COMMENTARY | Young, inexperienced teams that lack depth aren't supposed to be able to close out tight games against talented foes.
If that's the rule, the Portland Trail Blazers have proven more than once this season that they are the exception, and they did so once again on Saturday night at the Rose Garden.
Trailing by nine with less than 3 minutes remaining against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Blazers scored the game's final 10 points to escape with a 101-100 victory. The win was Portland's second in a row, and the loss was L.A.'s fourth straight.
The two teams tangle again on Sunday night on the Clippers' home court, and the Blazers ought to be riding some momentum into that one after the way they closed out Saturday's game in Portland.
They were impressive in many facets, maintaining poise under pressure, knocking down tough shots, converting free throws and tightening up enough on defense to hold the Clippers scoreless for the game's final 2:38.
That doesn't sound like the stuff we typically see from youth-dominated teams, particularly ones that have a serious lack of depth the way Portland does. Nonetheless, the Blazers came through, starting with rookie Damian Lillard's 3-pointer that got 'em within six. J.J. Hickson dunked, Wesley Matthews converted a three-point play after a nice drive to the hoop, then Hickson drained two free throws with 45 seconds left that proved to be the difference.
I'm still having a heck of a time figuring out what to expect from this Portland team night in and night out, but games like Saturday's make it hard to expect much less than a playoff berth.
Granted, Los Angeles was again playing without injured point guard Chris Paul, but that isn't enough to undervalue the way Portland pulled out this win down the stretch.
Nicolas Batum had a triple-double, with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, helping the Blazers overcome a relatively quiet game from LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 12 points and six boards. Lillard scored 20; Matthews 18; and Hickson 15, including those four clutch points in the final minute and a half.
The bench was quiet as usual, although I keep seeing flashes of potential from rookies Meyers Leonard and Will Barton, who contributed six and five points, respectively.
Still, the Blazers had four starters play at least 37 minutes, with two of those logging 40 or more, and the fifth -- Hickson -- was on the court for 30 minutes.
Then again, when those five have the type of gas left in the tank that they had on Saturday night in stealing away a win from the Clippers, it's tough to complain about all those minutes, isn't it?
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Adam Sparks has followed the Portland Trail Blazers since the early 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.