With Dallas ahead by 26 points late in the third quarter and the Trail Blazers well on their way to their eighth consecutive defeat Sunday night, Rose Garden denizens were somewhere between a yawn and a scowl.
Thats when Will Barton came to the rescue.
The 6-6 rookie from Memphis enjoyed a career half, bringing the Blazers to the brink of a comeback for the ages.
Portlands late, furious rally fell short in a 96-91 loss to the Mavericks, but Bartons 24 minutes of splendor took away the sting of a Blazer first half suitable for a land mine.
Burton finished with season highs in scoring (22), rebounds (13) assists (six) and steals (three), numbers than seem more LeBron-like than from a lowly reserve who entered the game with averages of 2.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.5 assists.
Im just a confident, silly guy, said Barton, who had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in the second half. I told Sasha (Pavlovic) and Jared (Jeffries) before the game, Im going to have a career night tonight, not knowing if I was even going to get in the game.
Burton got his opportunity because of a second-quarter injury to Wesley Matthews, who rolled his right ankle and was helped off the floor into the locker room.
In the second half, Burton was everywhere doing productive things as the Blazers roared back from the dead.
Will had a terrific game, Portland coach Terry Stotts said, and was the catalyst for how we played in the second half.
Victory wasnt secure until the closing seconds, when, with Dallas in front 94-91, the Blazers Damian Lillard failed to convert on a driving layup. The Mavericks rebounded and got the ball to a streaking Shawn Marion for a basket at the buzzer.
Its the first time the Blazers (33-44) have lost eight in a row since the end of the 2005-06 season.
I was glad we bounced back after halftime, Stotts said. The first half was not what you want to see.
Unless youre a member of the Mavericks, who enjoyed everything about a first half that saw them lead at intermission 56-32. They held an overwhelming advantage in nearly every statistical category, including field-goal percentage (.533 to .371), rebounds (26-15), turnovers (4-10), points in the paint (30-12) and fast-break points (13-2).
As Dallas increased the margin to 79-53 near the end of the third quarter, the Blazers wore a hangdog look. Stotts went to a small lineup that often included three rookies Lillard, Barton and Victor Claver and reserves Luke Babbitt and Eric Maynor.
The Mavericks lead was 84-61 when Portland, with Barton leading the way, started its rally. A 12-0 run cut the margin to 86-76 with 6:15 to play, and the partisans were no longer sitting on their hands.
The Blazers got to within 88-83 with 3:30 remaining, and the Mavericks were on their heels. Maynor cut the deficit to 94-89 on a driving layup with 1:05 left, and Barton converted a pair at the line to get the Blazers within 94-91 with 39.4 seconds to go.
When the Mavericks O.J. Mayo missed a 3-pointer with 14 seconds to go and the Blazers rebounded, they called timeout with 12.5 seconds left.
The plan, said Stotts, wasnt necessarily to go for a 2 or a 3.
With 3-point shooters Matthews and Nicolas Batum missing due to injury and Lillard struggling through a 6-for-19 shooting night, Babbitt was the only dependable 3-point shooter on the floor.
We looked for Luke if he was wide open, but it was probably going to come to Damian, Stotts said. We couldnt run a pick-and-roll because Marion was going to switch out on the shooter. I just wanted (Lillard) to be aggressive.
Lillard took it to the basket and missed a twisting layup with contact, but no foul was called. Game over.
Drove to the rim, didnt get nothing, Lillard said.
Was he fouled on the play? Evidently not, he said.
Lillard also drew contact when he scored on a layup with 1:58 to go and gestured to an official that he thought a foul was warranted.
Nothing I can say, he said. Im falling on my knees, getting bumped, hit in the head ... if the call doesnt get called, Im assuming its not a foul.
All I can do is keep playing. It makes no sense for me to complain about it. Nothings going to change.
It may have been a coming-of-age game for Barton, 22, a bundle of athleticism who was a second-round draft pick after two years at Memphis.
Any time youre a guy coming off the bench, your job is to stay ready, he said. All of us are pros. I feel like any one of us can go in and contribute. Tonight just happened to be my night.
He has basketball savvy, Portland center JJ Hickson said. He may not be the most ... whats the word Im looking for? Hes very unorthodox with the things he does on the court. He has that streetball savvy to him that transitions over to the NBA.
He knows how to put the ball in the bucket, whether its with (isolation) plays, backdoor cuts or short jumpers. Hes a great player. Im glad he had the night he had tonight.
Going the entire 24 minutes, Barton totaled 18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the second half.
He did a little bit of everything, Stotts said.
Had the Blazers seen that from Barton in practice?
Yeah, Stotts said. Not consistently. He finished tonight. He was around the ball. He has shown flashes of that, but not for extended periods. He was able to sustain that level of energy for the entire half. Weve seen patches of that, but he sustained it for the whole half.
Barton said he drew motivation from the lead of such as Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
They were saying, We cant go out like this. We cant keep losing games, getting blown out, especially at home, Barton said. Our fans deserve more, our coaches, and the rest of the guys on the team. We had to step it up and just play hard.
Barton entered the game averaging 10 minutes a game, with nine DNP/CDs (did not play/coachs decision) this season.
At times, it gets real hard, he said. Im a guy who loves to play. One year removed out of college, used to being the big man on campus, everybody knows who you are. And then you come here, youre just the little guy. Youre stuck at the bottom.
You just have to keep working in the gym and finds something that motivates you.
Lillard was asked if the Blazers valiant comeback took the sting off the loss.
Its a step up from what weve been doing, but I dont believe in moral victories, he said. Im happy we came back and played well down the stretch and gave ourselves a chance, but we want to win the game. We put ourselves in the position of having to play that hard just to get back in the game.
NOTES Portlands next action is Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. ... Chris Kaman had 26 points and 11 rebounds for Dallas (38-39), which is in 10th place in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind eighth-place Utah (41-37) and two games back of the ninth-place Lakers (40-37). ... X-rays on Matthews ankle were negative. He was on crutches in the Portland locker room afterward. Asked how the ankle felt, he said, Never felt like this before. It seems unlikely he will play again this season. ... Batum, who has missed the past three games with a shoulder injury, said Friday night he hopes to return against the Lakers. ... Barton became the first rookie to collect as many as 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a game since Detroits Grant Hill in March 1995. ... There were some MVP! chants for Barton as he toed the line for free throws late in the game. He got those earlier than I got in my career, laughed all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 18 points in 39 minutes.
Lillard scored 15 points on 6-for-19 shooting. In four games against Dallas this season, the point guard out of Weber State made 17 of 60 shots (.283) and averaged 14.3 points, well below his 18.9-point average. I just happened to miss shots, he said. Last time we played them in Dallas, I started off the game making a lot of shots. It just happened to be the games against them I started to miss shots. ... Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is still impressed. If hes not unanimous Rookie of the Year, Ill be surprised, Carlisle said before the game. Hes been that good. We view him as one of the top eight or 10 point guards in the league maybe even better than that. ... Hickson, who finished with six points and five rebounds in 21 minutes, has become the first Blazer with at least 800 rebounds and 50 blocked shots in a season since Mychal Thompson in 1981-82. ... Babbitt, who had scored 25 points in Portlands last 24 games, had 10 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes against the Mavericks. Maynard had a nice game, too, sinking 4 of 6 shots and finishing with eight points and six assists in 25 minutes.