The San Antonio Spurs are one of the top teams in the NBA and represent a formidable challenge for the Blazers even with several of their key players sitting out due to injury. Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gay, Danny Green, and Tony Parker were all absent this game, but Portland was also without their best player, Damian Lillard, a last minute scratch due to a strained calf. Anyone who thought this game would lack intensity due to the missing players would have been wrong. It was one of the best games of the season, a back and forth nail biter featuring a heroic game winning shot by CJ McCollum who sunk the go-ahead floater with 5 seconds left on the clock. Here's a pic of that shot going up:
And here's the Blazer bench waiting to see if it went in:
The home crowd greeted ex-Blazer all-star LaMarcus Aldridge with a mixture of cheers and boos, mostly boos as the game got going. For the most part Aldridge didn't seem bothered by the hostile crowd as he put up a monster performance of 30 points and 14 rebounds. Such a performance might have sunk the Blazers in previous games this season, but they came ready to fight this Sunday. Shabazz Napier brought passion and hustle as he tried his best to fill Lillard's shoes. Mo Harkless, who didn't see a minute of court time in the last game, scored 19 key points. The crowd loved the effort and this was loudest the Moda Center has been all season. Here's a sampling of the scene in the hallways at halftime:
Rockers in the house!
A happy couple:
Another happy couple!
This dude is 6'10"!
These Spurs fans were from different places, but the girl was born in Portland so she knows who to root for!
The third quarter saw the Blazers go down by as many as 14 points and for a moment it looked as if the fine play of the first half would go for naught. But the Blazers fought back behind inspired play from Harkless, Nurkic, and Napier. Damian Lillard could be seen jumping out of his seat on the sidelines. The Blazers tied things up going into the very dramatic fourth quarter.
The score seesawed back and forth throughout the final period. Aldridge was a beast, but he missed two key free throws with a little over minute to play in the game. Maybe the crowd did get to him? This set up the big finish: With the Blazers down by 1 point CJ McCollum got the ball at half court with 13 seconds to go. He built up speed and took it right at his former teammate Aldridge. The shot went up, bounced on the rim, once, twice, three times...and then rolled in! Blazers lead by one with 5 seconds remaining. Aldridge got of a lousy jump shot thanks to strong defense by Nurkic and the Blazers won the game.
Sure, there's an asterisk next to this victory due to all the missing San Antonio players, but the Spurs are still the 3rd place team in the west and it should be noted that 40-year-old super-vet Manu Ginobli scored 26 points, a crazy stat for a guy who was on the brink of retirement last season.
The Blazer's locker room was upbeat and loose after the game. CJ McCollum noted that when the ball rolled into that basket on his final shot that it "was karma for all the in-and-outs I've missed this season." It's true, he's had a few heartbreakers and it was was damn nice to see fate go his way on this night. The Blazers now have a daunting road trip coming up, with rivals OKC on the docket Tuesday night. A victory out there would be a real sign that things are turning around for this year's Blazers. Fans will be keeping an eye on Lillard's status for that game as well. As of now, it's unknown.
Here's a little note I spotted on the whiteboard in the Blazer locker room. Lay that hammer, guys!