In the first three games of their Western Conference Semifinals series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Portland Trail Blazers did little that would suggest they could compete with the No. 1 seed. In Monday night's Game 4, they at least accomplished enough to give their fans hope.
In a convincing victory at Moda Center, the Blazers topped the Spurs 103-92 to avoid a sweep and extend their series to Wednesday's Game 5 in San Antonio. After dropping the first three games by an average of 18.7 points, the Blazers improved in several key areas to keep their season alive. Point guard Damian Lillard was the star with 25 points, two of which came on this pretty drive and emphatic dunk:
This fourth-quarter finish from the young star punctuated the win:
Lillard's highlights were emblematic of the Blazers' freer approach to the game. Facing elimination, the West's No. 5 seed played with a sense of desperation and got contributions from all seven of their rotation players. Five of them scored in double figures, while Robin Lopez (nine points and 12 rebounds) and Thomas Robinson (nine points) nearly joined them. Nicolas Batum had the team's most productive all-around game with 14 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. Will Barton, a player not expected to play a big role in the series, had 17 points. The team-wide shooting stats aren't anything to write home about, but this was Portland's best performance in the series by a considerable margin.
For all the Blazers did right, their biggest improvement likely came in an area that doesn't necessarily jump out in the box score. After giving up horrific, game-changing runs to start the second quarter in each of their three losses, the Blazers kept the Spurs from overwhelming them and maintained their composure. Entering the second quarter with a 29-24 lead, the Blazers never lost the lead in the period. They didn't build upon the margin — in fact, they lost the second 24-21 — but a minor dip represents a victory in the context of the series.
Without conceding a huge run, the Blazers dominated the third quarter 35-20. The lead got up to as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had subbed out all his key players with 6:45 left in regulation. The Blazers controlled this game for the vast majority, a notable achievement given their lack of success in prior contests.
The operative question is if they can do the same in Game 5. The Spurs will be well-rested — no one played more than 27 minutes — and the Blazers likely won't see the same level of team-wide success on the road that they did in Game 4. However, they do have considerable room to improve their shooting, so it's not as if Game 4 was a total best-case scenario. San Antonio remains the overwhelming favorite to move on in this series, but Portland has reason for hope.
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