Recap: Blazers 97, Pacers 92
PORTLAND — Last week, LaMarcus Aldridge said that the Trail Blazers have been stuck in a “horror movie” because of their perpetual string of injuries.
Candid quote, but he got the genre wrong.
These past few games have been more like science fiction — really, it just doesn’t seem possible.
The Blazers extended their winning streak to five on a night in which Andre Miller left the game after three minutes due to gastroenteritis.
They moved to five games over .500 Saturday despite being without their starting center for the past three games and last year’s leading scorer for the past 19.
They beat Indiana, 97-92, after trailing by 16 points in the second quarter and playing more than half the game without a true point guard or center.
So either Portland (25-20) has become the most resilient in team in the NBA…or the Force is with it.
“It gets tough, I’m not going to lie. Emotionally, I’m not trying to get sensitive, but every time you suit up and you hear a key guy isn’t playing it’s like ‘what are we going to do now?'” said Aldridge. “But guys keep stepping up. Seems like every week we’re talking, “how’d you do it again? This guy’s not in.’ It’s nothing new. Guys keep stepping up.”
Whether it’s throwing a dart or drawing out of a hat, Blazers tradition these days seems to consist of Aldridge choosing a teammate or two to join him for four quarters of excellence.
Saturday’s selection? Nicolas Batum.
Aldridge, playing a whopping 46 minutes, scored 25 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. But it was Batum who opened the fourth quarter with four straight 3-pointers — mutating a one-point deficit to an eight-point lead in four minutes and 43 seconds.
How did the ball feel coming off of your hands? Batum was asked.
“I was sure,” answered Batum, who scored 23 points and tied a career high with five 3-pointers. “I was sure…that fourth one, that was big for us.”
With Marcus Camby having undergone knee surgery Thursday, the Blazers had a legitimate center on the court for 19 of the game’s 48 minutes. And with Miller sidelined, they had a genuine point guard on the floor for 21.
The 6-foot-8 Dante Cunningham logged 30 minutes in the post as a result, while Rudy Fernandez saw 36 minutes — most of them at point. But it all worked somehow, particularly in the fourth quarter, in which the Blazers scored on eight of their first 10 possessions.
“Gutty,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said of Fernandez, who scored 11 points and hit a 3-pointer with 1:26 remaining to put Portland up by six. “You’re talking about a team. As I told them at halftime, we knew Miller was struggling before the game. We’ve been here before. You’ve just got to pull together and stay connected and have each other’s back.”
Easier said than done when you’re trailing, 35-19, two minutes into the second quarter. Potentially hollow words when you commit seven turnovers in the first quarter alone.
But when the Blazers finished the game with 29 assists and 14 turnovers with a shooting guard running the point?
“How about that?,” McMillan said, glowing.
Wesley Matthews added 19 points for Portland, which went 10 for 20 from 3-point distance. Danny Granger led the Pacers (16-24) with 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting.
Miller, who had his streak of 632 consecutive games played snapped last month after intentionally barreling Blake Griffin to the ground, has long taken pride in being one the NBA’s iron men. McMillan was asked after the game whether Miller, who signaled from the court that he wanted to be subbed out, started Saturday simply to be in the box score.
“I don’t think it was that,” McMillan said. “But even if it was, I like the effort.”