Miller, Batum hook up for game-winner to beat Spurs
Every 30 years or so, the Trail Blazers convert a lob pass for the ages.
On Dec. 30, 1980, it was Kermit Washington hoisting it to Billy Ray Bates, who deposited it in the basket for a 109-108 victory over Philadelphia that longtime Blazer fans crow about to this day.
On March 25, 2011, it was Andre Miller's perfectly placed toss to Nicolas Batum, who dropped the ball through the hoop as time expired in Portland's 98-96 victory over San Antonio.
'Twelve years in the league, and that's the craziest last minute of a game that I've been a part of,' said Dean Cooper, the Blazers' player development director. 'All the things that happened? It was unbelievable.'
The Blazers scored four points inside the game's final second to win by two. That doesn't happen very often.
Call in the Miracle on Drexler Drive.
Portland (42-30) seemed dead in the water when, trailing 96-92, Batum missed a 3-point attempt with 40 seconds left, and the Spurs corraled the rebound and got the ball to Tony Parker.
Parker was going to run the clock down inside 20 seconds. But Miller gambled, went for a steal and fleeced San Antonio's All-Star point guard of the ball, scoring on a driving layup to cut the margin to 96-94 with 30.5 seconds to go.
'I was taking a risk,' Miller admitted. 'I saw he was kind of close to the sidelines. Like, why not? We're down four points, they're just going to drag it out and win the game. He was so close, I knew he couldn't cross over to the sidelines, so I set on it perfect.'
After a timeout, San Antonio gave the ball to Ginobili, defended by Wesley Matthews at the top of the key. Ginobili's plan was to dribble the clock inside 10 seconds, then drive to the basket. As he made his move, Matthews picked him clean with 7.9 seconds remaining and took off to the other end. Matthews' driving layup was blocked, but Batum was fouled on a follow attempt with .9 of a second on the clock.
With Garden denizens standing in rapt attention, the third-year small forward from France calmly buried both free throws to knot the count at 96-96.
Was Batum nervous?
'No,' he said. 'I just took my time. I just told myself nobody else was there. Nobody in the crowd, nobody on the court. I was by myself - just me and the rim.'
'I haven't seen him in that position too many times,' Miller said. 'There was a lot of pressure, and he knocked them down.'
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich called a timeout and advanced the ball to halfcourt for a final attempt at a win. Spur guard George Hill took the ball to throw it in-bounds and then, after surveying Portland's defense, called another timeout.
This time, little-used Steve Novak - who had played one minute, 27 seconds in the game - was given the opportunity to in-bound. His pass soared over the head of a cutting Manu Ginobili, and the ball went out of bounds untouched.
That gave Portland an opportunity to win in regulation. After a timeout, Batum set up at the foul line, with Brandon Roy out further in backcourt. Batum - guarded by Ginobili - started as if to set a pick on Parker, who was defending Roy. As Ginobili jumped out as if to switch onto Roy, Batum whirled to the basket unguarded. Miller's pass was on target. All Batum had to do was lay the ball in as time expired.
'I just dived to the basket,' Batum said, 'and Dre threw the perfect pass.'
'We work on special situations as much as we can in practice,' McMillan said. 'That's the last-second play we've had. You know teams are going to switch. Brandon was a decoy, and Nic goes to the rim.
'It was executed perfect. Miller threw the right pass and put it right in front of the rim, and all Nic had to do was catch it and put it in the hole.'
'Don't know how (the pass) got there, but it did,' Miller said. 'Glad we didn't have to go to overtime. A good catch by Nic.'
As he iced his ankles after the game, Gerald Wallace marveled at his teammate's heroics.
'Awesome, man,' said Wallace, who finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. 'Those were two big free throws, and the last one was a combination of him being able to finish and Andre putting him in position.
'A great play by both guys, but Nic deserves a lot of credit for that. He stepped up in the clutch.'
The fake screen may have been what did in the Spurs.
'We said we were going to switch everything, and there was never really a pick,' Parker said. 'It was a great play by Portland.'
'We were supposed to switch, and we didn't,' Ginobili said. 'Something happened.'
After something happened, pandemonium reigned in the Garden as the Blazer players mobbed Batum and their fans rocked the roof off the place in celebration.
Roy had sank a 3-pointer to beat Houston in 2008, but that one wasn't as unlikely a victory as was this one.
Asked if it was an all-time win, McMillan smiled and said, 'For me, yeah.'
Miller said he hadn't experienced anything like it, either.
'Not like that, not against a team that's been playing well all year,' he said.
It was a tough, physical game, but the referees didn't use their whistles often. Only 24 free throws were taken the entire way.
'They let both teams play,' Wallace said. 'That's a great thing. If you're going to make the call or you're not, call it the same way for both teams. They did.'
Was it a playoff atmosphere?
'Totally reminded of that,' Wallace said, who was a member of the great Sacramento teams of the early 2000s. 'It reminded me of a Lakers-Kings playoff game back in the day. It was physical, big shot after big shot, big play after big play. Luckily it came out for us at the end.'
There were more runs in the game than in a cheap stocking.
San Antonio made 12 of its first 15 shots and raced to a 28-17 lead late in the first quarter. The Spurs cooled and settled for a 49-47 advantage at the half.
Portland used a 15-1 run to go in front 62-56 early in the third quarter. The Spurs answered with a 7-0 spurt to take a 63-62 lead. The Blazers came back with a 7-0 streak to go back on top 69-63.
The Blazers led 75-70 when an 11-0 San Antonio run pushed the visitors in front 81-75.
The Spurs were ahead 88-78 with 5 1/2 minutes left and were still in command 96-90 when the Blazers began the comeback that their supporters will talk about for some time.
On San Antonio's final in-bounds play, 'we were basically trying to do something similar to what (the Blazers) did,' Popovich said. 'We didn't execute it as well.'
How did the Spurs lose a game it appeared they were on the verge of winning?
'There are a lot of things in games that happen, and down the stretch is the most important time,' Popovich said. 'We turned it over twice in a row with a four-point lead and the ball. That was the ballgame.'
Miller had one of his best games of the season, making 10 of 16 shots from the field while collecting 21 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals with only two turnovers in 37 minutes.
Batum scored 21 points, too, on 7-for-15 shooting, going 3 for 7 from 3-point range and 4 for 4 from the line.
It was a quiet night for Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, even with injured Tim Duncan home in San Antonio. Rookie Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair did a nice job defending Aldridge, who contributed 14 points and eight boards but made only 5 of 12 shots in his 43-minute stint.
Ginobili led San Antonio with 21 points and seven assists, but he and Parker combined for 13 turnovers - eight of them in the second half.
'We knew that team was going to be tough, and they were,' McMillan said. 'Ginobili and Parker, those guys are great. They give up the ball when guys are open, and if you give them single coverage, They make you pay.
'We made some (defensive) adjustments the second half, which helped us. We got enough stops to give ourselves a chance, and offensively were able to execute.'
The result was one of the most important wins of the season - if not the most important - for the Blazers.
'That was fun, stressful, enjoyable - all the good and the bad you can go through,' Wallace said, 'but good in the end.'
NOTES - Portland starts a three-game road trip Sunday at Oklahoma City. The Blazers then visit San Antonio Monday and New Orleans Wednesday. 'We play three good teams,' Miller said. 'This was a big game before we go back out there and play (the Spurs) again. Don't want to go on a road trip losing a home game against a team you're going to have to play in a couple of more days. That was needed.' ... San Antonio, which owns the best record in the NBA, is 1-2 against Portland and 56-13 against the rest of the league's teams. ... The Blazers have won six straight home games and six in a row at home against the Spurs. ... Batum has made 78 of his last 85 foul shots (.918). He has also scored 20 points or more in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. ... Matthews had an odd statistical line with 15 points, no rebounds and no assists in 37 minutes. ... It was Wallace's 16th double-double of the season and his second as a Blazer. ... Parker scored 11 points in the game's first 7 1/2 minutes. He scored four points the rest of the way and turned the ball over eight times.