Game 9 Recap: Blazers 82, Hornets 87

Boxscore

 

General Observations

 

OK, let’s get the criticism out of the way first.  Portland bowed to New Orleans’ excellent defensive energy at several junctures during the game, the most critical of which was right down the stretch.  Our own defense late in the fourth was not coordinated or effective either.  (Little bit of Oden positive/negative going on there, methinks.)  Our vaunted second-unit guys had a rough outing pretty much from start to finish.  It never really felt like New Orleans was losing this game even though the score remained close throughout.  We just didn’t sustain the execution for long enough.  The team itself is probably going to look at this game as one that got away, especially considering the play late, and might well be disappointed in themselves.

 

There, that’s out of the way.

 

Now tell me…were you not pretty darn enthused after this game was over?  I know I am.  New Orleans is a quality team, playing at home, and obviously came out hard to get this win.  They were not losing this game.  Yet we stayed with them punch for punch and gave ourselves a chance late even if we didn’t follow through with it.  At different times in the game you saw great contributions from individual players.  As happened with the other games in the last week, you saw glimpses of how good this team is going to be when it finally congeals into an experienced, confident whole.  We had little at stake and a lot of fractures tonight.  New Orleans was whole and focused.  We came dangerously close to shrugging them off like an annoyance.  There ought to be a tingle in your soul tonight, Blazer fans.

 

The key to the New Orleans attack was a punishing, suffocating, all-out war on Brandon Roy tonight.  They made like Aztecs, trying to rip the heart out of this team while it was still beating.  Roy barely got a free moment and had to work for every point and every pass.  The Hornets were more than happy to see the ball in the hands of Steve Blake and Joel Przybilla whether they shots those two took went in or not.  Somewhat taken aback, we scored only 19 in the first period.  Yet we were down only 2.  That was a sign of things to come.

 

The second period re-energized us.  We scored 25 behind the shooting of Channing Frye and Rudy Fernandez.  We also saw the awakening of The Giant in the Middle as Greg Oden, having blocked a shot in the first period, began grabbing rebounds and cleaning the glass.  The ball movement was fantastic for Portland, especially in the middle minutes of the quarter when Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez were making hay.  This would be the second unit’s best stretch of the night…the only time when they really punished the Hornets as we’re accustomed to seeing.  Unsurprisingly we outscored and outplayed New Orleans during this quarter.

 

The third period was characterized by two trends.  Lamarcus Aldridge started asserting himself on offense and we started fouling Chris Paul like they were passing out party favors to do it.  After the Aldridge wave subsided, however, it was all perimeter shots for the Blazers, which is never a good sign.  We shoot well out there, but only when the ball is moving inside out.  It was outside-out during this stretch and New Orleans came out ahead again.

 

The fourth quarter was Greg Oden time.  All of a sudden it was rebound-rebound-rebound, block-block-WHOOOOAAAA BLOCK!  Oden visibly altered New Orleans’ inside attack, as penetrators started looking out of the corner of their eye trying to spot him.  To be fair, Oden also looked lost in the overall defensive scheme a few times and cost us a few points, but then that’s to be expected at this stage.  As it turned out Nate left him in and he ended up playing 24 minutes.  The effort was spoiled somewhat by our inability to execute down the stretch.  Five out of our last six shots, encompassing the final 3:19 of the game, were taken from 20 feet or beyond.  That’s not how you win close games.

 

The Blazers and Hornets ended up tied in field goals and three-point field goals made.  The margin of victory came from New Orleans 20-24 free-throw line performance versus our 15-18.  That’s not a horrible deficit though, especially on the road against a contender.  The two teams were virtually identical in every other area, save we gave them a few more offensive rebounds than were necessary.  We held their three-point shooting to 32%, kept Paul to 4-12 shooting with 17 points and 9 assists, held David West to 18, and kept the score low and the game close.  Those were all keys to the game listed in the pre-game post.  We didn’t take it to the hole enough and their bench outscored ours 34-32.  Four things right, two not so right, one (rebounding) neutral.  Enough to keep it tight, not enough to push us over the top.

 

Again I’ll say it, though:  how many times in the last five years could we have printed a sentence like that last one when facing what may well be the second best team in the conference on the road?

 

Individual Notes

 

OK, so Brandon Roy got sandwiched, smushed, harassed, and harried.  The Hornets stayed in front of him, behind him, beside him, over him…they did everything but give him a full physical out there and I do believe coach Byron Scott was passing out latex gloves to the bench during the third quarter.  Having watched the game without keeping track of stats I fully expected to go to the boxscore and see 13 points and 4 assists for Roy.  What do I find?  Only his usual 21 with 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals.  Yes, six of those points came off of late heaves but that’s part of his regular repertoire too.  I’m not sure this was Brandon’s best game but dang, he has really good not best games.  He also looked totally comfortable with other people carrying the load out there and it’s to his credit that he didn’t force more than he did against the pressure.

 

Other than a quick burst in the third Lamarcus Aldridge had a rough offensive night tonight, as is his wont against New Orleans.  He helped keep David West down though and nabbed 8 boards.  Not a spectacular outing but not a bad one.

 

Hello, Greg Oden.  He didn’t look half bad out there, did he?  Provided, of course, you like 7-foot, 270 pound, shove people around, grab every rebound, leap to the sky and block your shot so hard it makes your momma’s head spin around twice and fall in her handbag kind of guys.  If that’s not your cup of tea just skip to the Channing Frye paragraph below.  It’s important to note that Oden looked no less raw than he has previously.  That’s one of the signs this guy is going to be special.  Even raw Oden changes the game significantly.  Oh, and other than one Lamarcus Aldridge free throw made Oden and Roy were the only Blazers to score in the fourth quarter.  Line for the Big Guy:  3-3 field goals, 5-6 free throws, 11 rebounds (10 defensive), and 4 blocks in 24 minutes.  And tell me you didn’t scream when he rose up behind Lamarcus Aldridge to swat that New Orleans shot into oblivion.

 

Joel Przybilla didn’t have a bad game himself, hitting 4-5 shots when the Hornets forced the Blazers to make use of him on offense and ending the game with 8 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes.  Credit him for helping hold the New Orleans big guys down too.

 

Steve Blake really struggled with his assignment tonight, hitting only 1 of 6 shots and dishing 4 assists while gathering 6 fouls in 23 minutes.  That’s not entirely unreasonable when you’re guarding the MVP runner-up though.

 

Nicolas Batum also struggled in this game, taking only 2 shots, hitting 1, committing 2 turnovers, and getting muscled around in 12 minutes of playing time.  You have to expect that from the younger guys, however.  They’re going to have great streaks and bad streaks.  That’s what it means to be a rookie in the NBA no matter where you came from.  Two weeks from now people will be saying, “What happened to Nicolas Batum???” and then two weeks after that people will be saying, “He’s the best small forward ever!”

 

Rudy Fernandez played 29 minutes but missed a couple shots early and stopped looking for his shot quite so aggressively.  Also the Hornets did a good job of keeping the Blazers out of transition which is not good for Rudy’s game.  (Don’t forget also that the league is going to start to take notice and pay more attention to him, which will require another round of adjustments for him.)  Rudy took 6 shots, hitting 2, and made 4-4 free throws en route to 10 points and 2 assists.

 

Travis Outlaw struggled tonight like nobody’s business.  He looked like he was fighting himself and the game instead of the opponent.  A couple of the shots he took were definitely in the “Bad Travis!” category.  Nate didn’t mess around leaving him out there either.  1-4 shooting, 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assists, 2 turnovers in 14 minutes.

 

By the way, credit James Posey for a lot of this poor wing play by the Blazers.

 

Channing Frye provided a suitable outlet for passes when the Hornets tried to throw a zone on the Blazers and shut down the inside.  He got 6 mid-range jumpers in 10 minutes and made half of them.  You love the zone-busting dimension.  You just wish some of his offense would come from closer to 20-feet from the basket.

 

Sergio Rodriguez racked up 7 assists in his 24 minutes of playing time and proved a good substitute for the foul-ridden Steve Blake.  Not that the Blazers had that much of a beat to begin with but they didn’t miss it when he came in.  He had an inspired stretch during the mid-second quarter during which he racked up 5 of his assists thanks to the jumpers of Channing Frye and Rudy Fernandez.  The Hornets opted to leave Sergio open tonight and he couldn’t hit a shot to make them pay or his night would have been excellent instead of just good.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Best loss of the season.

 

Check out the Hornets point of view at  AtTheHive.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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