PORTLAND — A day earlier, the Portland Trail Blazers had squandered their highest-scoring quarter of the season as the Los Angeles Clippers used a big second half to take away a game from the Blazers.
Thanks to 21 points and inspiring play from Wesley Matthews as well as an easy 28-point, nine-rebound and four-assist game from LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers held off Denver’s runs to get back on track with a 113-98 win on Sunday.
But the win came at a cost.
Starting small forward Nicolas Batum was helped off the court in the final minute of the game with an apparent right leg injury in a collision with Denver’s Timofey Mozgov while going for a rebound.
Before reporters were told to leave the locker room, Batum didn’t come to his locker and players still were unsure about his status. Later, the team said Batum’s MRI indicated a bruised right knee and that he is questionable for Tuesday’s game against Charlotte.
For the second game in as many nights, the Blazers were hot to start the game, scoring 36 first-quarter points to build a nine-point lead.
Portland went through a scoring drought for the first 2:56 of the second quarter as the Nuggets got within two.
Then Matthews came back into the game, hit a three-pointer, and then all was well with the Blazers again.
A key second quarter Matthews sequence began when he missed an open three, then dove on the floor to get an offensive rebound that led to a wide-open Aldridge jumper, giving Portland a boost with the Nuggets closing in, bringing a smile to his coach’s face.
“Wes is a competitor. He finds a way, he wills a way,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Plays like that go a long way for the team. It infuses energy, enthusiasm. It’s contagious. Those type of plays, teams thrive on.”
Added Matthews: “I was actually mad because I missed the shot, that initiated all that.”
And then he capped off the quarter with a buzzer-beating three followed by a high-five with a fan court side.
Plays like the one Matthews made indicates a shift in Blazers mindset according to Damian Lillard.
“That’s the effort plays that we didn’t always have last year,” said Lillard, who finished 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds. “We weren’t always trying to go after those loose balls. It’s just been a different level of every and effort from this team on the defensive end and competing for 50-50 balls.”
Chris Kaman continues to look like a mid-level exception well spent, scoring 12 points, to go with eight rebounds and five blocks, his most in a game since 2011 according to the Blazers.
The Blazers had 10 blocks as a team and held the Nuggets under 40 percent shooting.
Denver only came as close as seven points in the final period with the Blazers never letting their foot off the gas and completing an end-to-end performance. The Nuggets largest lead of the game was one point in the first quarter.
So far in this young season the Blazers have the sixth best defensive rating, measured in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com to go along with their sixth rated offense.
“I think we’ve answered the bell as far as what we needed to do defensively. Even though the season is still young we’ve done a great job defensively,” Matthews said.
It was the first home game since the tragic death of fan Sandra “Sandy” Zickefoose, who collapsed in the stands on Thursday. The team honored her by wearing shirts with her name on them and presented her family with a signed jersey from the team.
“I just wanted to do something,” Aldridge said. “I thought it was a nice gesture. We wanted to let them know that they were on our minds. We don’t want to take what happened for granted and I thought they appreciated it. That’s definitely not going to make it better, but that’s just showing them that we care.”