Batum helps Blazers keep their season alive against Spurs

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer



PORTLAND — In the morning shootaround Monday, Nicolas Batum said for the Blazers, it’s “Game 7 every night,” facing a 3-0 deficit.

With the season on the line, Batum provided a spectacular all-around performance with 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists to help the Blazers keep their season alive in the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal with a 103-92 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

After Batum guarded Tony Parker in the second half of Game 3, Blazers coach Terry Stotts decided to start the game with the same look against Parker.

“Nic was huge, he was everywhere,” said Will Barton who pitched in 17 points and 6 rebounds off the bench. “He had almost a triple-double, that’s what Nic does. Run the court, he makes a lot of plays for us. I feel like when he’s at the top of his game, we’re a tough team to beat.”

The third quarters and second halves had been the Blazers’ lone positive so far in the series and despite their excellent play, they only led by two points at halftime.

In the third quarter, Batum continued his excellence all over the court. Lillard and Aldridge picked up their scoring but Batum made some of the game’s more pivotal plays.

He sandwiched a 4-point play and a deep 3-pointer around a defensive stop in a 37-second span that put the Blazers up by 11 between the 4:51 mark and the 4:14 mark.

Without backup point guard Mo Williams, the Blazers have had to either extend their starters even more than they already are or trust other less-experienced players against the team with the best record in the NBA this season.

They are young, but over the course of three games, the Blazers’ brand of basketball — predicated on chemistry and ball movement — has not been enough against the Spurs, who have rewritten the book on how teams play together.

So, facing elimination with no more cards to play, Stotts turned to youthful energy.

Barton scored 17 points and grabbed 6 rebounds while Robinson scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds of his own, with both players receiving praise from Stotts after the game.

For the first time in the series, the second quarter was not a complete disaster for the Blazers, who only lost the quarter by three points compared to the 13-point deficit they averaged in the first 3 games.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 19 points, sensed the difference in the energy with Barton and Robinson during the second quarter.

“I felt like they definitely helped our second unit be better,” he said. “It’s been talked about our bench all year and our bench definitely came to play tonight.”

Aldridge and every Blazers including Stotts also felt like the Blazers played with better energy on defense.

Stotts also threw caution to the wind by going with a lineup without a point guard for stretches with Batum and Barton handling the ball. Did it surprise Barton to have that line-up? Of course not.

“What? Man me and Nico are point guards, point forwards. (He was)Scottie Pippen-mode Nico. We can bring the ball up, handle that thing and make plays.” he said.

After that, the lead only dropped below 11 points one time before the final buzzer.

Damian Lillard helped the Blazers finish, scoring nine of his 25 points in the fourth quarter by relentlessly attacking the basket.

The Spurs never got within double digits — and midway through the fourth quarter, Gregg Popovich brought out the white flag by not putting Tim Duncan and Tony Parker back in.

“It’s no pressure now on us. They the team with everything to lose now,” Barton said.

Game 5 will be in San Antonio on Wednesday as the Spurs hold a 3-1 series lead.