PORTLAND — A game like Saturday night’s when the visiting San Antonio Spurs take one that should’ve belonged to the Trail Blazers doesn’t go down so easy.
Nicolas Batum couldn’t shake the thought of his last shot and so following coach Terry Stotts’ remarks to players about the 112-109 loss, he untucked his jersey and bee lined for the team’s video room to watch the replay. What he saw was an ending he wanted back.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Blazers broke the timeout huddle trailing the Spurs by just two points. After the inbounds pass, the play belonged to Batum. He had earned it. Just moments earlier, Batum had sent the sold-out Rose Garden into ecstasy when his deep 3-pointer ripped the net and tied the game, the crowning point in the Blazers’ rally from an 8-point deficit.
Now, with another chance to even the score, Batum went for it all. The three, and the win. And so after popping free from a pin down, Batum did not drive the ball. He rose, the edge of his shoes just beyond the 3-point line and launched the shot that would’ve given the Blazers the lead. But back in the quiet locker room, Batum wished he hadn’t.
“Yeah, I had time, like, plenty of time to do something else,” said Batum, who matched his career high 33 points on 11 of 18 shooting. “I got to take my time.”
“I will do different next time.”
Stotts learned about an hour and 15 minutes before the game that the Spurs would be without its All-Star Tony Parker, who missed the game with a stomach virus. So, the Blazers (2-4) did not have to worry about the swift point guard penetrating through the paint or rising for money mid-range jump shots. But the Blazers had a problem after all, in the form of reserve guard Gary Neal. Off the bench and into the limelight, Neal scored a career high 27 points. He was part of a Spurs’ bench that outscored the Blazers 63-4. No, really. Sixty three points to just four.
“Gary carried us on his back there for a long while. He was incredible,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He picked a good time for it.”
The Blazers began the fourth quarter with the 79-73 advantage and the Spurs started out playing small ball with the 6-foot-4 Neal in the frontcourt. He splashed in jumper after jumper as the Spurs power sprayed away the Blazers’ lead. The Spurs scored 14 unanswered points and made nine straight baskets, not missing until the 6:40 mark as they led 94-87.
“Can we keep a lead,” Wesley Matthews said, posing the rhetorical question that every Blazer should ask himself. “That’s our challenge.”
Despite Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge combining for 62 points and the team outrebounding the Spurs by the slim 37-36 margin, the Blazers faltered where it mattered most.
For the fifth time in six games, a Blazer opponent shot better than 50 percent from the floor.
Even after this poor defensive effort, the Blazers still had a chance to win the game — brought back with a J.J. Hickson layup followed by Damian Lillard’s fourth 3-pointer of the game then back-to-back triples by Batum and Matthews.
So following this hot streak, it seemed only right that Batum would make that last shot with 7.8 seconds remaining. Batum thought it felt good leaving his hand, but the shot sailed long. The ball bounced high off the rim and landed in the hands of the wrong player. Batum walked down court, his eyes fixed on the rafters and regret forming in his mind.
“This is a new situation for me,” Batum said. “So I learned a lot. I learned from this mistake that will allow for me to be a better player this season and the next couple of years.”