Here's what's important about this game: The Blazers are 7-3. No matter who the opposition has been that's a good number. 7-3 is legit. 7-3 means you've taken care of business. 7-3 is a number the Blazers can be quite happy with after 10 games.
As far as the game itself...oy. You could have collected a leper, a blind man, a refugee from an Amazonian tribe who had never seen a basketball, and your grandma's boyfriend and played a better first half than either of these teams. Emaka Okafor got two early fouls. Chris Paul decided to go on a shooting strike. Peja Stojakovic should have gone on a shooting strike. New Orleans looked clueless. The Blazers, not wanting to be unsportsmanlike, decided that it wouldn't be fair to attempt any shot closer than 18 feet from the bucket until the Hornets had cleared their heads. When the coaches huddled up and brought up shot selection the Blazers said, "JD!" and the Hornets said, "Cuervo!" For all we know they might have followed through then and there. The offense sure looked like they did. The result was a 14-12 first quarter. Ugh.
The teams got marginally more aggressive in the second period. Bayless, Roy, and Miller actually penetrated a little. Meanwhile Hornets' guard Marcus Thornton, seldom used heretofore, took the new, scattered offense as permission to create for himself. He did admirably, scoring 20 points in 24 minutes. The problem was that Paul was still silent, as were the rest of his teammates save David West who was scoring every time they remembered to get him the ball...which was never. The Blazers took the second quarter 23-21 and both teams retreated to the locker rooms for head-scratching and perhaps some tongue-lashing.
If Coach McMillan implored his guys to get more aggressive in the second half it worked. LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller immediately came out and started tearing it up. Miller pounded down the door with some layups and Aldridge peppered the house with eggs via an array of mid-range jump shots. By the 6:33 mark the Hornets trailed by 14, which in this game might as well have been a billion. Bad had long ago turned to worse for New Orleans but worse suddenly turned to disastrous with 40 seconds left in the period as Chris Paul went down with an ankle injury. At that point the Hornets were done. Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla owned the paint and the boards and, unable to get any decent looks out of the halfcourt, the Hornets went down energetically but easily.
The Blazers shot 38% from the field, 15% from distance, and 69% from the foul line tonight. When you walk away with a win after that you know that some other areas went right. New Orleans shot 37% overall and 21% from the arc themselves, partially due to Portland's defense and partially due to their comfort level. The real difference came in rebounding. The Blazers had 20 offensive rebounds and 87 possessions. The Hornets had 9 offensive rebounds and 79 possessions. Portland won the overall rebounding battle 60-40 despite missing 4 more shots than New Orleans did. On a night where neither team hit, passed, turned the ball over, or drew excess fouls that made the difference. Portland did do a nice job on Paul, making him work hard for a pass rather than waltz in easily for a score. I've been critical of the point guard defense but they did a pretty good job channeling Paul into the right spot tonight. Credit also goes to the Blazer big men who were rock solid in helping out and recovering. You couldn't have drawn it up much better. The 3 point, 8 assists line from CP3 was the difference in this game. The reserve guards for New Orleans scored 20 and 18 respectively, but big whoop. You did what you needed to do. Part and parcel of that was getting back in transition, as the Hornets wanted to run and the Blazers did a decent job of keeping them contained.
I'm not going to mention shooting or scoring unless a guy did exceptionally well. In a 38% shooting game you have to figure that most everybody was missing.
Brandon Roy had 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He had ball-handling trouble early, not the first time we've seen that this season. Still, on a night where it became apparent he'd have less than his "A" game offensively he found ways to distract and contribute. The downside was that he played 38 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge provided a good scoring option early in both halves and really solidified the offense for Portland. Had he been bricking like everyone else (he ended up 10-19) this game would have gone in the loss column as the Blazers would have had exactly zero outlets for the ball. LaMarcus won this game for us in the way that is most instinctive to him: #1 scoring option. He didn't neglect the boards, rummaging around for 9 defensive and 4 offensive rebounds. Great night.
Greg Oden wasn't hitting jack early but stayed with it, worked the offensive glass, and continued to be a terror defensively. The growth in his defensive movement and recognition from last year to this has been phenomenal. He's really become an intimidator just by his presence, even when he doesn't do anything. If Greg's in the area people are looking over their shoulder. 7 defensive rebounds, 5 offensive, 3 blocks.
Andre Miller's 5-13 clip was caused mostly by the jumpers he took. This shouldn't obscure the fact that he was one of the first and best to attack the lane which broke the game free for the Blazers. 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 12 points.
Steve Blake's offensive production continues to sputter, as he went 1-5 from the arc tonight on mostly open shots. Marks for the work on Chris Paul.
Joel Przybilla added "Free Throw Machine" to his usual Rebounding Machine title tonight. The Hornets were so discombobulated inside that he was picking offensive boards from a low-hanging tree. They fouled him on the putbacks. He sank 6 of 7 free throws. 10 points, 8 rebounds. He also had 3 blocks as he continued what Oden started on the defensive end. This center tandem is really starting to click.
Travis Outlaw had 5 rebounds. I promised I wouldn't speak of...other things. But while everybody else was making their shot selections he apparently finished the bottle.
Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez pretty much flat-lined tonight. I thought Rudy did a good job of staying controlled defensively but, as Mike Rice so eloquently put it, he seemed to be spending his offensive evening looking for that special pass. "Special" in this case turned out to be "turnover". I expect bigger games out of both gentlemen tomorrow, as they played 13 and 12 minutes respectively. They're the reserve energy.
Jerryd Bayless was aggressive getting to the rim again in his 11 minutes, finishing with 8 points, 2 rebounds, and a turnover. It's actually pretty nice having him being able to maximize his scoring in short runs on the court as they disguise his weaknesses. Used like this he's becoming valuable to the team. It was funny watching him the first couple times he had to watch Chris Paul though. It was a total "Whoa!" moment...as in "Whoa! Where did he go? Oh crap!!!"
Final Thoughts and Links
This trip is now assured of being a good one, which is just what the doctor ordered. Everything from now on is bonus. Win 1 of 2 and the road swing is fantastic. Win both and it's near-unimaginable (at least from the perspective of a couple weeks ago). The ship has been righted and is quickly sailing forward. Let's see how the Blazers deal with the next rock they hit.
Check out the concern over CP3 and the praising of the bench guards at AtTheHive.