Now that was a satisfying win.
The thing I liked best about this win, hands down, was that the Blazers stepped up to the plate physically. Lamarcus Aldridge started standing toe to toe with Kevin Garnett from the opening tip and it just never stopped. Several other Blazers also gave and withstood hard fouls when the situation warranted. The Blazers never stopped getting the ball inside. The Blazers never stopped rebounding. The Blazers never let the increasingly physical play take them out of the game. Portland simply absorbed the contact, dished out some in return so the Celtics would know there were two teams in this contest, and kept executing. This may not have been a playoff game but this is the kind of thing the Blazers are going to have to do in order to make the playoffs and someday prosper there. They weren't over the top or stupid, they just stood up to the bully and moved on. Bravo.
There were a couple of huge keys to this game. Rebounding was the first. The Blazers pasted 13 offensive boards on one of the best rebounding teams in the league in a game that was dominated by halfcourt play. Portland won the overall rebounding battle 44-29. Portland also mastered points in the paint. The Blazers made the Celtics' relative weakness at interior defense (relative being an important term when applying that sentence to the best defensive team in the league) glaringly obvious. The Blazers owned the paint on both ends throughout the game and that's what led to the victory.
The interior domination made up for a night when the Blazers committed a lot of silly turnovers and ran a 10-shot deficit at the free throw line. It also made up for the Blazers' inability to defend Boston's guards without Brandon Roy in the lineup. Granted, the Blazers may not have been able to defend Boston's guards with Brandon in the lineup but at least he has legitimate height. Portland really suffers against wing players--Paul Pierce being Exhibit A in this game--when anybody but Brandon is on the floor. The blessing of Pope Sixtus V and the machinations of Duke of Medina Sidonia combined couldn't get the original Spanish Armada to defend right and for much of this game our duo suffered the same fate. A timely move by Coach McMillan to put Travis Outlaw on Pierce stopped the leak enough for the Blazers to regain their footing, but it was a near thing.
Speaking of, in the absence of Brandon Roy this was easily the most creative job of substituting we've seen out of the coaching staff in...well...maybe ever. We saw Jerryd Bayless. We saw Oden and Przybilla playing together. We even got some semi-significant Ike Diogu minutes. Most of the moves worked. The worst at least resulted in Portland treading water. The best looked inspired. (The Oden-plus-Przybilla move worked particularly well for the short stretch it was used.) Bravo also to Nate and his staff for their part in manufacturing this win.
In games as intense as this the officiating is always magnified. Truly, it looked like the refs had a hard time out there. To their credit they did keep the game under control. However there were plenty of blown calls either way. I did not count to see if they evened out but among them were missed out of bounds possessions, blown travelling calls, missed push-offs, and of course the infamous 6-men-on-the-court bucket at the end of the first half. For those who missed it (just watch ESPN tonight) Portland fielded six men on their last offensive play of the second period. I will be eagerly awaiting Ben's report to see if he can wheedle out of the coaching staff the name of the culprit. The Blazers scored on the play, hammering down a Travis Outlaw dunk off of a pass from Greg Oden as the weak-side Boston defenders pointed out the error instead of defending. The officials completely missed it until afterwards. They ended up allowing the bucket then awarding the Celtics a technical shot (which they hit) and the ball for the final shot (which they missed). If you are a Boston fan, I feel for you. The call was obviously blown. Those points also could have affected how the final minutes of the game played out. My sympathy is only dimmed somewhat by the Boston announcing crew (which we got on League Pass) mentioning it approximately every 30 seconds or so in the second half.
The play could have been handled a couple ways. First they could have acknowledged the error, disallowed the basket, awarded Boston a foul shot, and then given the ball back to the Blazers. This would have been the most correct option in my view. The second option was to do what they did, which was to play on. Disallowing the basket after the fact without a replay of those final seconds was NOT an option, however. If the basket had been disallowed then the Blazers would have gotten the ball back, which was not the case in the game. To take away the points retroactively without giving the Blazers another chance to score while Boston did get that extra chance to score would have been a quadruple penalty: loss of the bucket, technical free throw for Boston, loss of the possession for the Blazers, a gained possession for the Celtics. That's far more than the rules call for in such a situation. Replay or play on were the only options. As soon as you gave the ball to Boston to end the half you made your choice.
This is a key thing to remember about this call, even as a Celtics fan. Boston gets a free throw no matter how you resolve the situation, which the Celtics got and made. Had the bucket been disallowed the Blazers would have gotten another chance to run the play after Boston had made that free throw. The Blazers might have scored again, rendering the outcome the same. The Blazers might have scored a three, making the outcome worse. The Blazers might have missed. We don't know what would have happened. Therefore to say for sure that this play turned the game is disingenuous. It didn't help, of course, but in reality the Celtics lost because they got beat too many times to the ball and got pounded in the paint. The announcers were right to point out the play, to question how it was handled even. The over-emphasis on that one play was camouflage, however, and basically incorrect. If the team itself let the resolution of that matter affect them enough that they lost the game that's on them. I don't think they did, but that's pretty much the end of the story.
Huge props to Lamarcus Aldridge. Not only did he score 20 plus 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks (to Garnett's 17, 8, 2, 1, and 0) he led the physical charge against the Celtics all night. The double-technical late in the game epitomized that. Garnett threw a cheap elbow after the possession was complete, Aldridge smacked the back of his head. Points off for being obvious about it, but high marks for not taking crap. Lamarcus had a scowl on when facing Garnett most of the night. That was appropriate and appreciated.
This was flat-out the best game for Greg Oden as a professional. He did almost everything out there. 13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists barely tell the story. He was active, mobile, intense, energized, aggressive, and just owned the paint. His offensive moves against Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis looked professional and were effective as heck. He just backed them down and baby-hooked them. They couldn't keep him out of the lane from the low post. He did a great job rotating on defense. As soon as a shot went up he boxed out somebody and most of the time he ended up with the rebound. His passing skills were also on full display and frankly they make me drool a puddle you could backstroke in. Greg really took responsibility for this game and stepped up in Brandon's absence. We actually looked like less of a team when he wasn't on the floor. Stellar job.
Steve Blake, as he so often does, kept our heads above water when we struggled during the first half. He shot 8-12, 5-7 from the three-point arc, and scored a Blazer-high 21 points. Steve has a pattern. He'll score the heck out of the ball when others are missing early and then fade into the background as people find their footing unless and until you need a three-point shot again late in the game. There are worse patterns for a point guard than that.
Rudy Fernandez got the start in place of Brandon Roy but didn't have a strong game. He missed a couple of open shots early and never got on track. He also had defensive trouble in the first half, though he made up for it with energy in the second half to even out the night. This was a night for big men anyway, so it didn't hurt us much. 2-7 shooting, 1-5 on threes, 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in 32 minutes.
Nicolas Batum, on the other hand, had an excellent defensive night. His effort was top notch. In 17 minutes he grabbed 7 rebounds and a steal plus he had 2 blocks, one spectacular Michael Cooper-like trailing block on the break. This was one of Nicolas' better games too, despite not hitting either of his 2 shots. I watched this game with a friend and I was explaining to him why Nic is probably our small forward of the future.
Travis Outlaw was the big man off the bench with 17 points in 31 minutes on 7-14 shooting. He had a couple of awful, bonehead plays in the fourth, one a turnover off the dribble when the Blazers left him bringing the ball out of the backcourt and one horrible shot fired with 12 seconds left on the shot clock and the Blazers in desperate need of a good possession. But when he drove the baseline and put down that two-handed fingertip dunk over Kevin Garnett to put us up by 4 with 29 seconds left in the game I turned to my friend and said, "THAT is why he stays in the game despite everything else." As mentioned above, Travis was also a good stopgap against the Paul Pierce onslaught when every guard we threw against him was too small.
Joel Przybilla played 15 minutes, grabbed 6 rebounds, and dunked once. He did the usual good job filling in while Oden rested. This was Oden's night so that didn't turn out to be as long as usual.
Jerryd Bayless got 16 minutes of time tonight, trying desperately to tie at least one loop of Roy's sandals. It's hard to judge people in their early outings like this. His stats say 0-4 shooting, 2 assists, 1 steal, but also 4 turnovers. He was fairly active and didn't shrink away from the moment though. He was obviously out there with units that weren't used to playing together too (evidenced by the fact that he, himself was out there!) Not a great night but a good attempt is probably the best way to put it.
Sergio Rodriguez also gave it a game run in 9 minutes but he was just overmatched in height and couldn't defend. Because of Rudy's rotation promotion Sergio was out there with Bayless instead of his Spanish cohort. That made a difference. Also, as with Przybilla and Oden, this was really Blake's night.
Ike Diogu got 4 points in 6 minutes tonight. He's looking a little more spry than he was earlier in the season. It would be a stretch to write his name into the rotation with pen but he got a nice round of applause when leaving the game for his effort tonight.
It's good to exit the year with a nice win and a little respect. Let's hope the Blazers remember the lessons learned from this Boston series. Even better, now winning 1 of the next 3 puts us at .500 for the final, final stretch of the brutal early season schedule. Then we can put that phrase to bed once and for all and translate all of these bumps and bruises acquired against elite teams into solid victories against slightly less elite teams.
Listen to Celtics fans rage at officials and maybe give a tiny amount of grudging respect to the Blazers at CelticsBlog. (Please don't troll.)
Check out the Jersey Contest scores from this game and the monthly scoreboard here. The winner of this month's jersey will be named in the next post!