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15 Most Important Games Of The Season: House Of Horrors

09/16/10
  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. 3: House Of Horrors


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

    For reasons unexplainable, certain arenas around the NBA make life on the basketball court a living nightmare for the Portland Trail Blazers. And none have been more frightening than American Airlines Arena in Dallas where the Trail Blazers had lost 11 straight games, the longest such streak against any NBA opponent at the time, before they laced ‘em up on December 22nd, 2009. Portland, already down five men heading into the contest, seemed like they would need divine intervention to walk out of Dallas alive with a win.

    Just 17 days after losing starting center, Greg Oden for the season with a fractured patella, the Trail Blazers looked as if they had finally awaken from their state of shock by winning three of their last four heading into the matchup with Dallas. But falling in line with the story of the season, things wouldn’t be rosy for long. And with 3:12 left in the first quarter, Portland’s season went from unfortunate to downright disastrous. With the score tied at nine, Steve Blake drove the lane and tossed up a running floater which caromed off the rim. As he’s done his entire career, Joel Przybilla attacked the offensive glass but ended up landing on his right leg violently, causing him to suffer a ruptured right patellar tendon and patella dislocation.

    “I knew it was pretty severe when it happened,” said Przybilla, who was surprisingly upbeat after the game. “My leg was stuck in a funny position. It really didn’t hurt, but I could tell something wasn’t right.”

    In a matter of seconds, the Trail Blazers lost their intimidator in the middle, the rock on defense they leaned so heavily upon, and their last “true” center on the roster. As one of the longest tenured players on the team (6 seasons), Joel had become the heart and soul of the squad, leading by example with his blue collar approach to each and every game. With the loss of Oden still fresh in their minds combined with Joel’s early season exit, how could the Blazers possibly pick themselves up and compete when the season seemingly had reached its nadir?

    “We just couldn't believe that somebody else went down,” Aldridge said. “We all stopped and were like, please tell me this isn't real.”

    Unfortunately, it was all very real and the Blazers needed to rapidly regroup and refocus, because the Mavericks had no intentions of rolling over and dying in an act of sympathy for their wounded opponents. As if playing in front friends and family in his hometown wasn’t enough motivation, LaMarcus Aldridge flipped the switch immediately after Joel went down, scoring 13 of his 19 points over the final 15 minutes of the half. The determined and aggressive nature of LA’s play had the fans at American Airlines Arena stunned when they looked up and saw their Mavs trailing the depleted Trail Blazers, 44-33, at the half.

    “I was just like I gotta do something to give us some momentum,” Aldridge said. “I kind of felt the air go out of us and I was like, ‘I’ve got to keep us going,’ and I was telling guys, ‘We just have to play even harder.’ But rather than talk about it, I wanted to show it. I was trying to do something to give us some energy.”

    Portland knew Dallas wouldn’t go quietly into the night for another half of basketball (33 points, 14-42 FG), but no one could have expected the bombardment the Mavs put on in the third quarter. Two of the Trail Blazers’ biggest nemesis, Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Juan Barea, each poured in 11 points during a third quarter onslaught, aiding a 32 point period for the Mavericks, catapulting them into a 65-58 lead going toward the fourth; an 18 point turnaround from halftime. Surely the undermanned Trail Blazers would waive the white flag, surrender to Dallas, and just be happy they put up a good fight despite being so weakened, right? Not exactly.

    Playing on strictly grit and guts, the Trail Blazers put together one of the all-time inspirational team efforts in the fourth quarter. Four minutes into the last period, Portland had only chipped one point off of Dallas’ lead, trailing 70-64, when it happened. Known for his “dagger” threes, Steve Blake drilled bookend trifectas to kick start and finish a 17-3 Portland run which spanned five minutes, giving Rip City an 81-73 advantage with just 3:28 remaining. Dallas charged back and made it close after Nowitzki swished in a three-point field goal, inching his team within two at the 1:16 mark, but Jason Terry couldn’t covert on a driving lay-up in the closing seconds. Andre Miller iced the game at the foul line, giving the Trail Blazers one of their most mentally exhausting wins of the season, 85-81.

    “Things just keep happening to us,” McMillan said. “We don’t know the reason why. Tonight, we lost big Joel and the guys came together, they didn’t quit, they rallied together and they stayed together. I think we played on emotions tonight. I think they were (ticked) off that this happened to another brother, in a sense, another family member. And even though Dallas didn’t really have anything to do with it, I think they kind of took it out on (them).”

    Realizing now that any one player can be lost in an instant, relying on one player to rebound or another to shoulder the scoring load is not an option. And over those final three quarters the Trail Blazers learned it’s going to take a team effort the rest of the way to make the playoffs for a consecutive season. Thought to be only along for the ride, the signing of Juwan Howard didn’t make complete sense until he was thrown into the deep end, playing a then season-high 34 minutes and racking up his first double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) since 2007. Along with Howard, Portland also received unforeseen contributions from rookie, forward Jeff Pendergraph who scored 2 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in his first career NBA minutes. Needless to say, those two (Howard, Pendergraph) will be depended on to try and fill the large shoes vacated by Przybilla’s season-ending injury.

    "It was bittersweet," Aldridge said. "We lost Joel, which was a blow to us… but Juwan came in and played great and gave us great minutes, rebounding and knocking down shots that we needed. We just have to keep fighting adversity."

    As if they were in a haunted house, the Trail Blazers were in for one, final scare before the night would officially end. After missing a lay-up, Brandon Roy, who was quite spectacular himself in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 23, got tangled up with a Dallas player while he was wrestling for the loose ball and ended up “tweaking” it. Without their two bigs in the middle, losing Roy for any amount of time could have been a catastrophic blow to an already depleted Blazers squad. Although he wasn’t able to lift his left arm over his shoulder in the locker room, he said he would try to play the following night in San Antonio and hold off on an MRI until the team returned to Portland on Christmas Eve.

    “We just keep losing guys and it’s nerve-racking just to take the floor,” Coach McMillan said.

    Previous Important Games
    #4 || #5 || #6 || #7 || #8 || #9 || #10 || #11 || #12 || #13 || #14 || #15

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