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With Two Unlikely Contributions, Blazers Salvage Weekend

Monday, February 09, 2015


With 5:08 left in the fourth quarter, Meyers Leonard checked out. On his way to the bench he was greeted with a slew of emphatic high-fives from teammates and coaches. Taking his seat, Leonard grinned from ear to ear.

He had just played his best, most meaningful stint as Blazer.

A few minutes earlier, the two teams were neck-and-neck. The Blazers were tense. The night before, in Dallas, they'd given away a big lead, and it looked like they might do it again. After falling behind by as many as 17, the Rockets were right back in it.

LaMarcus Aldridge was in foul trouble, and the Blazers were having trouble keeping Houston off the offensive glass.

Enter Leonard.

He made Portland's first four buckets of the quarter. He made a myriad of shots--including a corner three, a sound jump hook, and a cherry-picking fast break layup--and helped the Blazers protect the glass. In that stint, Leonard scored nine points, giving Portland a lead and some breathing room.

But Leonard wasn't the only unlikely savior, Sunday in Houston.

The Rockets had one last run in them, and with less than two minutes remaining they trimmed the lead to four. The crowd was roaring, and the Rockets were believing.

Portland, meanwhile, were running out of time on a largely broken possession. Discombobulated, the ball ended up in the hands of Nicolas Batum, who'd been struggling mightily--not only on Sunday, but in recent months.

But as the shot clock ticked down, Batum, with a defender in his face, had no choice but to let it fly. His fading three-pointer rattled in. The Blazers were up seven with 1:25 remaining. The Rockets' back was broken.

Indeed, thanks to the unlikely contributions of Batum and Leonard, the Blazers salvaged a two-game trip.

It must be mentioned, however, that the Rockets were without Dwight Howard, a critical cog in their wheel. 

Sunday's win does, though, wash away the awful taste of Saturday's stunning collapse. 

The Blazers travel home, where they'll have two days off before hosting the Lakers on Wednesday, their final game before the All-Star break.


With Dwight Howard out, it stands to reason that Aldridge would've had a bigger night. Instead, he was just OK. Aldridge scored 24 points, but grabbed only five rebounds.

Batum's grade is elevated by making that shot clock beating three in the final minutes. In a way, it was what he needed: he didn't really have a chance to think or the choice to defer (things he did often until that point). He finished with five points, seven rebounds, four assists and three turnovers, while making 1-of-4 attempts from deep and 2-of-6 overall.

Lopez's story is much like Aldridge's: he scored, but didn't get too many rebounds. And for Lopez, rebounding is tantamount. Three isn't enough--even if he did manage 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

Lillard is still struggling with his outside shot--and, Sunday, his outside shot selection. It's one thing to bomb step-back three's from four feet beyond the line when you're on one, and another when you're slumping. On the other hand, Lillard did make all of his two-point attempts, and he got to the line continually. He also added five assists and five boards while keeping his turnovers down.

Scoring just six points, Matthews never really got it going, Sunday. Nor was he able to slow James Harden, who poured in a whopping 45. 

Leonard's first half was pretty forgettable, but he really put it together in the fourth quarter--all aspects of his game, from shooting to rebounding to defense--were clicking.

McCollum had another marvelous run in the first half, where he scored 12 points in 11 minutes. 


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