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15 Most Important Games Of The Season: Miller's Time

10/12/10
  1. Written by: DHawes22  / avg. rating: 4.7


    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. 2: Miller's Time


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

    Despite the constant change in personnel year in and year out, there will always come a point in every team’s season where they are stuck at a crossroads; a defining moment that will characterize the makeup of the squad. For the Trail Blazers, their January 30th matchup against the Mavericks in Dallas provided that scenario.

    Portland was reeling, losers of three straight and in danger of falling behind in the jam-packed Western Conference where just one loss separated sixth place from twelfth. If the task at hand wasn’t daunting enough, they encountered this turning point without their leader, Brandon Roy, who re-aggravated a hamstring injury 10 days earlier.

    In the three games where Portland lost a teammate to a long-term injury (Outlaw, Oden, Przybilla), it was Roy who came to his team’s rescue by leading them in scoring and guaranteeing no other result but a win, including the amazing game winner against Houston. But facing adversity was nothing new to this team and the Trail Blazers have pulled their own magic act a time or two, defeating the likes of Orlando and San Antonio sans Roy. Although every person with a vested interest in the team thought they had seen it all through 48 games, no one could have been prepared for what was about to go down in Dallas.

    Throughout his 11-year NBA career, Andre Miller has been synonymous with court vision, leading the league in assists in 2002 (10.9 apg) and durability, currently holding the NBA’s active Iron Man title, playing in 612 consecutive games. But scoring? No, that’s not Dre’s mindset. Even on nights where he’s got the hot hand, all Andre wants to do is look to get others involved. Yet, on this night, it took a little extra “encouragement” from his teammates to ensure one of the greatest single-game performances in franchise history took place.

    "And the thing about it is, he wasn't trying to score after a while, he was trying to pass," Aldridge said. "We were trying to force him to shoot it. He was trying to run plays for us, but we were like, no, you are killing them. But that's him, he's unselfish."

    Without Roy to turn to, most figured it would be LaMarcus Aldridge stepping up to fill the void, but early on Dallas honed in on the Blazer big, game planning their entire defense around him. And why wouldn’t they? From their point of view, no one else was capable of putting a team on their back and carrying them to a win in a hostile environment. Nicolas Batum had just three games under his belt after rehabbing his shoulder, half of the active roster was either first or second year players, and Andre was in the midst of a gigantic slump over his last three games, shooting 4-for-25 in that span, including a two point outing the previous night in Houston. On paper, the strategy seemed bulletproof, but after the first period, Portland found themselves up 26-21, and one member of the team was just heating up.

    Andre had 8 in the first and laid the groundwork for one of the most exhilarating finishes the NBA saw over the course of the 2010 season by adding an additional 19 points during the second and third quarters to give Portland a 73-69 lead heading into the fourth. Even though the Trail Blazers had to feel good at this juncture in the game, there was reason for concern. Dirk Nowitzki only had 8 points and for a player who had a career 20.6 ppg average against Portland and is widely regarded as one of the toughest covers in the league, it would be only a matter of time before Nowitzki went on a scoring outburst. Yet Dirk could be negated if Miller kept up his torrid pace. The only question would be if Dre, 10 points shy of tying his career-high, would ride his hot hand or revert back to his engrained ways of being unselfish?

    "I've had a few heated nights in my career, but I think this was one of those nights where I just didn't stop shooting," Miller said. "The other nights when I was hot, I stopped myself from shooting the ball. ...Tonight was the night where I just kept doing it. I just didn't settle."

    Question answered. The setting for the fourth and final quarter was American Airlines Arena in Dallas, but it might as well have been on the dirt roads of the Wild West as Dirk and Dre were about to embark in an old fashioned shootout. Trailing by seven, with 9:14 left, Dirk finally converted his first field goal since 4:24 remaining in the first. It would be the first two of his 14 in the period, something Portland knew was coming, but like a storm, unable to prevent. However, on this night, Andre always had an answer. It was almost like he was playing a game of “Anything you can do, I can do better”, matching Nowitzki shot for shot. When it was all said and done, Andre poured in 18 clutch points in the quarter, running his total to 45 and completely shattering his old record (37), but he saved the best for last. With Portland down two and under 30 seconds to go, Andre drove hard to the middle, swooping in from the wing with Shawn Marion draped all over him and threw up a hook shot Aldridge said was “like Magic”. The ball bounced on the rim, seemingly in slow motion, before finally finding the bottom of the nylon. Overtime.

    “I played him pretty well, but once he’s got it going like that, what am I gonna do?” Marion said. “He could have thrown a hook shot from halfcourt and it would have gone in.”

    After Miller kicked off the overtime with a step-back three, it looked as if Portland had chosen their path at the crossroads, but in reality they hadn’t even faced the true test. Immediately after Miller’s triple, Dallas responded with a 9-2 run over the next two minutes, seemingly sucking all the life out of Portland. But the Trail Blazers had fought too valiantly to fold now and responded in the same fashion which got them to this point in the first place; putting the ball in the hands of Miller. On back to back possessions, Andre drove to the hoop for his 52nd point to tie the score at 112, then drew a double team and found Juwan Howard for a turn-around jumper to give Portland a two-point lead. With just seconds to go, Batum challenged Dirk’s final attempt to force double over time just enough for the shot to gently carom off the rim.

    "And tonight, we did the little things. We created our own luck," McMillan said. "Nic chased down a rebound and saved it over his head. (Jerryd) Bayless takes it to the basket late and gets those free throws. And Juwan makes that shot. We have been getting those shots lately; we just haven't been making them. But he made it tonight."

    Although Andre’s 52 point night will get all the publicity, and deservingly so, without Batum’s defense in the fourth quarter and overtime on Dirk, the Trail Blazers don’t walk away victorious. While Batum prides himself on his ability to stop anyone at any time, he had extra motivation denying Dirk. See, it was Nowitzki who injured Nic’s shoulder, grabbing it and pulling it back as he ran past him last March. But Batum wouldn’t have been able to cover Nowitzki on his physical attributes alone; it is his cerebral approach to the game that provided him with the last laugh.

    "I was looking forward to this game juuuuuust a little bit," Batum said with a smile. “I had 45 games with nothing to do, so I just watch film. I studied tapes and knew that he always dribbled left, left, pump fake, spin. Every time. So I just watched the ball -- not him at all, just the ball -- and when he shot I raised my hands, because there is no way you can block him."

    Even though he was third on the Trail Blazers free agent wish list, after Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap, Andre proved why he was the right choice all along. His impact on the 2010 Blazers was felt far beyond this incredible night. In a season full of peaks and valleys, it was he who was able to fight off the injury bug and be the constant figure in the locker room. Without Miller, there may have been no postseason for the Rose City, as he was able to keep this team above water just enough during the winter months en route to a 50 win season. And while his 22 made field goals are now a franchise record and 52 points are enough for second most all-time, Andre acted as if he had been there before and realized it was simply his turn to step up.

    “He’s in here acting like he had 10 points.” Aldridge said. “I’m like, ‘Andre, how about some emotion? How about some excitement?’ He (Miller) said ‘We won. I'm just glad we won.’”

    Previous Important Games
    #3 || #4 || #5 || #6 || #7 || #8 || #9 || #10 || #11 || #12 || #13 || #14 || #15

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