(DON RYAN / The Associated Press)
PORTLAND — The messages and voice mails from Dallas poured in one after the other.
Members of the Aldridge family responded to their favorite two-time All-Star hitting the game-winning shot against the Mavericks with the same joy and passion that the thousands inside the Rose Garden displayed on Tuesday evening.
LaMarcus Aldridge, a Dallas native, saved his best to down his hometown team, hitting the game-winning jump shot as time expired for the Trail Blazers’ 106-104 victory.
With a well-executed inbounds play, a flick of the wrist and a perfect jump shot, the Blazers (23-22) shook off a large second-half deficit after the Mavericks pulled ahead by 21 points. So by the time Aldridge returned to the Blazers locker room, his phone had over 20 messages on it. Just a glance and he could tell that his mother, Georgia, was about to make his cell phone battery die.
“She’s watching (the game),” said Aldridge, who finished with a game-high 29 points and also contributed 13 rebounds. “She texted me like five or six times.”
The family celebrated, the 18,888 in the Rose Garden rejoiced and even Aldridge – who so often just describes this whole NBA thing as a “job” – beamed broadly as teammates bum rushed him near the Dallas bench.
“He was smiling like a rookie after his first NBA game,” Nicolas Batum said, describing Aldridge.
He seems to be happiest devastating the hometown team.
Last April at the American Airlines Arena, Aldridge carried the Blazers to the 99-97 victory over the Mavericks with a step-back jumper at the buzzer. Then, Terry Stotts watched from the other sideline as a Dallas assistant coach. Surely, from Stotts’ perspective, this Aldridge game-winner felt a bit better.
“People can think what they want to think, but LaMarcus, there’s no question in my mind that he’s an All-Star,” Stotts said. “He didn’t have to make that shot to prove he’s an All-Star. He proves it every night.”
He also happens to prove it whenever he plays against Dallas.
Aldridge scores 21.2 points per game against the Mavericks, according to www.basketball-reference.com and the figure ranks as second highest in his career against any NBA team. Through the last four games versus Dallas, Aldridge has averaged 26.7 points and 11 rebounds.
“That’s how it goes sometimes,” Maverick forward Brandan Wright said about Aldridge’s big shots.
The mundaneness of that insight could only be matched by Stotts’ tongue-in-cheek opening comments in his post-game interview.
“Just another win,” Stotts said.
Sure, just another heart-stopping, doubt-defying, swagger-buttressing win for the Blazers.
In Cleveland, Batum nailed the double-overtime winner. Damian Lillard drained the 3-pointer that sunk the New Orleans Hornets. Now, Aldridge has aimed and fired and silenced Dallas.
The win signified the 10th time this season that the Blazers (23-22) have come back after being down at halftime. Portland has now won eight games after rallying from an 11-point deficit or more. But never before have the buoyant Blazers climbed from such a deep hole.
“I can’t get tired of appreciating what our team does as far as competing and fighting and never giving up,” Stotts said. “We’ve all seen it a number of times this year, but it never gets old.”
“There were too many big plays to remember, but just from being down 21 and coming back, a lot of people contributed to that comeback. Everybody that played the second half contributed to the comeback.”
The role call begins with Aldridge, Lillard and J.J. Hickson (who finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds) all hitting their pairs of free throws near the end of the third quarter. Then continues with reserves Ronnie Price and Sasha Pavlovic scoring five straight in the midst of the fourth-quarter rally. And keeps on with Batum, ignoring the pain in his wrapped shooting wrist.
Batum said he had passed up several shots in the first half – when he began the game 0 for 6 – because of the nagging pain in his right wrist that he injured over a week ago in practice.
“I was very hurt, I couldn’t (shoot),” said Batum, who received treatment on his wrist during halftime. “I taped it (before) the second half.”
Even with the taped wrist, Batum was confident enough to make the 3-pointer that tied the game at 101-101 with 28 seconds remaining.
When Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki answered with a wide-open triple to give the Mavericks the 104-101 lead, the Blazers called timeout then sent out four 3-pointer shooters to even the score (Luke Babbitt, Wesley Matthews, Batum and Lillard) to play with Aldridge. However, the ball found the only Blazer on the floor who hadn’t hit a 3-pointer all season.
Batum drew a double team and while in the air, passed the ball towards Aldridge in the corner. Aldridge doesn’t even shoot long-distance shots at the end of the Blazer practices like his teammates, but felt comfortable enough with the shot from previous sessions with assistant coach Kaleb Canales when the pair incorporated 3-point shooting into the workouts.
So, instinctively, Aldridge stepped behind the arc and with the soft touch, the shot sailed through.
“Just me and K, all summer working out,” Aldridge explained. “I just did it natural.”
Certainly, a big shot but in the eyes of Batum, the biggest play of the game would come moments later on the defensive end.
After the game and after the noise died down in the locker room and players peeled away, Batum, lacing up his shoes, got Hickson’s attention. Batum wanted to relive Price’s play with less than two seconds remaining.
“When Ronnie took a charge,” Batum exclaimed towards Hickson. “That was huge!”
The Mavericks inbounded in front of the Blazers bench and O.J. Mayo curled around to receive the pass. Mayo then attacked the baseline but Price – the defensive option on the court in place of Lillard – stepped in front of the drive.
“I knew I couldn’t jump up and block the shot, because I was too late,” Price said.
Price and Mayo collided, both ended up on the floor but the call favored the Blazers. Price had taken the charge.
“I was (surprised),” Price said about the late-game call. “I knew it was either going to be a block or a charge. I didn’t know if I beat him to the spot or he beat me to the spot. But I knew at the end of the game, they don’t normally make calls but something had to be made because there was a lot of contact on the play.”
The Blazers regained possession and in the timeout, Stotts drew up a variation of the play that won the Dec. 3 Charlotte game in double-overtime. But Matthews did not hit Batum with the pass in the corner, he instead found Aldridge at one of his favorite spots.
“How lucky is that that you could get L.A. on his block, the block that we’re trying to get him on throughout the game,” Price said. “That’s his money shot. Going back over his right shoulder, shooting that fadeaway.”
As the play materialized, Aldridge wrestled with Wright for position but freed up just in time to corral Matthews’ pass with his right hand. Aldridge then turned and shot the 18-footer and just like the corner three moments before, it was natural.
“Big win, big win,” Batum said. “Big shot by L.A.”