After a while you get used to watching games. You're sitting there on the couch, Tivo remote in one hand (to rewind and analyze), pen in the other (to make notes for later use). Your eyes dart back and forth, looking for the angle, the story, the trends. I don't want to say it's like a business because it's not. It's very enjoyable. But it's kind of a clinical operation, especially when you know that a few thousand people are going to call you on mistakes you make or things you miss. You watch the moment, but you seldom get to be in the moment.
In the third quarter tonight the Blazers turned me into 100% fan again. Put down the pen, stop rewinding and analyzing, just watch and enjoy. Seeing Trout and Jones nail shots like they were 10-year pros, Jack and Joel run the pick and roll against a defense that was begging to be exploited, watching that brilliant play as Roy passed to Joel and then back to Roy again for an easy two at the rim...wow. That was easily the most fun I've had this year outside of maybe being there live with all of you for the comeback against Memphis. This was a great game to watch.
I think what impressed me most about this game is that we came at it with energy from the outset and never let up. We played like we believed we should be out there instead of like we were scared. Joel Przybilla's post-game comments on TV included the quote, "The reason we're winning is we're not backing off from anyone." That sums it up in a nutshell. You can game plan all you want--I assume we've had game plans for every contest so far, wins and losses--but unless you come out there with passion and vigor it doesn't matter. Why did we win? We wanted it more...way more apparently. Golden State should be semi-ashamed of how they came out tonight. I don't know if it was the hangover from the Spurs win the day before, taking us lightly, or what, but for the second straight game we saw a good opponent play like it was a dress rehearsal instead of a recorded contest.
As to why we won, most of it was straight mathematics. We kept within 5 shot attempts of the Warriors. We shot 46%, they shot 40%. They had a big edge in three-pointers made and attempted, but we compensated with a massive advantage from the foul line. This combination came about for a couple reasons. First we stayed active on defense for 48 minutes, a trait which eluded us before the current winning streak. For the second night in a row we got into an opponent's head by employing a Weird, Mystical, Extra-Crunchy Zone with Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Sprinkles which apparently is way better than the normal zone because it confounds teams that should know better. But unlike the Jazz game we didn't stay in the zone all game. After we had thrown them off balance and shut down the middle we switched back to an aggressive man defense against their predictable barrage of zone-defying long shots. The Warriors ended up trying to fight the defense we showed them five minutes ago instead of the one we were playing against them at the moment. The result was a ton of missed jumpers and them shooting either way earlier or way later in the clock than they wanted. It should also be noted that we did not let them run us crazy on fast breaks, nor did we fall behind in the turnover battle. We made them a halfcourt team and we were a slightly better one. This was because we never settled for jumpers without attacking the rim. We ran that pick and roll to perfection, taking advantage of their unwillingness to stay with the roll man. We beat their guys off the dribble time and again for layups or dishes to the corner for open jumpers. And we were incredibly unselfish without being hesitant. We ran a clinic on how to beat a bad defense. This is a vast improvement over our usual playing down to the level of the opponent. Finally we took advantage of the enemy's weakness, which was a tendency to break out instead of rebounding. Our second-chance points pretty much eliminated their designs on running us and getting back in it.
Mike Rice mentioned something else I think is important: we're showing maturing by scoring out of timeouts whereas earlier in the year we were messing up plays and even turning the ball over coming out of the huddle. It looks like the more veteran players (which is certainly a relative term on this team) have exerted a little leadership. You can feel the team feeding off of the guys who are steady instead of being at the mercy of the semi-random actions of our loose cannons. The bulk of the guys seem to be taking their cues from Roy, Jones, Blake, and Pryzbilla which is helping guys like Outlaw and Jack find their spot and fit in. It looks like the right hand knows what the left hand is doing out there.
--I am kicking myself for being six kinds of fool. In the game preview I was going to (jokingly) put that the key to victory was to run the entire offense through Joel Przybilla, taking advantage of their small lineup. The joke about pantsing them while dunking seemed better, so I went with that one. I could have been seen as the genius of the universe, instead I'm just a late-night blogging schlep. Joel set the tone for this game early. You could see the energy in every line of his body. He started the rim assault. He anchored the "no-layup" defense. He was the cornerstone tonight. His 15 points and 6-7 shooting were symptomatic of how he played. Whether we see that every night or not, him coming with that energy, drive, and leadership will benefit this team greatly.
--Super Trout really made the game his own tonight. I love the confidence with which he's playing right now. Your throat barely catches when he rises for a shot anymore. Part of that is he's going for his spots and shots directly instead of treating us to the dribbling circus before each one. He feels like he's found a niche, and it's a deadly one for our opponents. Guys like Roy, Jack, and Jones get them worried about the picks, the pops, the drives, and the long shots and then when their eyes are darting everywhere Travis comes in and pops them straight in the jaw.
--Maybe the most surprising aspect of this game was that Roy didn't look like he felt any pressure to carry the team, though he did end up leading them to victory. You'd think with Lamarcus out you'd see some lines of tension, a tendency to get up quick shots, a few probing dribbles on each possession to make sure whether he could get the shot or not. For the most part those things were absent, especially in the second half. He just played his game, trusted his teammates, and made them better. It's almost inhuman how poised this guy is. Hopefully that's going to hold us in good stead in NBA Finals to come.
-- Once again Jarrett Jack's stat line doesn't do justice to how he affected the game. At the outset only Joel was really attacking the rim with regularity. Even Brandon was settling for the jump shot. Jack comes in and first of all puts pressure on the defense by driving and second of all leads his teammates to do the same. In a subtle way he changes the game for us.
--Less subtle were James Jones' contributions. That guy can SHOOT. I don't know how long this tear of his is going to last but we ought to ride it for all it's worth. He even hit covered shots and shots off of the dribble tonight. That's two more merit badges on his sash and I think it's safe to say he's passed from Weeblo to full Scout now.
--Sergio Rodriguez had maybe the best run I've seen this year in the first half. He was pretty awesome: driving, dishing, hustling, rebounding, even defending a little. He definitely kept the ball rolling. Unfortunately he borked his second-half stint pretty badly. Still I'd rate this game as an overall plus for him.
--Blake and Raef gave us some basic, quality minutes which shouldn't be underestimated. We need a few guys who just eat innings and don't give up homers. Steve can be more than that some nights but tonight was a perfect example of how he can fit in without standing out.
--Channing Frye and Martell didn't show so well. Martell had the flu though.
From the Unintentionally Funny Department
Did you guys catch the replay of Paul Allen's expression after Joel landed full-weight on Brandon's sternum with his foot? It was like, "I don't care if you are scoring a season high and leading us to victory. If Brandon is hurt I'm going to hang you from the scoreboard and have the spirit team shoot t-shirts up your rear until your innards explode!"
One Sentence Game Summary