This game had no effect on the standing of either of these playoff-bound teams. The Spurs are secure in the #2 spot in the west and the Blazers, to everyone's surprise, found themselves locked into the 8th seed the day before when Russell Westbrook stuck a knife in the heart of Denver fans with a buzzer-beating three pointer. Given the lack of consequences, Coach Stotts opted to rest top scorers Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe. In their places, he elevated several of the deep bench players to starting positions. San Antonio kept their stars on the floor though, so the table seemed set for the Spurs stars to blowout the inexperienced Blazers. But that's not what happened. The Blazers pulled off another unlikely win, 99-98, on a crazy last second shot by Noah Vonleh.
Before the game Damian Lillard was presented with his first ever Western conference Player of the month award, a well-deserved honor. Shortly after that the crowd erupted into a strange mixture of cheers and boos when former Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge was announced in the Spurs starting line-up. Once the game started the boos seemed to win out as they rained down every time Aldridge had the ball. They were good natured boos though, if that makes sense. The game had a loose feeling from the start given the B-team Blazer line-up, but the crowd was into it, largely inspired by fine play from third string point guard Shabazz Napier, who was on his way to a career night in which he'd score a game high 32 points.
During one of the breaks they showed a jumbotron video in which each Blazer was asked if he'd prefer to have either "super strength" or "super intelligence." Unsurprisingly, everyone chose intelligence but Pat Connoughton echoed a common sentiment when he claimed that he already had super strength so the intelligence part could just be added on top of that. It's either/or dudes. That's the point of the game!
The Blazers held a four point lead at halftime, but most of us expected that to disappear after San Antonio coach Greg Popovich gave his team an inevitable verbal beat-down during the break. Here's a look at some of the Blazers fans in the hallways while that was happening:
A Blazer Family:
Check out the Blazer dedication on this gal on the right. Rip City! She said she got the tattoo a couple of years ago and is planning to open a Blazer's themed sports bar in Beaverton called "Shotz".
Close-up view. Believe in yourself! Follow your Dreams! See you at Shotz!:
I thought these brothers were twins but actually they are from Denmark, and 2 years apart.
This guy had a 2015 playoff shirt on, but said he'd only go to the playoffs this year if the Blazers made the second round. We'll see about that!
Sure enough, the Spurs came out firing in the third quarter and took the lead. But wait, the Blazers bench didn't give up. They stayed with them and things remained close right into the fourth quarter. We should note that all of the Spurs big guns played restricted minutes and were largely absent in the final minutes, but still, what happened next was fun to watch. With seven seconds left in the game, and the Blazers down by one point, Sabazz Napier dribbled towards the hoop. He appeared to run into a cutting Meyers Leonard and the ball bounced off Leonard's knee. Leonard gave up on the play as the game looked to be over, but Napier poked at the ball one more time and it rolled to Noah Vonleh who tossed it into the hoop right at the buzzer. Blazers win! Check out the video below:
It was especially fun to watch the players laugh and celebrate this unlikely win. An while it's true this game didn't affect anyone's standings, it was still a very nice boost for the younger bench guys. It also ensured that this year's Blazers will not end the season with a losing record, something few people thought possible in the dark days of Jan/Feb. The last regular season game is at the Moda Center Wed night, and then folks, it's time for the playoffs! Bring on those big shots from Golden State. Cross your fingers that Jusuf Nurkic's leg heals up quickly, and let's see if these Blazers can continue to surprise us all.