Hours before Game 4 at Moda Center, one of the San Antonio Spurs team buses was involved in a minor fender bender, colliding with the No. 35 TriMet at Northwest Fifth Avenue and Everett Street on its way to the arena.
No one was hurt, and there was only a slight delay, but things did not get a whole lot better for the Spurs once they reached the building.
The Trail Blazers, down 3-0 in the NBA Western Conference semifinals and fighting for their lives, threw more intensity at the Spurs than San Antonio could handle and sent the series back to San Antonio for Game 5 after a 103-92 victory.
We got pushed back a little bit, Spurs guard Danny Green said, of the fender bender. But it doesnt affect the way we play. No excuses. Weve got to come out with better energy and more focus the next game.
Portland is still a long, long way from pulling a 2004 Boston Red Sox and coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the series. But, for one night at least, the Blazers were the best team on the floor.
The Blazers looked completely different from the group that got blown out in the first three games. Portland executed on offense and played its best defense of the series.
They outplayed us. Bottom line, said Spurs power forward Tim Duncan, who finished with 12 points. They had better energy, better focus. They just played better overall.
Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: They played with great passion and physicality. Thats why they won. We just didnt match it. We didnt have the energy or the focus that we had in the first three games.
While the Spurs wanted to finish the series Monday night, San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili said it was not shocking that they flopped.
Even if we dont like it, its sort of understandable, Ginobili said. They (the Blazers) didnt have another opportunity. If they lost today, it was a sweep. Theyve got pride, and they played well. They played the game more desperately than we did. We didnt bring the same emotions we brought the first three games. Thats a huge thing in the playoffs.
Said Green: This was their Game 7. We wanted to play like it was Game 7, but we didnt come out with that edge we did in the first couple of games.
Portland began the game well. For the first time in the series, the Blazers did not allow San Antonio to run up the score in the first half. Portland led 29-24 at the end of the first period.
We didnt match their energy from the jump, Green said.
The Blazers continued playing well in the second quarter, but the Spurs hung with them and trailed 50-48 at halftime.
We took the hit pretty well, Ginobili said. We came out at halftime only down two after not playing well. We were in a pretty good spot at that point.
San Antonio was confident going into the third quarter.
The first half, we didnt play our best basketball and they played well, Green said. But we were down two.
The Blazers began lighting it up in the third quarter, though, while San Antonio went cold. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews each hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Portland outscored the Spurs 35-20 in the period to take an 85-68 lead into the fourth quarter.
In the third quarter, they made most of their shots, and our offense was a little stagnant, Ginobili said. They got into that run, and there wasnt much we could do.
Said Duncan: We really played a bad quarter, and it got away from us.
Coming out of the halftime locker room strong has been a Blazers trend throughout the series, but the Spurs had such big first-half leads in the first three games that Portlands runs have not really mattered. Not the case Monday.
It seems as if the third quarter has always been theirs, and weve had a slump in that third quarter, Green said.
The Spurs' bench outscored the Blazers bench 40-26 in Game 4, but that does not really tell the whole story. Ginobili, the Spurs' biggest weapon off the bench, was a nonfactor, scoring two points.
He hasnt shot it well, but its just the way it is, Popovich said, of Ginobili. "Sometimes somebody doesnt shoot well.
Portland got a huge lift from guard Will Barton, who came off the bench to score 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
Anytime you get a boost off the bench its always good for momentum swing, Green said. It changes the whole momentum. When he (Barton) came in and got the crowd into it, it got them (the Blazers) going and helped them out a lot.
San Antonio averaged 116 points over the first three games of the series, and Portland was continually stumped in its attempt to figure out how to slow the Spurs. The Blazers finally figured it out in Game 4, holding San Antonio to 39 of 88 from the field (.443) and 3 of 18 from beyond the arc (.167).
We missed some shots, and they played a little harder, Duncan said.
Ginobili said that when the series shifts back to San Antonio on Wednesday, the Spurs do not need to make any adjustments. Every player that steps on the floor simply needs to play better.
I dont think its about adjustments, Ginobili said. Well try to have more players playing better. I dont think we had anybody playing really well tonight. We have to bring more intensity.
And hope there is not another bus accident.
The whole little bus incident beforehand, Green said, hopefully it doesnt happen next time.