PORTLAND — With the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in town, the big three worked together for a dynamic performance in front of a sellout crowd.
Just don’t get too far ahead — it’s not the three you’re thinking about.
LaMarcus Aldridge snatched rebounds when it counted. Nicolas Batum outscored the man they call King. And Wesley Matthews confidently sank a step-back 3-pointer for the Trail Blazers’ first lead of the fourth quarter with mere seconds remaining in the game.
This trio led Portland to the 92-90 win over the Heat and the Blazers climbed out of an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter in front of an announced crowd of 20,536.
Now 20-15 on the season, the Blazers have yet another signature win over a premiere team in the league.
Aldridge finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds — four coming in the pivotal quarter — while Batum led the Blazers with 28 points. Furthermore, Batum played persistent defense on the perimeter.
Both Batum and Matthews took turns with the ultimate defensive assignment: slowing down LeBron James, who scored just 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting, which snapped his streak of 33 straight games of 20-plus points or more. It was the longest single-season streak in the NBA since George Gervin’s of 45 straight in 1981-82.
Besides curtailing the three-time MVP, Matthews made the winning play on offense as well. When Matthews noticed the shot clock winding down in what would be one of the Blazers’ final possessions, he dribbled against Miami’s Ray Allen then jumped back beyond the arc.
“I (had) just hit one, and let it go again,” Matthews said, explaining his 3-pointer that gave the Blazers the 91-90 lead with 26 seconds remaining.
Though Matthews made the big one — he finished with 18 points — the Blazers shot only 37.5 percent from the floor. The woeful percentage once buried the Blazers in a 13-point hole, but seeds of the feel-good, comeback win began to manifest in the third.
Portland sliced Miami’s lead to just five points, starting the mini spurt with back-to-back buckets from Batum and Matthews. Reserve guard Ronnie Price also made an impact after checking in the final 2:44 of the quarter.
Price collected a steal from James, and with four seconds remaining he reversed in a layup. A standing ovation welcomed the Blazers back to the sidelines as they only trailed 68-63, but quick Heat strikes in the fourth quarter extended the lead to double figures.
At the 9:23 mark, Blazers fell behind 77-66 and called for a huddle. Out of the timeout, Aldridge and Matthews returned to the floor and with the Portland’s big three reunited, the Blazers began the rally.
“Right now it’s about a team that’s growing together, finding ways to win games, defending home court,” said coach Terry Stotts, whose team won its nine straight at the Rose Garden. “I think it’s a continuation of what we’re trying to build.”
Besides the Heat, the Blazers also have wins over the Lakers, Knicks, Grizzlies and Spurs.