Game 8 Recap: Blazers 104, Heat 96

Boxscore

 

Aha!  Another win!  If this keeps up, where are we going to put them all?

 

Seriously, folks, this is a really, really good thing.  As Mike Barrett pointed out the other night, there hasn’t been an opening schedule like this in the history of the NBA as far back as they’ve been tracking.  5-3 with a cushion going into New Orleans and then only a split needed in the final two games (Minnesota and Golden State) to finish the trip on the plus side is fantastic.  Enjoy being a Blazer fan tonight.

 

General Observations

 

I was getting all tingly in the first quarter just because our game plan and execution were so dang good.  Honestly, one of the reasons I hate losing (besides the obvious) is because I know I’m going to read a half dozen posts and forty-plus comments speculating whether Nate cost us the game somehow, even if NBA teams routinely lose games in the same way.  Yet when there’s a win, even a well-executed one (for a young team, at least) comparatively few people stop and acknowledge the coaching staff.  We came out in this game with the obvious directive to go inside, both in the post and off the dribble, and to rebound the ball.  We did exactly that against an undersized, undermanned Miami team and came out of the period leading 27-19.  That’s not a 38-32 “both teams played great offensively” spread.  That’s not a 21-18 “neither team could hit a bucket to save their lives” spread.  That’s a “we did what we wanted and stopped you from doing squat” spread.  Had the second unit not come in and turned the ball over the lead would have been larger too.

 

A couple of notes from the first period:

 

--One of the ESPN commentators suggested the Heat might want to throw a zone defense out there to protect the middle.  The way we were playing tonight it wouldn’t have mattered.  That inside-out game was working so well we just would have nailed a jumper or found a cutter when the zone collapsed.  This is a major difference between this year’s Blazers and teams past.  We need to keep that up all season.

 

--Did anybody catch the Blake-to-Rudy fast break?  That was the first time I’ve ever seen Blake run full-out, I think.  People often say Nate doesn’t like the fast break offense.  I didn’t see him complaining…

 

We tightened up in the second quarter, staying out on the perimeter and letting Miami grab more rebounds.  The Heat crawled back in it until our first unit poured it on again very late to preserve the lead.  Lamarcus Aldridge’s defense had a lot to do with that.  He had an excellent night defensively.

 

Near the end of the quarter Dwyane Wade had an enormous block on Travis Outlaw.  Outlaw was near the three-point line on the right side and went up with a jumper.  Right at the apex of his leap (and you know the altitude Travis gets) Wade just rose and snuffed him.  It was scary.  I remember worrying that Travis had just jumped the shark, as that well could have rattled the younger Travis into passivity or shot-launching.  More on this later.

 

The third period was back and forth.  Nicolas Batum had a great stretch in there playing the transition game.  Greg Oden saw some time also but was playing too slow and too far outside to be effective.  Miami continued their run to take a lead into the fourth.

 

That’s when it was go time.

 

Portland won the fourth quarter 31-21 through a number of different avenues.  They started smartening up on offense, getting back inside and getting open shots.  They beefed up the rebounding again.  Nate employed Sergio Rodriguez through most of the final minutes to avoid getting Shanghaied by Miami’s pressure, turnover-inducing defense.  Portland also forced Miami to cough up turnovers of their own.  The defense was superb, and guess who drew the critical defensive assignment on Wade?  None other than Travis Outlaw.  He did well too.  I can’t think of a single area of the game in which we failed in the fourth and we played well in all the ways that mattered most.  It was as beautiful as the first quarter had been.  Start strong, finish strong, walk out a winner.  Good formula.

 

Overall the Blazers won the rebounding battle, got nobody in foul trouble, shot 7 more free throws than the Heat in their own building, and forced 17 Miami turnovers for 19 points while only committing 12 themselves for 11 enemy points.  Against the Heat that latter stat is fantastic.  Those edges allowed the Blazers to win on a night where the shooting stats were roughly equivalent.

 

Individual Notes

 

Brandon Roy played a superb offensive game tonight.  I mentioned earlier today that if you give him and the team time his play will look smoother.  We saw some early returns on that promise tonight.  He connected with most of his shots early, which helped.  He also drew Wade-like fouls, which really helped.  He ended up 6-13 for the game and 11-13 from the foul line for 22 points with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers.  When he and Wade went mano-a-mano they basically took turns scoring on each other.  There are worse outcomes when playing Miami

 

Lamarcus Aldridge, through his post play and his offensive rebounding, was the catalyst for the early surge.  The Heat didn’t have anybody who could stop him.  He looked comfortable with his back to the basket even though his jumper wasn’t falling tonight.  The Blazers attack you in waves and Lamarcus is the first guy on the beach.  Tonight he gained us a ton of ground.  Aldridge finished the game with 14 points, 7 rebounds (5 offensive), and 4 steals.  The low rebounding number can be attributed to Miami using their bigs out on the perimeter on offense.

 

Rudy Fernandez shot extremely well tonight, hitting 7-11 shots, 3-7 three-pointers, and 8-8 free throws for a game-high 25 points.  He helped carry the team through the latter part of that fourth quarter, hitting a reverse-direction jumper above the free-throw line that was like a dagger in the Heat’s heart.  He also got his daily sweet alley-oop from Sergio.  Just like taking your vitamins, kids.

 

Nicolas Batum had 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, and 1 block in 15 minutes but he changed the character of the defense and the tempo of the game through his play.  He ran superbly in transition.  As the ESPN guys said, he has a ways to go yet.  The distance between making occasional great plays in 15 minutes and making every play right in 36 minutes is enormous.  Nevertheless you are starting to see indications that someday he could be our full-time starter in a Bruce Bowen kind of mold.  I like this kid more every time I see him.

 

Joel Przybilla had his usual 10 rebounds plus a block.  He even hit 3-4 shots tonight for 7 points, although I still cringe every time the ball goes near him on offense.  Heck, I cringe to see him in the lane on offense setting up as if to receive the ball.  But nobody boards like he does.  He was wasted on defense a little tonight with Miami’s smaller guys and he didn’t play down the stretch.

 

Steve Blake had a serviceable 8 points and 4 assists in 24 minutes.  He hit 2-4 from distance.  But he lost some of his fourth-quarter minutes tonight to…

 

Sergio Rodriguez, who took great care of the ball and single-handedly foiled that vaunted backcourt defense of the Heat.  They tried to play up on him, even tried to trap him a time or two.  It didn’t work.  He just dribbled out of it.  That’s his specialty.  The Heat didn’t catch on until very late that it was smarter to let him go after he got past them than it was to bring another guy over to cut him off.  After he broke down the defense off the dribble he made mincemeat of it with his passes.  He played credible defense, kept active, and didn’t have a single moment where he looked bad.  He even hit a step-back jumper off of a drive with 7:00 left to go in the fourth.  The situation was right for him and he responded.  2-2 field goals, 1-1 from distance, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 turnover in 19 earned minutes.

 

Travis Outlaw had a rotten shooting night at 4-13 and scored 10 points.  You didn’t notice the misses too much, though, because the shots he hit were at opportune times to quell Miami runs.  Also he hustled hard and moved his feet on defense.  He ended up with 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block.  Nice game on a night the shot wasn’t falling.

 

Channing Frye got 11 minutes and hit 2-3 shots.  The squeezing down of his role may have begun.  He looked good when he played, however.  This was a team he was well-suited to play against.

 

Greg Oden played 16 minutes.  He had one nasty spin dunk and a couple of other nasty (for a different reason) short attempts.  He wasn’t moving that well still although to my eyes he has visibly lost weight.  His rebounding is fairly stationary at this point, though to his credit when he boxes a guy out he stays boxed out.  He just doesn’t have the motion or energy on the glass right now.  He did garner 2 blocked shots which gave a glimmer of things to come.  He also committed 2 turnovers.  He didn’t look all that pleased to not be playing much but he was used correctly tonight given the circumstances (his and the team’s).

 

Final Thoughts

 

We couldn’t have started this trip better.  The quality and nature of the wins makes you think we have a chance to play decently in New Orleans on Friday.  A win there would be beyond unbelievable, but at this point it doesn’t matter.  We continue to give ourselves a chance for an amazing trip.

 

Check out the Heat reaction over at PeninsulaIsMightier.

 

You can check out the Jersey Contest scores and enter for Friday’s game at the game form site[Update:]  There is some kind of glitch going on with those whose scores are recorded as "60".  Your score in the indvidual return is correct.  For some reason it's not showing up correctly in the scoreboard.  We're working on this and it should be fixed by Friday.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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