Blazers beat Spurs, extend series and dream of more
Nicolas Batum would like to think the Trail Blazers have planted the seed for something the likes of which the NBA has never seen.
No team has bounced back from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
Batum hopes Portland's 103-92 victory over San Antonio Monday night at the Moda Center was the start of something big.
"Why not us?" Batum said after the Blazers' Game 4 win, their first of the series after three straight losses. "It's never been done before. We know it's going to be tough, especially against this team.
"We had a great game tonight. We'll just take one game at a time. Go down there to San Antonio for Game 5, be focused and try to move on."
The Blazers had a little extra zip to their step as they faced elimination.
"It was about wanting it more," said Portland's Damian Lillard, who had his best game of the series with a game-high 25 points. "The Spurs are a championship team, but we didn't want to be that team to get swept, or the team that, facing an uphill battle, just gave up. We weren't ready to go home."
"We had nothing to lose tonight," Batum added. "We had no pressure. It was do or die. Lose tonight and we go on vacation. We played the game we've played all season long."
After trailing for all of 33 seconds in the first three games, the Spurs led for only 1:28 of Monday's game, and never after the first quarter. The Blazers, who had been outscored 109-70 in the second quarter and 195-130 in the first half of the first three games, were in front 50-48 at halftime, then blew the game open by outscoring the Spurs 35-20 in the third quarter.
"Usually we come out (for the second half) and we're fighting from behind," Lillard said. "We've had good third quarters, but tonight we had the lead, so it was a little different. We were able to blow a lead open instead of cutting it down.
"It was a completely different feel from the first three games. Our backs are up against the wall. We knew this could be the last game if we didn't correct the things we'd been doing wrong the first three games. Guys were locked in. Everybody competed. We got to the spots on the floor we like to get to."
Portland led 96-77 with six minutes left, and coach Terry Stotts was able to keep his starters' minutes down. Nobody played more than 38, and LaMarcus Aldridge -- who finished with 19 points in 32 minutes -- sat the final 10:46. Stotts wasn't thrilled when the Spurs sliced the margin to 11 points and he had to re-insert Lillard and Wesley Matthews with 1:20 remaining, but it was a minor annoyance.
The Spurs, who had looked mostly infallible through the first three games, appeared vulnerable Monday night. They were outrebounded 53-46, made only 3 of 18 shots and were increasingly reluctant to shoot anything from mid-range on out as the game progressed. They played poorly much of the game, and got outhustled.
"The energy was weird tonight," San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. "Give a lot of credit to (the Blazers). They played great. They came out of the gates. but the whole game, we didn't have it tonight."
Were the Spurs not mentally ready after winning so easily in the first three games?
"We don't take any game for granted," Parker said. "There was no letdown. We just didn't have it tonight."
The Blazers "played with great passion and physicality, as was evidenced in the first half," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "They had 10 fast-break points and seven offensive rebounds, they got to the 50-50 balls, and that continued in the third quarter. That's why they won.
"We just didn't match their energy, their focus. We didn't accomplish our defensive tasks the way we had the first three games. Mentally and physically, we played at a lower level than we had through the series."
Portland got an outstanding performance from the 6-9 Batum, who had 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists -- two shy of notching the fifth triple-double in franchise playoff history -- and defended Parker most of the night. Parker, who averaged 26.0 points and 8.3 assists in the first three games, scored a team-high 14 points but had only one assist with three turnovers in his 27 minutes.
"Batum was great," Parker said. "He gave them a big boost. He was everywhere."
"Nic was very persistent on Parker," Stotts said. "His length was able to affect him. He didn't have any let-ups."
The Blazers also got terrific performances from reserves Will Barton and Thomas Robinson, a welcome change after Portland's bench was outscored 140-43 by the Spurs reserves the first three games.
Barton's live body produced 17 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes. Robinson got plenty of time, too, banging inside for nine points and five boards in 24 minutes.
"Will and Thomas were terrific," Stotts said. "Because of those two guys, I was able to keep the starters' minutes down."
For the first time in the series, Lillard's penetration was a factor in the second half as he scored 15 of his points after intermission.
"With Nico playing the way he was, the game came a lot easier," Lillard said. "He was attacking, making plays. And Will and T-Rob came in and played really well. Those guys brought it. They were ready when their names were called. When we can get the type of effort from those guys, it makes a huge difference. it changed the game.
"Once we started making shots, the lane opened up and I got into the paint and was able to get some good looks at the rim."
Lillard was asked if he'd been embarrassed by being down 0-3 in the series.
"No," he said, "but I was embarrassed how we weren't in range of winning a game at halftime. That was the more embarrassing thing -- looking like we didn't belong in this series. Tonight, we played our basketball. We competed and showed why we were able to get to this point."
Now the Blazers will try to get to the next point -- a victory in Wednesday's Game 5 at San Antonio's AT&T Center.
"Our team is focused on one game at a time," Lillard said. "We got this one done; now we focus on the next game."
Can the Blazers bring the same mentality into Game 5?
"I think we can," he said. "We have a choice. That's what works for us, the way we played tonight. If we don't take that same mentality -- being aggressive -- it could be our last game. Everybody on our team understands that."
"We're a young team," Batum said. "We were loose tonight. We played hard, we played together. There won't be a crowd behind us in San Antonio. It'll be us 15 guys, but Rip City will be watching on TV. We'll try to win and get us back here for Game 6."
The Spurs will do everything in their power to see the Blazers don't.
"We have to treat Wednesday's game like it's Game 7," Parker said. "We worked hard the first three games to be in that position. Tonight, it just didn't happen. We have to remember we're playing a great team. They're not going to just give up. Wednesday, we're going to have to bring it."
Stotts just hopes to keep the season going.
"Tonight was a good game for us," Stotts said, "but we still have another few to go."
At least, Stotts hopes they do.
NOTES: Both of San Antonio's shooting guards -- starter Danny Green and sixth man Manu Ginobili -- have been non-shooters in the series. Green is 9 for 28 (.321) from the field, Ginobili 10 for 38 (.263) this far. "He hasn't shot it well," Popovich said. "That's just the way it is. Sometimes somebody doesn't shoot well." Popovich, asked if he was pleased that the Spurs got a split of the two games in Portland: "Sure. You always want to win on a road. If you do, it's a plus." Stotts, on how much Portland's defense affected the Spurs' shooting: "They've played three really good games against us. They've been on a four-game roll offensively. They've been shooting the ball really well. They didn't shoot the ball well tonight. We played better defense, but that's the NBA. That's the playoffs." ... More Stotts: "We had good energy. we fed off the crowd. We were able to sustain our level of play, our focus." Can the Blazers take that on the road for Game 5? "We have to." Batum is the only player in this year's playoffs with 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in a game. ... The Blazers were without reserve G Mo Williams (groin) for the second straight game.