Let's deal with one of the big questions of the night first: Why Martell to the bench? I haven't read around too much so it came as a surprise to me, though we had speculated over the last few weeks that it's a move that might need to happen. I apologize if this has been explained more officially elsewhere, but here are the explanations I can see:
- As the Mikes mentioned we need shooting in the second unit. The starters are all about Roy and Aldridge when things are moving smoothly. Steve Blake is a nice shooting outlet and Jack can hold his own when open. The second unit, though, really depends on spreading the floor. It's no accident that the White Unit got famous when James Jones was unconscious from distance. I don't know if I buy that this was done for Sergio's sake as was mentioned on the broadcast, but it certainly does help him...and more importantly Travis Outlaw. With Jones out Martell finds more of a home with those two.
- We need to make life hard on opposing guards. One of the best ways to do this is make them play defense. Unfortunately Martell has become an easy cover lately. All his man has to do is camp out with him on the weak side at the three-point line and stand. Tonight was a perfect example of the kind of mismatch problems the Brandon/Jack/Blake trio can cause. You're going to have trouble guarding Brandon with your small forward. You can't put him on Jarrett either. So what do you do? Granted had Deng played it might have been a different story on the other end, but this shakes things up a little at least by making him play both ways.
- Jarrett Jack has been playing well and adds a little more driving potential to the first unit.
- Martell has been doing some things well. He's a had a couple of monster streaks. But even during those it's still been either him scoring OR others scoring, seldom both. He'll rip six in a row on consecutive possessions or he won't score at all. Both the streakiness and the unilateral scoring are more second unit traits than first unit, especially on this team. Plus, let's face it, outside of those streaks he hasn't been hitting that many. Yes we want Martell to rebound and move his feet but that doesn't change the fact that he's a shooter. He must shoot and he must hit to be effective and that's not happening right now. Maybe coming off the bench allows him some space to work that out.
Another thing that really jumped out at me tonight is how much better the Blazers are offensively when they're pushing the ball up the court. We've said this before. It's not that they're fast breaking. The point guards are just running it up instead of walking. It's happening a lot more and that's good. In the Zach years whenever I watched a game on Tivo I could hit a quick burst of fast forward after every Blazer defensive rebound, knowing I wasn't going to miss a thing. If I try that now I miss the play half the time. Hustling up the floor sets the tone for the offensive possession, keeping guys moving and aggressive. It also allows more time for more passes and options...including re-setting the play if the first try doesn't work out. That helps us immensely.
One of the questions both the Mikes and Gavin Dawson asked about the game was why we can't seem to blow things out. As the Mikes said part of it is attitude and experience. But that's not all of it by a long shot. Defense is the short answer. We play decent defense as a team but that comes over the long haul, averaged out. On individual possessions as individual players our defense is actually somewhat spotty. Oftentimes if an opponent needs a critical bucket they'll get it. Chicago got quite a few critical buckets tonight after getting down. How many open looks from mid-range or off drives did you see? Our defense involves a lot of gimmicks...often effective, but compensatory nonetheless. We play a lot of zone, leaving creases to move and shoot. When we play man-to-man we switch on every screen to cover the lack of footspeed and individual defensive chops. That leaves a lot of plays with, say, Przybilla guarding out near the three-point line or Jack defending in the post. To blow people out you either need to run them out of the gym like Golden State or defend them really well one-on-one. We don't really do either.
As far as the actual game goes, it wasn't exactly rocket science. We outrebounded the Bulls which is 90% of the battle. We scored a little more from the line than they did. We drove the ball and scored in the paint. Our big guys stayed out of foul trouble for the most part, which made the game easier. Plus Brandon and Lamarcus both went off in the same game, which is always a great sign for us. That was enough to do it.
This was an important win for our confidence if nothing else. It would have been very hard going on a road trip facing Detroit, Indiana, Houston, and Dallas having lost 2 straight and 3 of 4 at home. It's a sure bet we're going to lose a couple (likely three on paper) on this trip. It's not so important that we might lose. It's more important what losing could mean or do to our confidence. When you're suffering physical and mental fatigue you need all of the reminders you can get that you are a good team and you can win. That winning confidence could make the difference in one or more of these games.
--Brandon Roy was six kinds of fantastic tonight. Mike Rice said something about him getting easy shots. Those shots weren't easy! He made them look easy, but that's a different thing entirely. He was hitting jumpers with very little clearance, sometimes off of spins and turn-arounds. He was just unstoppable out there...a commanding presence. I marvel every time I see him. He doesn't overpower you like a Drexler. He's not a massive Scottish claymore bludgeoning you into submission. He's like a double-fisted dagger-wielder. Stab here, stab there, stabby-stabby-stabby...what? You're bleeding from a thousand different cuts? Best fetch some Bactine, boy. And while you're at it tell your coach to send in somebody who can guard me. Wait...make it two somebodies.
--I loved Lamarcus' offensive game tonight. Not only did he start out aggressively he looked comfortable doing it. He was aggressive but not rushed. You can tell when he's thinking, "OK, this play is for me so I better shoot!" There was none of that tonight. It was more "Resistance is futile." He "Borged" it up for 18 points on 8-15 shooting. We'll win a lot when he's shooting that much and that well.
--Let's talk about Martell from the bench. He missed all 5 of his three-point attempts. Fortunately he started driving like a pop-star's kid after her Sweet Sixteen party. I loved, no...LOVED, his jams tonight. I also loved how he started woofing like a Big Dog after the second one. Normally you'd wonder about sportsmanship and such but Martell NEEDS to have that energy and attitude. Anything that gets him not disappearing into the woodwork I'm all for. Fire in the eyes is the secret ingredient to Martell's transformation from Yellow Power Ranger that Nobody Recognizes to full-blown Megazord.
(I'm embarrassed I said that, but I will say I'm not completely sure I said it right.)
--Travis Outlaw shot 5-10 and played a supporting role tonight, but it was a good supporting role. He didn't dominate, but he did make the Bulls say, "Oh what now? You too?!?" That's absolutely perfect. When Outlaw is on he makes defending the Blazers like playing a vicious game of Whack-a-Mole. You might hit one, but there's always another coming. Maybe two. And you never know from where. He scored 14. Whenever Travis' points exceed his shots taken by a reasonable amount he's doing great.
--Jarrett Jack did a fantastic job in the starting lineup. Brandon and Lamarcus going off really set him up. 8 free throw attempts per game is great even if a couple of them did come on making-up-ground fouls at the end. He scored 17 points on 8 shots. Plus he hit 2 three-pointers, dished 6 assists, and only committed 2 turnovers. He saw his opportunity and went for it. Way to go.
--Steve Blake had 7 points and 7 assists plus 2 steals. That's OK for 40 minutes (especially the assists) but this still wasn't one of his great nights. 1-6 from three-point range hurts.
--Joel had some nice interior defense, Sergio had a nice drive, Channing had a couple nice rebounds, and Raef had a nice minute of playing time. And there you have it.
One-Sentence Game Summary
When our two stars play well it makes everybody look better.