Before he slipped on his jacket and strolled away from the Trail Blazers’ locker room toward a five-hour flight to Portland, Nicolas Batum chuckled as he contemplated the phone call that would await him when he finally made it home in the wee hours of the morning. His mother, Sylvie Batum, would check in from France, and she would have a surprising message. “Why didn’t you get 20 rebounds?” Batum said, laughing. “That’s what she’s going to say.” The Blazers earned a had-to-have-it 111-103 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night at the Smoothie King Center, salvaging the final outing of a drama-filled five-game trip with a jolt of confidence they desperately needed. The catalysts behind the victory were littered up and down the roster, as a host of Blazers did a host of things to deliver a win on a night the team played without injured rotation players LaMarcus Aldridge, Mo Williams and Joel Freeland. Damian Lillard was at his best when it mattered most, scoring 16 of his 27 points in a clutch and dynamic fourth quarter. Dorell Wright, starting in place of Aldridge, kept the Blazers afloat early, scoring 12 of his season-high-tying 15 points in the first half, Wesley Matthews hit big shots and converted three-point plays en route to a 20-point night and Robin Lopez mixed in a season-high 19 points with his typical hard-hat night role of rim-protecting and defense-anchoring. But no one did more for the Blazers than Batum, who, little by little, game by game, is putting to rest the tired notion that he lacks aggressiveness. From start to finish, the Blazers’ starting small forward did a little bit of everything, snatching rebounds, swishing threes, scoring in bunches and soaring for dunks in a sensational performance that he called the best of his career. By the end of the night, Batum had recorded one of the best performances in franchise history, finishing with 22 points, a career-high-tying 18 rebounds, five assists and one steal, while making 8 of 16 shots, including 4 of 8 three-pointers. What’s more, he played all but two minutes, 49 seconds — including the entire second half — in a gutsy, balanced and clutch performance that was vital to helping the Blazers (43-23) end their season-high four-game losing streak. “I just couldn’t take him out,” coach Terry Stotts said. “He was playing so well, doing everything — as a facilitator, shooter, rebounder, (filling) various defensive assignments — I just couldn’t take him out. I don’t like playing a guy a whole half, but Nic was able to handle it.” Batum’s balanced, stat-sheet-stuffing night was more than simply an illustration of his across-the-board skill-set. It was history making. He became the first player in franchise history to record at least 22 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and four three-pointers, and just the fourth to post the numbers in NBA history, joining LeBron James, Kevin Love and Antoine Walker. It was his career-high 10th double-double of the season and his fourth career game of at least 15 rebounds — all of which have come in the last two weeks. After the All-Star break, when Aldridge missed his first game because of a left groin injury, Batum was vilified on Internet message boards and by talking-head characters on television for being too passive and “not aggressive enough.” Never mind that he had a stomach bug. He scored just eight points and went just 2 of 8 from the field, so he was hammered as the Blazers lost to the San Antonio Spurs. It’s a label that has hovered over him since he was a kid, playing in Normandy, France. “I play basketball since I was 4 or 5 years old,” he said earlier this month. “And since I was 10 or 11, people have been saying I need to be more aggressive.” The problem is, fans and pundits often equate aggressiveness with shot attempts. His role with the Blazers is to do a little bit of everything and fill a variety of roles. Be the glue guy. You can’t be a high-volume shooter and the glue guy. His value isn’t in the number of shots he takes, but in his versatility. He facilitates. He rebounds. He’s mastered the chase-down block. He guards every position from point guard to power forward.
Blazers end 4-game losing streak with victory over New Orleans
Oregonian | Mar 15