By Stephen Alexander, The Sports Xchange
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Saturday night's game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Philadelphia 76ers was a dogfight through the first three quarters. But spurred by a 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter, the Blazers went on to an 89-85 win.
"We struggled to score (in the fourth quarter)," 76ers coach Doug Collins said after Portland led 70-67 at the end of the third quarter. "We haven't been a team that's come back in the fourth quarter yet this year. We've won one game when we were behind after three (quarters), and I don't think we've lost when we're ahead. We're a team that doesn't get points that easy."
But the win at the Rose Garden before 20,569 fans may have come at a very high cost.
With 9:01 remaining, Portland center Myers Leonard went up for a rebound and the Blazers No. 11 draft pick came down hard on his right leg. The video replay appeared to show Leonard's leg locking and bending backward. Blazers coach Terry Stotts and several other players believe that Leonard injured his ankle on the play, but Leonard's condition remained unknown late Saturday evening.
"He's getting x-rayed," Stotts said after the game. "I didn't see the replay. It sounded like it was a sprain. I still haven't seen it. Myers was playing a good game. It was one of his more energetic games. When a guy goes down you never know what the issue is. Hopefully, it's just a sprained ankle but you always hate seeing a guy go down."
Portland has a history of watching the careers of promising young centers -- Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden -- end prematurely because of injury. Leonard had to be helped to the locker room by Blazers medical personnel. The 7-1, 251-pounder was unable to put any pressure on his leg. He left after 16 minutes of action and scored four points.
Throughout the game, Philadelphia forced the Blazers to play a slow tempo game, moving the ball methodically in the half court.
"Philly does a nice job of dictating their tempo," Stotts said. "It's hard to get out and run. We tried to with our rebounding and transition, but we can only dictate half the possessions of the game."
The Blazers pulled out to a 30-23 lead at the end of the first quarter. Portland remained on top at halftime, heading into the break with a 49-40 lead. In the third quarter, the game got even tighter. The 76ers made a run and pulled even with the Blazers twice.
The Blazers were led by Nicolas Batum's 22 points. Damian Lillard scored 20 points, J.J. Hickson scored 17 points, LaMarcus Aldridge scored 16 points.
"For the most part, we played a solid game without too many letups," Stotts said.
The 76ers were led by Jrue Holiday with a game-high 29 points. Thaddeus Young scored 17 points and Nick Young and Spencer Hawes scored 10 points each.
"We needed (Holiday) to score," Collins said. "Thaddeus was active. Nick did some good things. Spencer was very aggressive."
Holiday was only able to score two points in the fourth after Portland asked Batum to guard him during the final period.
"He was killing us," Batum said. "I told coach to let me guard him. He was posting up because he liked the size advantage. I said, 'He won't have it on me. He won't post me up. So let me try to guard him.'"
The 76ers will be on the road for their next three games, facing the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns Wednesday and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.
Portland, meanwhile, enters a stretch of four road games in five days. The Blazers will play the New York Knicks Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies Friday and the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday.
"The road is a challenge for anyone in the NBA," Stotts said. "We've got a challenge. We play four good teams, four games in five nights on the road. We need to bring it every night and come back here."
NOTES: Aldridge (21.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game) missed the final minutes of their 104-87 loss to the Los Angeles because of a bruised chest. Blazers coach Terry Stotts expected Aldridge to be healthy against the Philadelphia 76ers. ... Guard Wesley Matthews missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained left hip flexor. He has not played in six of the Blazers' last nine games. ... In more injury news, guard/forward Jason Richardson returned from a sore back. He is averaging 11.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. ... Both teams were playing for the second time in as many days. On Friday, Philadelphia lost on the road to the Golden State Warriors and the Blazers lost on the road to the Lakers. ... Hickson recorded his 18th double-double of the season (16 points, 13 rebounds). He is tied with Dwight Howard for the third-most double-doubles in the NBA this season.