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.
Great pick-me-up from Will Barton and Thomas Robinson off the bench tonight for Portland, which has sorely needed something from bench
— Jason Quick (@jwquick) May 13, 2014
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.