Poor Miami. This was the best game they've played in ages. This wasn't our best game by far. They still lost. It's sad, really. I'm sure all 12 people in the arena tonight went home very disappointed. How the heck do you have a team with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal and not draw any more people than the average Sno-Cone stand?
To switch things up a little let's start with what went wrong. The obvious was that we had no way of stopping their stars but that's not really a fault, per se. If Shaq were a smidge healthier, younger, or endowed with more stamina we would have lost this game. He looked like he was playing with Blazer action figures out there. "OK, now Przybilla leans on me and...BOOM! Hey wait, this would be better if I tied a firecracker to him that went off just as I dunked. COOOOOL!" But what are the Blazers going to do really. They're Shaq and Wade. The zone did enough to discourage them from getting easy buckets and that's what we needed. I was not enamored of the offense tonight at all. Were it not for Roy's heroics we would have been in deep, deep trouble. We had more horrible looking shots tonight than we've had in the last three weeks combined. The main culprit were screens that were stuffed with indifference and smothered in weak sauce. Seriously, rewind the Tivo through the third quarter and pay close attention to our pick setting. Calling those screens is like calling Danny Bonaduce an actor. Nobody got free, nobody threatened to score, and that's how Miami made their run. It was frustrating as heck watching a high screen-and-roll offense with only the "high" part intact. Furthermore we completely failed to take advantage of Miami's lack of defensive speed and desire. We had small people in against guys like Shaq, Ricky Davis, and Jason Williams. We were also getting rebounds just fine. But we barely ran. OK...we ran more than we usually do I suppose but really this could have been a 20-point blowout with a little vertical speed down the court. A few sailing dunks would have put this game beyond all doubt and Miami was just begging for it.
Now for the good stuff...
The second unit was incredible in the first half especially. That was a marvelous display of what makes us special. This was a great game for Jarrett Jack, Travis Outlaw, and James Jones.
When we pulled away we did so because of great defense. It wasn't 48 minutes' worth but when push came to shove and the game was in question we didn't win it by trying to outscore the Heat, but by frustrating them. I can't tell you how many chills go up my spine when I realize that this team knows that tough-nosed defense is the way you earn wins.
The capper on the defense was some great rebounding by basically undersized guys. Sure Shaq grabbed a few offensive board bouquets but for the most part we shut them down. This was one of the best rebounding efforts I've seen this year.
In the stretches where we were active on offense we drew a lot of fouls and converted them. We did this in their building and against big-name guys. Fantastic.
We'll mention Brandon Roy more in the individual section but suffice it to say that he led us in what turned out to be absolutely pristine execution in the closing minutes of the game when Miami pulled close. There was no panic. There were no forced shot. There was no pressure on one guy trying to be the hero. The way we executed offensively and defensively in that last two minutes looked like a team of 30-year-old veterans on a playoff run. This team amazes me sometimes. Make that a lot of times.
One objection: the ESPN headline says, "Blazers rally to cool Heat..." We didn't rally, they did. We shut them down despite their rally. There's a difference. A rally could be attributed to a young, excited team grabbing momentum. We played like a cool, professional team winning a game.
--OK, let's say it: Brandon Roy can't even be described in terms of other people anymore. He's beyond comparing. He's just Brandon Roy. I'm not sure there's a definable skill you can say he does better than anybody else in the NBA but when you put the whole package together--the offensive ability, the ball control, the vision, and the POISE--he is right up there with anyone in this league. That fourth quarter was incredible. He might as well have been a force of nature. And it's not like he took over in highlight-reel, Kobe-type fashion. He just made every play he needed to with his feet, his shot, and his passing ability. This guy is the band you hear earlier than most of the world that you KNOW is going to be called one of the greats...not necessarily selling millions like a pop star, but etching a place in the history of the art like U2. 24 points and 5 assists doesn't even come close to describing what Brandon did tonight. He won this game for us, plain and simple.
--Lamarcus looked like he was on his way to a sketchy night but he cut loose a little bit and ended up with 14 and 7 rebounds. He's in a little bit of a slump right now and I'd really love to see the Blazers find a way to get him out on the run and dunking or cutting backdoor with the same results.
--Martell had a couple of big shots again but overall is still not playing up to par. I wonder if he would find more shot attempts and more energy with the second unit? If things weren't clicking so well with them right now I'd suggest it. That's not a demotion for him as much as a chance to let him do what he does best.
--Give Joel Przybilla a TON of credit. He was getting owned by Shaq something fierce but he still managed to keep his nose in the game while he was in there, do what he could, and ended up with 9 rebounds in 17 minutes. This is exactly the type of game Joel needs to come through in. He's not going to be in a comfortable matchup every night but if he still gives us production--especially rebounding--he's helpful.
--Jarrett Jack really spurred the white unit tonight. He set up everybody out there with his aggressive drives, shots, and dishes. This was a much better game for him than his 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists would indicate. He was the captain of the squad while he was out there.
--Travis had a fantastic night with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. We absolutely needed those boards. Miami couldn't really stop him but he didn't go into one of those "shoot everything I touch" zones either. He just played his game and scored when he had an advantage.
--James Jones' 3-6 night beyond the arc was a dagger in the side of the Heat. He shut down a couple of runs with his long-range gunning. He also provided some steady defense when we needed it. Like Roy he seemed completely un-phased by Miami's threats.
--I though Sergio looked pretty aggressive out there, which I like. He had that one beautiful ball-fake look-off for his lone bucket. He needs to use a lot more of those fake passes when he drives the lane. They will get him open every time. He's spent a year and a half setting them up.
--Channing Frye had 5 boards but continues to struggle with shot selection and foul trouble. He needs to right the ship a little after three straight weeks of nice ball.
--Steve Blake did fine but Jack and Roy really overshadowed him in this game.
One Sentence Game Summary:
Team:1, Stars: 0.
P.S. The Jersey Contest scores for this game won't be posted until tomorrow.