This, my friends, was one heck of a bounce-back game, made even more impressive by the fact that we didn't have all that much to bounce back from. These guys just keep coming up with new ways to impress.
Quick: who were the two guys at the center of whatever controversy there was surrounding yesterday's double-overtime loss...because of what they didn't do, couldn't do, weren't allowed to do, or whatever? Did you say Lamarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla? I thought you did. Guess which two guys came out of the gate loaded for bear and whuppin' up on some Nets? Go on, guess. Our big guys set the tone for the game with passionate rebounding, quick foot motion, deadly shooting in Lamarcus' case, and dives to the hoops for dunks in Joel's. We dropped gin on the Nets while they were still counting their cards and we never looked back. The first half was a flurry of energy, ball movement, guts, and hustle. We made them look like Walter Matthau and Mickey Rooney out there, except I hear the Mickster has a mean reverse Tomahawk jam and the Nets didn't have nothin' like that.
Contributing to the crush was our paint-protecting defense. We zoned and rotated them into oblivion. Their superstars were more than willing to chuck and duck. Jason Kidd took five three pointers himself. They missed again and again. I remember a couple of Jefferson breakaways after turnovers but that was really the only easy points any of their big three scored. There wasn't so much as half an "ooh" from Carter. The final tally: Kidd 10 points, Carter 10 points, Jefferson 9 points. Lamarcus and Joel scored the same between them. That's ballgame. It's becoming a trend with the Blazers to shut down some very high opponent scorers. If you're coming against us with only one or two people you could be in trouble. Of course there are always Chris Bosh-like performances to keep the rule from being iron-clad but we're certainly a lot farther along than we used to be when it comes to containing opposing stars. Pretty soon people are going to genuinely dislike playing the Blazers.
We ended up shooting 53% to their 34%, which is going to win you every ballgame you don't intentionally give away. Our outside shooting was superb, thanks to our copious passing and the flat refusal of the New Jersey perimeter guys to bust their butts getting out there. In addition to shooting well we kept our turnovers low, rebounded hard, didn't let them break too much, and didn't send them to the line all night. How were they going to get back in it?
No coincidence, then, that we showed the ability to withstand a run in the third quarter...a run everybody knew was coming. After their lackadaisical first half the Nets came out with energy early in the second half. They forced us into a stretch of sub-par play and closed the gap to within single digits. But when you looked up at the end of the quarter we were ahead by 15 again. They had never truly threatened to take the lead. At the beginning of the season it was somewhat remarkable for us to look professional for any length of time. Now not only are we looking professional, we are looking like good professionals!
--Oh Lamarcus, our Muse, what transports of delight visit us when we see thee play! OK, maybe it wasn't all that dramatic, but it was close...especially considering what we saw out of him yesterday. But this is the point: bad games don't matter. What matters is what follows the bad game. It doesn't matter if LMA had an off day when he uses it as inspiration to come back and hustle more than we've seen in weeks. When you do that even your bad turns to good in the end. That's exactly what Lamarcus made happen tonight. It's a real sign of character and maturity. He didn't blame anybody else. He didn't pout. He didn't come out confused and unsure. He threw his body around, stroked shots like he had never missed one in his life, and Lamarcus got his groove back. The one thing I will say is that he didn't operate nearly as much out of the post tonight. But if he needs to face up in order to be confident then let the boy face up! He can work on his back-to-the-basket game more during the off-season. Right now we need wins. And 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists from Lamarcus equals wins.
--Joel Przybilla: 4-6 shooting, 9 points, 12 rebounds, and a whole bunch of fight. He was ALIVE tonight! You could see physically the energy he was bringing to the game. He looked different than all the other players out there besides Lamarcus. Well done!
--If it's possible to have a quiet 70% shooting night, Brandon did it. You could tell he was much less invested in taking this game over, if such a thing was even possible. Yes, he had a couple shots that drew gasps from the crowd but for the most part he looked like his normal, everyday self...if a bit fatigued. The result was 7-10 shooting and 16 points in 30 minutes. How many times have you seen young players have career games and then spend the next week trying to duplicate the effort with ridiculous results? Brandon has the body of a 23-year old but the soul of a wise old man.
--Steve Blake was back! He played 28 minutes with 5 points and 5 assists but how much smoother did the offense run? And how much better did the defense look? Granted New Jersey helped with both, but it's not entirely coincidental. We seem to need Blake right now, and that's fine by me.
--Martell also played with more energy tonight. He didn't really shoot a ton, though he did hit a couple to stave of the Jersey run in the second half. He got 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block. We often win when Martell fills up the stat line as well as the hoop. It means he's playing with passion and justifying his time.
--The third Stooge in yesterday's comedy of errors was Jarrett Jack. He also bounced back tonight and should get some credit. He shot 5-7, 2-3 from distance, 3-3 from the line, had 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and scored 15 points. He was moving as much as anyone and made appropriate decisions. Even those who don't envision him as a starting point guard can't be too unhappy with the prospect of having a guy who can pass, score, and drive from either guard positions coming off the bench. Nights like this show you what the Blazers see in him. Don't discount his ability to drive, draw fouls, and finish, which was brought up again tonight by the Nets broadcast crew...and in quite favorable terms.
--Travis Outlaw had a fine game tonight in a team-oriented context. His role was surprise guest rather than star of the show. If this were a gang rumble Trout would have been that guy who stayed on the edge until somebody tried to run away. Just when the Nets thought they might be able to make another little run he started hitting his magic shots. BAM! Where do you think you're going? BAM! You just gonna run away now? BAM! You want some more of this? Do you? Huh? BAM! Get back in there and finish what you started. He ended up with 13 points on 5-9 shooting and his knuckles were slightly abraded.
--James Jones found his missing stroke again! He blew a couple of threes early but in the second half he seemed to remember that he's the best three-point guy in existence right now. Those really are back-breakers. And New Jersey's spine was already suffering.
--The only two guys that had sub-par nights were Channing and Sergio. Channing got caught going off the dribble a few times, which isn't his strength. He had a very nice block stopping a sure Jersey dunk and moved the ball a little on offense. Sergio had a couple of bald-faced turnovers and you knew he was done for the night, especially with Jack and Blake playing well. Doesn't matter. Both will get more chances.
--Taurean Green got 3 minutes in the international sign for "We Just Kicked Your Butt".
One Sentence Game Summary:
Experience and cunning may triumph over youth and eagerness, but young energy, drive, passion, and unselfishness beats lazy every time.