Remember last week when Dave was asking for advice about his new HDTV? Well, his current television caught wind of Dave's scheme and was none too pleased. Dave came home from work last night to find an empty living room with a note on his TV stand. "So, you want to take up with a younger, prettier model, do you? Fine! I don't have to take this. I'm leaving! And don't bother trying to track me down either. I'm taking the VCR with me. Good luck, Buddy!" With Dave thusly preoccupied, you're stuck with me for your game recap.
The Pistons are a much better matchup for us with Allen Iverson instead of Chauncey Billups. The crisp efficiency, easy buckets and steady hand that Billups brought to their offense could foreseeably have caused problems for our team defense, which is still learning to play with Greg in the middle. But Iverson was more The Problem than The Answer for Detroit tonight, as his convoluted drives and 2 for 9 shooting seemed to take his teammates out of rhythm. His 3 assists were almost accidental. The Pistons tried to do the Prince-as-point-foward thing; it looked improvised, which is not how offenses should look.
To their credit, the Blazers didn't give the Pistons any time to develop rhythm. For the umpteenth game in a row, we jumped out to a hot start and tonight it was all LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 7 of our first 9 points and was hitting jumpers short, medium and long throughout the contest. While LMA was handling the scoring, Greg was busy manning the defensive glass: his 8 boards in the game's first 9 minutes limited Detroit's second-chance scoring opportunities. Entering the game, I'm sure there were more than a few observers chuckling at the Oden vs. Kwame Brown matchup. But Greg got the last laugh tonight: another double-double (11, 13 and 3 blocks) and his first extended play during crunch time against a top opponent.
Our second unit struggled on both ends in both the 2nd and 3rd quarters. With some time to think about it, though, I'm not sure if we need to read too much into that except to say this: Rodney Stuckey is a beast. Sergio had the toughest matchup of anyone tonight and he did an admirable job, but Stuckey clearly won that battle. Nate mixed things up to try to slow Stuckey down, throwing Outlaw, Blake and Batum at him in the second half. It didn't much matter. Stuckey's size, strength and ability to get into the lane gave us considerable problems but with no one else able to really get off (Hamilton was their next brightest spot, with 18 points), the game remained winnable throughout the third quarter and into the fourth.
If you recall earlier this season, Dave explained quite well what playoff teams need to be able to do in crunch time: execute well enough so that they can score points when their first (and possibly second) go-to options are taken away from them. During the crucial 4th quarter stretch that put this game away, our offensive possessions ended like this:
- Blake hits a wide-open catch and shoot 3 in the corner.
- LaMarcus hits an open jumper at the top of the key off of the pick and roll.
- Greg had an uncontested dunk underneath the hoop after a scramble for the ball.
- Brandon hits an and-one jumper after the pick and roll creates a mismatch (Herrmann? More like Herrwomann. No chance against Brandon one on one).
- Brandon hits an easy layup going to the hoop.
- The ball swings to Batum who hits an open look baseline jumper.
What's the takeaway from that stretch? Every possession found the ball in a player's hands where he knows exactly what to do with it. I really don't think Nate could have drawn up that 3 or so minute stretch any better. 5 different players scored, in all manners and from all distances, and it looked easy. It looked easy because, relatively speaking, it was easy -- or at least as easy as scoring gets on the road against a quality opponent.
The points came from all over but our sets didn't really change that much. Brandon had the ball up top, with LMA setting picks. Greg was on the low block. Steve and Nic were just lurking, ready to catch and shoot. The high pick and roll game dictated the game to Detroit, forcing their defenders to make tough decisions. When they tried to force the ball out of Brandon's hands, they got killed by every Blazer in a different way. When they tried to play Brandon straight up, he killed them by himself (as he has been doing all year). The Pistons never found an answer. And when we're moving the ball and hitting open shots, it's unclear if there is a good answer.
The game ball goes to LMA tonight (27 and 4). From start to finish he was draining his shot and he worked hard on defense. What a night.
Rudy continues to be all over the map. To get this win without much of an offensive contribution from him (3 points) is surprising. Tonight was another night where his first one or two shots dictated how his offensive night developed. He started cold and stayed cold. As always, he did the Rudy little things -- play hard and draw fouls-- that are invaluable.
Travis also struggled tonight, most memorably when he committed a Jack-esque atrocious over-and-back violation. He looked like someone who was trying not to fall into a pool and failing miserably. But his two baskets, both 3s, couldn't have been bigger. His second triple, especially, which pushed the lead back to 9 during a critical third quarter stretch. Travis also had a nice block on the defensive end.
As mentioned, Sergio drew a tough matchup against Stuckey and struggled to keep him out of the lane. He gave up 3 turnovers (although Stuckey finished with 5). But Sergio did have two huge momentum shots to close out the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The one before halftime, particularly, was sweet: a little flip shot that stayed in the air for an extra half-beat before coming down through the hoop much to everyone's surprise (except Sergio's). And he also had a nice three on a dish from Rudy with Iverson rushing out at him. Never easy to remain cool in that situation and just stroke that three. Despite Stuckey's play, Sergio might have been the brightest star off our bench tonight.
Loved everything about Greg's performance tonight, especially the fact that he got all the playing time down the stretch and the team's execution looked great with him on the floor. Let's not overlook the fact that he is one of the few seven footers in the league who, when he steps to the free throw line, you think "he's got these" and not "please call an ambulance, I'm having a heart attack." He was 5-6 from the stripe tonight. I don't think Hack-a-Greg will be a viable solution to slowing down our fourth quarter offense. That is awesome. Also, he looked to be in the best shape of the season, playing 31 minutes.
100,000s of words have been written about Nic Batum but it's still not enough. He got crunch time minutes tonight too and everything I wrote in the previous paragraph about Greg applies to Nic as well. He was calm, cool, collected, and clutch. He's setting a very, very high bar for Martell to meet.
Frye barely played (6 minutes). I think it's time to get used hearing those words. Prepare yourself.
Joel also saw much less time than usual (just 17 minutes). Did tonight represent another step forward in the transfer of pivot power from Joel to Greg? I think that's probably going too far. For one, Greg did a good job of staying out of foul trouble early in the game (he played the first 9 minutes). For two, Greg will get a nice condiitioning test Tuesday night.
Huge win. Another great one for the resume. Credit Nate for having the team ready to go from the opening whistle. There were plenty of excuses not to show up for this game (first on the road, early start, Sunday after Thanksgiving, etc.). None of those will be needed after this one.
As of tonight, we are the 3 seed in the West. But there are plenty of potholes left in this road trip. Starting with the methball Knicks on Tuesday.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)