Wow, talk about games we had no business winning...that was pretty much the definition of one. We'll take it, however. Hopefully this will be a boost to our confidence.
We'll follow the pattern set in the game itself and talk about what went wrong first.
We got off to another horrid offensive start. Why is this happening? Opponents have decided enough is enough and are burying Brandon Roy no matter what the cost. Atlanta had up to three guys shadowing him in the first quarter. They weren't all up in his face but all of them were watching him and reacted to his moves. Everybody on the opposing team knows where he is at all times. They have also figured out that Lamarcus doesn't really command a double-team. Nobody lets him free for open face-up jumpers anymore and that's their main worry. He can be guarded one-on-one in the post by most competent defenders. So they shadow Roy with half the team, they keep one guy on Lamarcus...what does that leave?
Steve Blake getting stuck in the lane with no outlet, Martell Webster trying to score off the dribble, and the ball being passed a bunch to Joel Przybilla.
There are your offensive difficulties in a nutshell. I guarantee every single opponent will take those options any time. If Brandon isn't setting up those guys they have real difficulty unleashing any offense at all.
As the Mikes have mentioned several times, when our offense isn't flowing our defense doesn't either. Opposing teams have taken a page from our own playbook: moving the ball around and forcing us to move and talk on defense. We had problems doing either tonight.
We don't talk about this much, but our starters are not exactly fleet of foot. Brandon is extremely tricky with the ball in his hands, but he's not blistering fast. Most of the other guys are of average speed. We were getting outrun like nobody's business. Sometimes nobody got back for us at all. Other times three guys got back but all were moving at a brisk jog, whereas the Atlanta guys streaked down the court for dunks.
The cherry on the top? They were grabbing all of the rebounds.
Eventually taking 24 seconds per possession only to get a tough shot on offense, having to run like crazy on defense, and being bounced around like a pinball underneath the glass took a toll. We started shooting jumpers like they were tin cans at a nearshighted NRA convention. They all fell short. At a certain point people will say to us, "Go ahead, shoot outside!" Even made jumpers look pretty impotent next to dunks and three-point conversions the hard way. The outside shot is the first thing to go when you're tired. Or when you lose even a smidge of confidence. Or sometimes just because they're harder. Dunking and drawing fouls, on the other hand, never grow stale.
The White Unit came in and provided a little bit of spark, especially Sergio. We started penetrating a little more in the second quarter. We didn't get back immediately but we stemmed the tide somewhat. We could have gotten back in the game quicker had the total lack of interior defense in the second unit not been brutally exposed by the Hawks. As Mike Rice pointed out, teams have caught on to our zone. Earlier they were shooting over the top of it. Now teams are starting to screen and cut baseline behind it. Atlanta did as good of a job as I've seen all year of penetrating against the 2-3.
In short, things looked dismal for a long, long time in this game.
So what happened?
First we got some energy from our forwards. Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw, and Lamarcus Aldridge came alive in the second half. These guys make a ton of difference for us. Brandon is universally great and there's not much more he can give us than he already does. The rest of the guards go up and down but they can't provide a lot of the things we need like interior defense, rebounding, and offense other than a long bomb. Those three taller forwards, however, are capable of lifting us up. The only question is whether they will. All three had vastly uneven energy games but really came through late when it counted. Roy's heroics won the game but they put us in a place where those heroics mattered by hitting some shots, clogging the middle, hustling, and rebounding.
And speaking of Roy's heroics...
--Whoever had the brilliant idea of single-covering Roy during the last few minutes of the game needs their heads examined. Travis Outlaw and James Jones hit some long balls to free up the middle, granted, but that was still a foolish decision on Atlanta's part. Here's what happens when you cover Roy with one man up high:
"Is he gonna shoot? Dang, I think he's gonna shoot. Nope! He went left. Wait, left?!? I mean right. He's going right! I'll just reach and poke the...WHAAAA??? How'd he accelerate like that? I gotta block the...DANG! Foul! AND ONE??? Oh no!!!"
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Oh, and he defended the snot out of Joe Johnson too.
Travis' game-winners make better commercial copy but Brandon taking over and willing us to win like that is easily the most spectacular thing I've seen from anyone in a Blazer uniform since the days of Clyde Drexler. Brandon ended up with 24 points, 9-15 shooting, and 6-7 from the line.
--The guy who turned this game around in the first half when everyone else came out flat was Sergio. He had 6 assists and 0 turnovers in 16 minutes. He had the Hawks' defenders shaking their heads too. They never knew which way he was going to pass. He even made a couple of shots! Had he hit his long-range jumpers it would have been a legit star-type outing for him. As it was it was still pretty darn nifty.
--Lamarcus and Channing both started as flat as last week's root beer but came on strong scoring and rebounding in the second half. Lamarcus was 7-11 for 16 points and 8 rebounds. Channing shot 6-8 for 14 points and 6 rebounds. They did a great job stopping the leak but it would be even better if there had been no leak to begin with.
--Travis Outlaw helped save the game with a couple of three-pointers in (insert big echo effect here) THE FOURTH QUARTER. He was really the first guy the Hawks couldn't contain...the first drip that led to the dam breaking.
--Martell, Blake, and Jack all played short minutes and had isolated good plays but each one of them had a so-so outing. They'd be a lot better off if they hit their shots. Correction: we'd be a lot better off if they would hit their shots.
--James Jones was the other guy that came on late and hit some monster threes to give us hope. I don't think those shots alone really scared anybody, but Jones in combination with a lot of other offensive threats is a scary proposition.
--Joel was fine. He would have helped the interior defense of that second unit. On the other hand we were down so far it was hard to stick him in. He only got 14 minutes tonight as a result.
One-Sentence Game Summary
This game was like picking up somebody at closing time at the local watering hole: not a good idea every night, but thank God it worked tonight!