May 12, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Will Barton (5) reacts after making basket against the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quarter in game four of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Blazers' Bench Thrills the Portland Faithful


May 12, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Will Barton (5) passes the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quarter in game four of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland has their own version of Monday Night Raw and the two men slated for the main event were actually teammates. Thomas Robinson and Will Barton threw blows all game trying to acquire bench supremacy for the night; more importantly they were trying to help keep their teams’ hopes alive — even if for just one more game.

Games 1 through 3 in this series were cakewalks for the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs as the young Blazers simply looked over-matched game after game. The individual heroics of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard were quickly overshadowed by the lackluster defensive performance and overall lack of energy by upstart Portland.

So, with his team’s back against the wall head coach Terry Stotts finally wilted and gave in to the urge of almost anyone who has watched the Portland Trail Blazers this season — he gave the bench meaningful minutes! Enter Will Barton and Thomas Robinson. Robinson has been getting a few more minutes of late but Barton really only entered the fray due to the injury suffered by Mo Williams which caused him to miss most of Game 2 and all of Games 3 and 4.

Portland faithful have been all aboard the Will “The Thrill” Barton bandwagon since late last year when he got minutes toward the end of the season as a rookie, but Stotts has been reluctant to use him this season; instead placing trust in Mo Williams. Mo has been decent off the bench for the Blazers, but Barton brings an unabashed exuberance for the game that simply cannot be denied.

 

In the first three games the bench averaged 14.3 points per game — even lower than their already terrible worst average for the playoffs coming into Game 4 at 15.1 points per game. However, it’s hard to produce at a high level when you aren’t getting the opportunities to shine — the Portland bench came into Game 4 averaging only 10.0 minutes played per game — last of the playoff teams. Monday night, however was a different story. Robinson played 24 minutes and finished with nine points, five rebounds and a block while Barton played a cool 30 minutes posting an impressive 17 points and six rebounds on 7-of-13 shooting.

Not only were the numbers there, but the energy on the court was electrifying. Every time Barton or Robinson were involved it seemed to invigorate the crowd and thus that energy transferred to the rest of the team and the rest was history. The increased energy and aggressiveness could be seen in the post-game box score as well.

In the first three games the Spurs outscored the Blazers on points in the paint 40.7 per game to only 35.3 per game for Portland. In Game 4, Portland poured in 62 points in the paint to the Spurs’ 44. Some of this can certainly be attributed to Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter sitting a good amount of the game (Timmy played 27 minutes; Splitter only 22), but once the momentum started rolling the Blazers visibly stepped on the gas pedal and it was non-stop from start to finish.

Can they pull it out and win this series? No. When NBA teams have been up 3-0 in seven game series they are 109-0 all time — those are pretty stacked odds against Portland.

The important thing here is that Portland showed that they can in fact play with the San Antonio Spurs because during the first three games it looked like an alumni game where college players come back to their high school to stomp on the lil’ 16-year-old kids that they once used to be. It’s the most cliché saying ever, but Portland simply needs to take this one game at a time and if after Wednesday night their season is over, then it will certainly be a joy to look back on this unexpected, impressive display of basketball from such a young, up-and-coming roster.

Tags: Nba Playoffs Portland Trail Blazers Thomas Robinson Will Barton

  • Tyrone Bowman

    Fine season Portland. As much as I would have liked San Antonio to sweep I’m glad the Trail Blazers were able to win a game. Try to build depth and keep your main core together!

    • Chris Reichert

      Yeah Portland doesn’t have much to work with. No draft picks (not even a 2nd round!) and very little cap space — Mo is gone (which is good IMO) but any big splash would involve a trade and I don’t see that happening…

      • Michael Dunlap

        Luckily, they don’t need any major players, just need to upgrade the bench. MLE plus some veteran discounts should work just fine.

  • Tyrone Bowman

    Well they showed they are more than Mo Williams on the bench. Portland can probably make the playoffs next year even if they experiment some with different lineups. Barton seems like a stud and Thomas Robinson can be a player. I’ve not watched them enough to know Earl Watson doesn’t fit their system. The way they treated him in the San Antonio series they should trade him or let him walk. Bottom line is I don’t think they’ve reached their ceiling. Sure in the West it’s tougher than the East (look how close the Hawks were to being Eastern Conference Finalists), but the Blazers need to be smart in the summer. Keeping Lopez would be wise…..