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15 Most Important Games Of The Season: Letting The Jazz Come Back

05/19/10
  1. Written by: caseyholdahl

    It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of an NBA season. There's little time for reflection when the focus is always on the next game.

    With the 2009-2010 season behind us, now is a good time to count down the 15 games that shaped the season and, possibly, the future of the franchise. Game No. 14: Letting The Jazz Come Back.

    Links: Game Recap || Game Notes || Photo Gallery

    There's a running joke between Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan and the Portland media that covers the team. Someone will ask McMillan if a particular upcoming contest is "a big game." McMillan replies, as he always does, that "every game is a big game." In response, the reporter will give any number of reasons why said game feels bigger, say a game against a division rival, to which McMillan responds that he doesn't understand or agree with that line of reasoning. Despite whatever the perceived magnitude might be, a win or loss in a "big game" counts the same as in a "little game."

    It's a good thing that the NBA agrees with McMillan, because if for some reason bad losses did count more than once, Portland's overtime loss to Utah on February 21, 2010 would have been worth at least double in the Trail Blazers' loss column.

    The Trail Blazers looked like their were on their way to one of their best victories of the season, at least for the first 29 minutes of the game. Portland had built a 25-point lead with just over seven minutes to play in the third quarter against a Jazz team that had won 17 of their last 20. Portland had lost all three of the previous games of the season to the Jazz by an average of 14.3 points. This was a chance to get one back, beat the hottest team in the league and avoid a season series sweep.

    Through three quarters, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum had already scored in double figures. Batum had one of the best fastbreak blocks of the season on Deron Williams. The Jazz were shooting 39 percent from the field and a miserable 1 for 11 from three. Utah didn't score their first points of the second quarter until the 6:45 mark in the third. Mehmet Okur was back in Salt Lake and Andrei Kirilenko was on the bench with back spasms. The Rose Garden crowd had already fired up the wave. Everything was going Portland's way.

    But then, the fourth quarter happened. In one of the most offensively-deficient quarters in recent memory, the Trail Blazers clanked their way to a total of 10 points in the final quarter on 2 for 17 shooting. Portland didn't score a field goal until the 4:54 mark and only Roy and Miller ended up scoring at all. The Jazz ended up shooting just 35 percent in the fourth quarter, usually not a strong enough clip to fight back from a 13-point deficit, but with the Portland offense already in the locker room showering up, 35 percent ended up being enough.

    The Blazers almost managed to trip their way across the finish line with Deron Williams missing a game-tying 19-foot jumper with 5.3 seconds to play at Portland up 83-81, but Carlos Boozer pulled down one of his career-high 23 rebounds and flipped in a last second hook shot to send the game to overtime. After giving up a 25-point lead in the final 19 minutes of the game, the Trail Blazers losing in overtime was a foregone conclusion.

    "You have an opportunity to put a team away," said McMillan after the game, "you never allow them to gain confidence and I thought some of our shots that we took in that third quarter against that zone and their defense, we lost our rhythm. They got momentum and all of a sudden you lose a little bit of confidence and you can’t make a shot.”

    Roy, which finished the game with 23 points, said that a lack of close games hurt Portland when it came to late game execution.

    “This is the first competitive fourth quarter I’ve been in in a long time," said Roy, "but watching, it seems like we get a little stagnant on offense, not as much movement as I think we had earlier in the game. We’ve got to try to clean that up.”

    Which they did, at least in the short term. As McMilllan had pointed out time and time again, the loss did in fact only count once The Blazers ended up winning 14 of their next 17 games after losing in gut-wrenching fashion. Though it was arguably the most demoralizing loss of the season, it might have served as a wake-up call for a team that had fallen asleep in the fourth quarter.

    “If we are serious about really making a run, we’ve got to act like it and we’ve got to play like it," said McMillan. "We’ve got to have guys step up. We’ve got veterans; we’ve got guys who’ve been on the team. We’ve got to show that in what we do out on the floor and the moves we’ve made and having guys back, if we’re serious about making a run down this stretch, that’s got to show in our play.”

    Previous Important Games
    No. 15: Andre Miller's First Start As A Blazer

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