saturday. The Blazers have an opportunity to square the series before we head back to Dallas on Easter Sunday.
To listen to McMillan's post-game comments, click here