Spurs undone by critical gaffes

By Jeff McDonald

PORTLAND, Ore. – The doors swung open to the visiting locker room at the Rose Garden late Friday night, revealing a scene somber even for a wake.

Minutes earlier, the Spurs had just dropped a 98-96 decision at the buzzer, losing again in Portland, this time amid a roll call of fourth-quarter errors so horrifying they would later have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Side-by-side, players sat at their lockers in pindrop silence. Coach Gregg Popovich, still in coat and tie, paced the room. All wore the same blank expression that asked the same unanswerable question: What had just happened?

On a laptop in one corner rolled video of Portland’s final, fateful play – a tie-breaking lob from Andre Miller to Nicolas Batum that beat the horn and set off Mardi Gras in bleachers. Four morbidly curious Spurs gathered around grimly, medical examiners performing their own autopsy.

Batum scored four points in the final 0.9 seconds, lifting the Trail Blazers from certain defeat, to probable overtime, to stunning victory, all without leaving time to breathe.

“It was ridiculous,” a subdued Manu Ginobili said. “One of the craziest games I’ve lost in the NBA.”

The Spurs still led 96-90 with 1:22 to go, when Ginobili drilled his fourth 3-pointer. Their Rose Garden demons, which had conjured up five straight losses in Portland, seemed on the edge of banishment.

And then, Miller scooted for a layup.


And then, Miller took the ball from Tony Parker, his career-high eighth turnover, and made another basket with 30.2 ticks left.


And then, Ginobili dribbled the ball off Wesley Matthews’ leg, sparking a frantic fast break that resulted in two Batum foul shots with 0.9 left.

And then, Batum – who still has not missed a free throw in March – hit both.


And then, Steve Novak, inserted to inbound on the Spurs’ final play, with OT seeming like the worst-case scenario, threw high for Ginobili streaking to the basket. The ball went out of bounds untouched.

“I just couldn’t reach it,” said Ginobili, who had 10 of his 21 points in the fourth.

And then, with the Blazers afforded their own chance at a miracle, Miller hit Batum with a perfectly placed backdoor lob, which the latter dropped in over Parker – one Frenchman outleaping another.

And then, the final horn sounded, and the crowd exploded and the Spurs were left to make sense out of what had just occurred.

In one sense, the answer was easy. Just another end-game miscue.

“We knew they were going to the rim,” Popovich said. “We were switching it, and we did a poor job switching it.”

Miller, third among the NBA’s active leaders in assists with 6,976, had no trouble ranking his latest one.

“That was No. 1,” said Miller, who matched Batum with 21 points.

For the second game in a row, the Spurs wasted an opportunity to win with Tim Duncan and his sprained left ankle back in San Antonio. Just as in Denver two nights earlier, the Spurs came unraveled in the fourth.

Later, in the locker room, while his teammates still wondered what went wrong on the Batum tap, Ginobili still fumed about the turnovers that came all before.

“Three in 40 seconds,” he said. “Unacceptable.”

For the Blazers, it was eight points in the final 72 seconds. And another victory over the Spurs. The Spurs (57-15) have lost six of seven to the Blazers (42-30). But none like this.

It gave the Spurs their second two-game losing streak of the season, and their first since losing at New York and Boston on Jan. 4 and 5. But that was of little consolation.

Afterward, Ginobili compared Friday’s debacle to the 2005 loss to Houston, when Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds. Parker recalled Derek Fisher’s 0.4-shot to send the Lakers over the Spurs in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference finals.

“Nothing was worse than that,” Parker said.

Judging from the befuddled looks around him, that felt hard to believe. Even as he spoke the words, Parker stared at the ground, rubbing his temples like a man with a migraine.

This is the kind of loss that sticks with a team, even though it shouldn’t. There is another game Sunday in Memphis, against another tough team on the road.

“We just have to move on,” Parker said.

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