Through three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers would sink further into malaise with a loss to yet another team far below them in the standings.
But furious fourth quarter performances from LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Thomas Robinson lifted the Trail Blazers to a 110-94 victory over the Orlando Magic Wednesday night at the Moda Center.
“Well we need that one,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was pleased for a lot of reasons. I thought our defense to start the game, our defense in the fourth quarter obviously was very good. Thomas Robinson came in and gave us nice energy in the fourth quarter. Wes carried us midway through the second half and LA was great all night.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers move to 27-9 on the season and sit a half game back from Oklahoma City and a full game behind the Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference.
Aldridge scored 21 points in the first half, but no other Trail Blazers logged more than seven before the intermission. Portland trailed by as many as 12 in the second quarter before pulling to within six before the halftime break.
“We had defensive letdowns. I thought loose balls – they played with a little bit more energy and urgency than we did,” said Stotts of the first quarter. “We didn’t necessarily shoot the ball well. A lot of times it’s a combination of both things. I was disappointed with our defense in the second quarter, and like I said, our urgency affecting the game.”
Portland trailed 75-71 going into the fourth, but they would start the quarter on a 13-5 run to seize control of the game. The Trail Blazers seemed inspired by the play of Robinson, who looked to reclaim his spot in the rotation with a six-point, three-rebound performance. While those numbers are in no way eye-popping, Robinson finished a game-high +22 in just 11 minutes, with all of those minutes coming in the pivotal fourth quarter.
“I just wanted to prove to coach that’s who I am as a player,” said Robinson. “I go back and forth with myself mentally and I have since I got drafted, trying to prove something to everybody, show that I can do so much other stuff that it just takes away from who I am. That’s what caused me to get out of the rotation. Going into tonight or any of the other games that I didn’t play, just mentally, patiently waiting for my time to get in.”
With Robinson providing the necessary hustle and Matthews handling the bulk of the scoring (10 points on four of nine shooting in the fourth quarter), the Trail Blazers would outscore Orlando 39-19 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 16-point victory in front of a crowd of 18,949.
Aldridge finished with a game-high 36 points to go along with nine rebounds, three blocks and an assist. With his first free throw of the night, he surpassed Geoff Petrie for seventh on the Trail Blazers all time made free throws list (1,793) and by playing in his 544th career game, tied Rasheed Wallace for ninth in games played.
Batum, playing with a broken left (non-shooting) middle finger, recorded a triple-double with 14 points, a career-high 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
“I just get used to it now,” said Batum of playing with a broken finger. “I practiced with it and tried to not think about it and tried to play through it.”
Batum joins Rajon Rondo, Kevin Durant and LeBron James as the only NBA players with at least four triple-doubles over the past two seasons. He is just the fifth Trail Blazer in franchise history to record at least four triple-doubles.
“Last night in Sacramento, I thought he was tentative early in the game,” said Stotts of Batum. “As the game progressed in Sacramento, he looked more and more comfortable with it. Tonight, he hits that first shot and was aggressive and it didn’t look like he had any effects from it. It’s easy for me to say – I’m sure it’s bothering him – but I didn’t think he played like it was affecting him.”
Matthews shook off a rough shooting performance in the loss to the Kings on Tuesday to finish with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes.
Said Mathews: “I was just trying to get back to being angry. Like I said after the Brooklyn game – a new level of angry, a new level of mad. Not to say I toned it down, but over the course of the season, I might have lost a little bit of it, so I had to get it back.”
Wednesday’s game was also the debut of Trail Blazers rookie guard CJ McCollum, who checked in for the first time in his professional career at the 3:15 mark of the first quarter. After missing the first 34 games while recovering from a fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his left foot, McCollum finished with four points and two rebounds in 14 minutes.
“It was what I expected,” said McCollum. “Getting to come in and kind of contribute off the bench and help contribute in a win was great. Great way to start my career. Just want to make sure I’m tight in everything, continue to work hard and not be content.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Celtics Saturday night. Tipoff is schedule for 7 PM.