Sure, Damian Lillard and his teammates did most of the heavy lifting in Game 4, helping the Blazers to avoid Playoff elimination. But a defiant Portland bus driver (and Blazers fan) may have also helped rattle head coach Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Per the Oregonian:
(Todd) Bateman, a bus driver for TriMet, was working the second half of his shift on Monday afternoon when the San Antonio Spurs pulled up next to him downtown. It was roughly two hours before Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals and Bateman was about to play a unique part in the Trail Blazers’ 103-92 victory over the Spurs.
A few minutes later, the Spurs’ bus would collide with Bateman’s bus, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich would needle Bateman like he was an NBA referee and Bateman would become a central figure in what he describes as a “really crazy and really funny happening.”
After the Spurs rolled out onto Morrison, Bateman shouted to his passengers, “Hey, there’s the Spurs!” In unison, they started booing, directing a little good-natured ribbing toward a team that had opened up a 3-0 lead over the Blazers in their playoff series.
This is about where things went sideways. According to Bateman, the other driver turned to the right and pulled in front of him near the downtown transit mall, an illegal maneuver in that area. Bateman opened his window to let the driver know it was a no-no, but he ignored the warning and pressed ahead, trying to squeeze around Bateman.
“Then he crunched the side of my bus,” Bateman said.
You’ve probably heard this much. The fender bender was minor and no one was injured, but it caused the Spurs to arrive to the Moda Center about 15 or 20 minutes late.
Bateman, 27, needed information from the license of the Spurs’ bus driver and was supposed to wait until his supervisor arrived to check out the scene. The other driver eventually relented and the two exchanged information. All the while, Popovich grew restless. He strutted off the bus to investigate and, before long, as if Bateman were NBA official Joey Crawford, Popovich pleaded with Bateman to solve the issue quickly.
“He came out and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get going. Can you just move?” said Bateman, who has worked for TriMet for six months. “I was like, ‘No. I can’t move. I need to get his information. Once my supervisor gets here, you can move.”
A frustrated Popovich grimaced, then headed back to his seat on the bus. A few hours later, the Blazers defeated the Spurs for the first time in the series, avoiding a sweep and forcing a Game 5 in the best-of-seven series. And, in a humorous twist, Bateman was there to soak it all in.
“He was like, ‘Hey can we move this along? Can you move your bus so we can get out of here,'” Bateman said. “He seemed like he was in a rush. We’ve seen coach in interviews. He doesn’t mince words. He’s ready to go.”
“I told him, ‘Hey, you guys just hit me, so we’re not going to be able to go anywhere until I get some information and we get some stuff figured out.”
“I probably secured the victory (Monday) night,” he said, laughing. “I got in his head. I mean, who tells Pop no?”