By Jonathan Ryan Davis
It is rare that a losing team can claim a moral victory; but last night's double overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks was just that.
Portland got off to an atrocious start, looking like the woeful road team that has emerged as the status quo for the Blazers this season. Down by 18, it appeared as though Portland would fold like they did to powerhouses like Detroit and Cleveland earlier in the season. LaMarcus Aldridge was all but invisible during the first three quarters, Raymond Felton could have built a large outhouse with his bricks, and only Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum appeared interested in any form of competition.
Then, the inevitable comeback came from the Blazers...the comeback that would result in getting close enough to avoid labeling the loss a complete lack of effort by Portland, but not close enough to actually challenge for a real, live, actual victory.
Going into the fourth quarter, I said to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice, if for once this season, Aldridge took over the 4th and leads Portland to a comeback win?" And guess what? That's what happened!...well, almost.
Despite never leading in the game, Portland went to their All-Star (it sounds nice to say that) time and time again for clutch baskets. By playing aggravating defense and finally hitting open shots, Portland slowly whittled Dallas' lead until they finally tied the game to force OT.
The Blazers got their first lead in the first overtime behind the aggressiveness of Jamal Crawford who was able to knife through the Mavs defense to get to the rim. Yet the Mavs were in no mood to roll over. They battled back and provided their Finals MVP a chance to hit his patented step-back jumper. To the delight of Blazers fans globally, he missed, providing Portland with 2.0 seconds to hit a game winning shot. And if you are Nate McMillan, who do you go to if you need a quick catch and shoot? That's right, Mr. Crossover himself who shoots 89% better in the clutch with a hand in his face...
Crawford curls off a screen, snags the in-bounds pass and launches a WIDE open three. It looked good leaving his hands. It was right on line. And it missed! Of course it missed.
That took Portland to their second OT against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. To start the second overtime, Raymond Felton decided it was time to take over the game, the same Felton who was shooting 25%, 4-16 going into the period. So what does Felton do? He neglects to pass the ball on the first three possessions, converting on a wild drive to the hoop and badly missing the other two shots. On the other side of the court, the incomparable Delonte West his three straight shots, giving the Mavs a four point lead. Magically, after failing to get his team involved or going to the man who carried Portland into overtime and hit the tying basket in the first overtime (Mr. All-Star), Felton was benched for the remainder of the period. (On a side note, Nate gets a lot of flack, but he makes so many great calls.)
With Felton out, the Blazers stayed close, down by two with 30 seconds left. Unfortunately, Dallas had the ball and went through their superstar. While Dirk had been off all night, and missed chances to win the game at the end of regulation and the first overtime, we all knew he would not miss again. With ten seconds left, Dirk posts up Aldridge and hits a fade away jumper to put Dallas up by four points.
Portland is then in a precarious position of having to score four points in 10 seconds. The logical solution is to give the ball to Crawford who is the all-time leader in 4-point plays. However, Matthews gets the ball, drives to the hoop, and gets fouled in the act of shooting (Dallas had one foul to give, but Matthews out-maneuvered them). Matthews, an 87% free throw shoot, drains the first shot, then misses the second. Wallace grabs the rebound and ends up in a jump ball. If Crash wins the tip, Portland will have a chance to hit a three and send the game to a third OT. But there's no way that can happen, right?
Then it happens. Wallace wins the tip. Crawford gets the ball (the most clutch player on Portland's roster). Dallas can foul, but they don't. Crawford tries to take Delonte off the dribble. He gives him a juke, then instead of taking a straight up three, does a double-clutch shot that heads towards the hoop. Will it go in...
NO! It hits hard off the backboard and the Blazers lose. Or more accurately, Dallas wins. Because on this night, Portland did not lose the game. Portland fought. Portland showed heart. Portland had a shot to win and got a shot off. Portland had two clutch shots by Aldridge to force OT 1 & 2. Portland played an amazing fourth quarter and two solid OTs.
Last night's loss renewed my faith in the Blazers' ability to compete in the playoffs this year. Yes, we may be the 8th seed in the playoffs if it were to start today; however, we are a playoff team, and if we play like we did last night in Dallas, we could be a dangerous team come April.
Next up is our final back-to-back-to-back. How great would it be to sweep those games and bring some momentum into the All-Star break and beyond.
Thank you Blazers for showing heart last night; it's much appreciated by us fans.