House of horrors wreaks havoc again in Portland
Nicolas Batum rose up from 25 feet almost absentmindedly, firing up a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a game that had long since been decided in his Portland Trail Blazer team’s favor.Much to Batum’s horror, the shot went in.
“I was like, ‘Oh no,’ ” Portland’s small forward said after the Blazers dusted the Spurs 115-105 on Saturday night at the Moda Center.
It was bad form to be sure, the basketball equivalent of throwing a Hail Mary in a game already won. But it also defined the Blazers’ night against the Spurs, and their last several nights against them.
Even the shots they didn’t want to go in, went in.
Behind 25 points, seven assists and seven rebounds from reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, 24 points from perennial Spurs slayer LaMarcus Aldridge and 20 from Wesley Matthews, the Blazers won their home opener for the 13th season in a row.
That they did it at the Spurs’ expense should come to the surprise of absolutely nobody.
Saturday’s loss was the Spurs’ 13th in the last 18 games against the Blazers, and the ninth in their last 10 visits to the arena formerly known as the Rose Garden.
“It’s been that way all my career, I don’t know what it is,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who returned from a chest contusion to score 24 points and collect seven rebounds. “They have good energy here. Those guys seem to play well against us.”
For the Spurs, it has been a curious fallow period against a team that has not been past the first round of the playoffs since 2000.
They have had close calls (98-96 on Batum’s buzzer-beating tip in 2011) and not so close calls (a severely shorthanded 137-97 loss in 2012 that was the most lopsided of the Gregg Popovich era).
Saturday’s game was somewhere in between.
Despite trailing by as many as 13, the Spurs had their chances.
Marco Belinelli, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, brought the Spurs within four with 1:43 left.
With a chance to get a stop after Lillard missed a 3-pointer, the Spurs could not control the rebound. Matthews recovered for a dunk that put Portland up by six with 21.3 seconds left.
“They’re a well-rounded team,” Popovich said. “They’ve got inside play. They’ve got great shooters. They’re good in transition.”
Aldridge has been tough on the Spurs since joining the Blazers out of the University of Texas in 2006. In his first 22 career games against them, Aldridge averaged 19.6 points and shot 55.7 percent.
That’s a higher percentage than against any other NBA team.
Aldridge was at it again Saturday.
“It seems he just goes crazy against us,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Today, he was actually shy. There are games when he gets 30-plus.”
Lillard laid low in the first quarter, not attempting a field goal, before exploding.
He had 10 points in the final 3:54 of the first half, as the Blazers pushed their lead to 50-39 at the break.
Batum, meanwhile, finished with a triple-double he swears he didn’t really want.
He already had 11 assists and 12 rebounds when the ball came to him at the end of the game.
Instead of dribbling out the clock – as is customary – Batum launched a one-legged 3-pointer.
The ensuing swish sent him to 11 points, and his third career triple-double.
As soon as the ball went in, Batum’s shoulders sagged.
“That is maybe the worst thing I’ve done in my career right now,” Batum said later. “I want to apologize to the Spurs organization. I don’t really want to disrespect this team.”
Though Duncan appeared to shoot Batum a look on his way off the court, the party line in the Spurs’ locker room about the Blazer’s insolence was a collective shrug.
“I don’t care about that,” said point guard Tony Parker, Batum’s teammate on the French national team. “I’m happy for him.”
Said Popovich: “Why would I be mad at that? He’s a good kid. I don’t care.”
The final buzzer, in fact, brought good news for the Spurs. They don’t have to play another game in Portland until Feb. 19.
Even that might be too soon.
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