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15 Most Important Games Of The Season: A Bittersweet Return

08/19/10
  1. Written by: DHawes22  / avg. rating: 5.0


    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. 9: A Bittersweet Return


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

    October 26th, 2009. The date that should be ingrained into Trail Blazers' fans memories as the day which started a string of 311 games missed due to injury, second most in the league to Golden State and the most accrued by any team to appear in the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The injury bug bit 13 Blazers at one time or another over the course of the season only sparing Andre Miller and Martell Webster.

    October 26th, 2009 was the day it was announced that returning small forward, Nicolas Batum would miss the majority of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Many shrugged off the set-back, touting the depth of the team, mainly at small forward with veterans Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster more than capable of holding down the fort until Nic returned, and pointed out the team won 54 games the previous year without their returning starter (Webster) as ways to overcome the loss of Batum.

    Fast forward 121 days and 45 games later to January 25th, 2010. The Trail Blazers are 27-18 and only a mere 3 games back of the first place Nuggets and the Hornets are in the Rose City for their only appearance of the season, but things are quickly unraveling. Brandon Roy re-aggravates his pulled hamstring just five days earlier in Philadelphia and after the latest injury, the Trail Blazers only have eight players available for action three days later in Detroit to end a four-game Eastern swing. Portland ended up gutting out a 97-93 win at Detroit to salvage a split on the road trip, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that Portland needs a shot in the arm in the worst way. Insert Nicolas Batum.

    After seeing his team fall behind by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, Batum wasted little time reminding the Rip City faithful of his capabilities by scoring on a driving lay-up just 26 seconds after checking in and was integral in Portland fighting back as he added an alley-oop dunk, stole the ball and drove coast-to-coast for another lay-up, showing no ill-effects from his 45 game hiatus. In his first 6:18 shift of the season, Nico tallied 6 points, on 3-for-4 shooting, handed out one assist, grabbed a rebound, and played the stellar defense fans and teammates alike are accustomed to seeing. When the dust had settled on Nic’s first run of the season, he, along with the rest of the bench, led a 17-10 run over the course of 6:18 to ultimately give the Trail Blazers their first lead of the night, 42-41 with 5:42 remaining in the second quarter.

    “I wasn’t tired,” Batum said, in reference to his second-quarter play. “When they took me out, they said, ‘Are you OK?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good. Leave me on the court. I’m all right.’”

    Although he failed to score in the second half and only was able to play 4:05 in quarters three and four, most likely due to a lack of conditioning, Batum had already left his mark on the game. Energized by Nicolas’ homecoming, the starters picked up right where the bench left off and after Rudy Fernandez sank two free throws, Portland put a stranglehold on the game, leading 96-88 with 3:26 left in the game. Similar to how the season was going at the moment, the game began to unravel right then and there for the Trail Blazers.

    What happened over the course of the final 3:26 will not be soon forgotten. While the Trail Blazers bricked their last six field goal attempts, missed one of two free throws, and committed a shot-clock violation, the Hornets reeled off a 10-1 run, including Chris Paul's game-winning 16-foot jump shot with only 3.9 seconds left to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat. Clutch time is usually Brandon Roy time, but with no Roy to turn to this time around, Portland placed the ball in the hands of Jerryd Bayless for the final shot. But his off-balanced shot misfired.

    “We just couldn’t make shots," Webster said in regards to what went wrong. "We got great looks, great looks at the basket. It was just one of those things. You’ve got to fight through it, battle through it. I definitely tip my hat to my teammates because we were down big in the first half and we rallied back to get it back. Down the stretch, we couldn’t get any stops and Chris got open and knocked down that shot. That really hurt. There’s another game Wednesday so that’s where our minds are.”

    This wasn't just another loss or a fluke comeback by the opposition. Losing leads late in games and not being able to win the close ones has become a worrisome trend for the Trail Blazers during the 2010 season. After the loss to the Hornets, Portland was a mere 2-3 in games decided by four points or less and would eventually finish the year 5-6 in such scenarios; a tough pill for Trail Blazers' fans and players to swallow considering their phenomenal 11-3 record the previous year in the exact same situations.

    While the sting of the loss and the mystery of not being able to put teams away took precedence over Nicolas Batum's return for the time being back on that January night, there's no doubt that night in history will be remembered for the re-birth of Nicolas Batum. Even though he wasn’t in mid-season form, Portland got their small forward for the foreseeable future back, ready, and healthy, proving good can be found in the most arduous situations, even a loss.

    “He was better than I thought he would be,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “He was moving and attacking offensively. And did a good job. He was a big part of us having that big second quarter.”

    Just 15 days after his first appearance of the season, Nic got the first of many starts against Oklahoma City. And 18 days after his first start, Batum played the game of his NBA life, scoring 31 points (22 in the 3rd quarter alone), on 11-for-16 shooting from the floor, including 5-for-8 from behind the arc, pulling down 7 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists, essentially putting his entire repertoire on showcase for the rest of the NBA to see. In true Batum progression, the next night out against Memphis, he responded with 21 points on 7-for-11 field goal shooting and 4-for-7 from downtown, proving he is no one-hit wonder.

    “Three months is long; 45 games is too long to be on the side,” Batum said. “So it was great to be back.”

    Previous Important Games
    #10 || #11 || #12 || #13 || #14 || #15

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