By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
PORTLAND, Ore. — Pourquoi pas?
That was the question that Nicolas Batum floated in the locker room as the rising water reached the Blazers’ chins in the last few days. It didn’t take a French-English translator to read the numbers. No team in NBA playoff history has ever climbed out of an 0-3 hole to advance. It’s just never been done.
Doesn’t mean it can’t.
“Like we said, ‘Why not us?’ ” Batum said. “We know it’s going to be tough. It won’t be easy. Especially against this team, the San Antonio Spurs. Like we always say, just take one game at a time.”
For a night, the Blazers were not overcome by the Spurs machine on Monday. For a night, the Blazers were themselves again, streaking from end to end up and down the court, attacking the basket, jumping and scrambling for every ball that was on the floor or up for grabs.
When it was over, 103-92 might have meant nothing more than the Blazers avoiding the indignity of suffering a sweep. Or it could have been the type of effort that starts something special.
This was the kind of game and the kind of situation that Batum has been working toward for six NBA seasons. It is, ironically, the kind of game for which the Spurs’ Tony Parker has been helping him prepare.
Parker first saw Batum back in 2007 when he starred at the Nike Hoop Summit for young prospects. He reached out and a relationship began, one that has grown. Like Batum, Parker was a 19-year-old when he entered the NBA and he wanted to pass on his knowledge to his French countryman.
They talked and become close friends. Parker taught. Batum watched and listened.
The knock on the door came late at night on the eve of the EuroBasket finals last summer. Parker came to tell Batum that he needed him to step up for Team France in the championship game against Lithuania. The next day Batum delivered with 18 points, six rebounds and two steals as France won its first title.
The next knock came Monday night with the Blazers at the doorstep of elimination. Parker had dominated the first three games of this series with his shooting, his scoring, his leading of the Spurs. The long and angular Batum drew the assignment of guarding Parker from the opening tip.
Parker didn’t own the first quarter and set the pace, as he did in the first three games. He wasn’t able to turn every corner easily and get to every spot that he wanted. With Batum all over him, Parker finished with a series low 14 points and one assist on 6-for-12 shooting.
“I tried to slow him down,” Batum said. “I was just doing my job.”
Meanwhile Batum scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, the first playoff double-double of his career. He also dealt out eight assists.
“I’m happy for him. He’s playing great,” Parker said. “He’s trying to do everything he can out there. I have to great him credit for a great game.
“He did a good job. I had the shots that I wanted. But he was great tonight. He was everywhere.”
The plan is for Batum to take over the mantle of leadership on the French national team, a seamless handoff from Parker, who will turn 32 in four days.
“I think he has all the skill-set to become the leader of that team,” Parker told The Oregonian. “He’s been winning everything with the young generation, the junior national team, under-20, they won everything, same thing we did with Boris (Diaw). The main goal for him has been to do the same thing as our generation, me and Boris and Ronny Turiaf. I think when I retire, he’ll be 28, 29, his best years to try to keep winning with the national team. I know he’s looking forward to it and I think the next step is to try to be an All-Star in this league and try to be a leader.”
Parker knocked one night and told Batum he was needed. Now, Batum is answering again.
No team ever has come back from 0-3.