Big Ben, Little Ben, what begins with Ben?
"Ben" puzzled how the Blazers let the Pistons within ten.
Tonight's game was an exercise in agony and ecstasy. More precisely it was an exercise in ecstasy then agony. But the Blazers won and that's the important thing. A loss after getting up 20 in the second half would have been too depressing to contemplate.
The game started out quite well for Portland. At first the Blazers controlled the tempo like Lawrence Welk but then they pushed it like Salt-N-Pepa. The Pistons didn't have much of a defensive answer in the halfcourt and they had none at all when LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers started running. Portland streaked out to a 17-9 lead and it appeared that Detroit's tired legs would prevent them from showing up tonight. But then Andre Miller went out of the game at the 4:50 mark of the first and Portland tallied one field goal the rest of the way. The Pistons closed the gap to 21-17 heading into the second.
Miller started the second period and all of a sudden the offense picked up. Joel Przybilla scored twice right at the rim, once off of a pass from Rudy and once off of a pass from ‘Dre. Miller and Fernandez combined for assists on three of the next four Blazer baskets and the lead was up to 9 in short order. Then Andre Miller left the game and the offense went into a stall, allowing the Pistons to climb back to within 4 again. The Blazers played some good defense to close the period while simultaneously deciding to go through Roy and Aldridge. It was a good move, allowing them to stretch the lead to 10.
The third period was all Portland. It was a textbook example of how to win a game. The shots were layups or open jumpers off of passes. The Blazers shut down the middle on the Pistons and Detroit responded by firing jumpers. Portland allowed no offensive rebounds. Portland resumed running whenever they were able. It was basically a massacre throughout. 10 points became 20 and it looked like the Blazers had this in the bag.
Apparently the Blazers thought so too as their first four shots of the fourth period were three-point attempts, all misses. They got further in after that but it was still mostly jumpers. Meanwhile the Pistons went layup-free throws-layup to pull within 16. No biggie. They cut it to 14 soon after but Portland responded with a massive Oden dunk off of a Rudy pass and it looked like they were free and clear. Then Andre Miller left the game. Portland got a nice straight-away 18-footer from Juwan Howard right after but that was the only shot the Blazers hit with ‘Dre on the bench. The litany read like this: Rudy turnover, Blake miss, Blake turnover, Rudy missed three. Then Andre Miller came back in the game. But now the team was snakebit.
In succession we had an Oden turnover, a missed Roy jumper, a shot clock violation off of a Miller miss, two Aldridge free throw makes, two Miller free throw misses (!), a Blake turnover, and a Blake missed three. Meanwhile it's Detroit layup, Detroit chip shot, Detroit free throws, Detroit threes, and those offensive rebounds that the Blazers had been denying all game were coming fast and furious. Portland's up 4. Up 3. Up 2. Where's my Tums? Naw, forget those. It looks like I'm going to need something prescription-strength after this one, if not downright medicinal.
In the end, though, the clock ran out on the Pistons. 22 seconds showed by the time they cut the lead to two, which required fouling. Mercifully Blake and Miller hit all 6 of the free throws they took and Detroit couldn't connect with a three. 87-81, the Blazers it at 9-4.
It's tempting to rail at the team for almost letting this one slip away. The one quibble I have with the strategy is Portland playing slow-down ball too early and continuing to play it even as the lead dwindled. Yes you want to milk some clock on every possession when you're up huge in the fourth. That's only smart. But the Blazers weren't pushing anything when pushing was what got them there in the first place. To brush off an old and terrible cliché, they started playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Even when the lead hit the lower single digits they still played as if they were up 16. There was no call for panic but it was certainly time to resurrect the aggression. Maybe the strategy ended up being right as the clock foiled Detroit in the end. Credit that, I suppose. But this game got uncomfortably close without the Blazers showing much of a pulse. One shot could have tipped it. I think I'd prefer going hard through the fourth, planning on winning with the style that put you ahead in the first place.
You have to give the Detroit defense a ton of credit though. They adopted a relatively simple strategy. They trapped Roy and Fernandez every time they touched the ball in the halfcourt and doubled or tripled LaMarcus if he touched it in the post. That left a lot of swings and shots going to Miller and Blake. At that point the defense became easy. Miller's jumper is legendary by now and needs no explanation. I remember praising Steve Blake last year because he appeared to have developed some acceptable moves off of the dribble. I don't know what's happened in the interim but he offends the heavens every time he puts the ball on the floor nowadays. Seriously, tonight there was a choir of cherubim and seraphim up there charged with keeping the ceaseless round of praise singing:
Gloria in excelsis D...awwww, what the hell was that?!? Ooops! Our apologies, Big Guy!
NO NEED. WHOA!
Detroit simply sagged off of Miller and forced Blake to drive. By the time the ball had been to a primary scorer then been passed around to those two there wasn't time enough for another option. So the Blazer offense became awkward shot central. It isn't so much on either player. They are what they are and they bring plenty of good things to the table too. But this is one of the disadvantages to playing them together. You have two guys you know how to guard. Throw in Oden or Przybilla and that makes three. When the pressure went up the Pistons knew how to exploit that.
Despite the fourth-quarter follies offensively the Blazers played a pretty solid game. They held Detroit to 39% shooting and shot 47% themselves which was clearly the difference in the game, especially since the Pistons ended up with 10 more shot attempts than Portland did. The Blazers got more free throw attempts and stayed relatively even on the boards overall despite allowing Detroit back in that battle by giving up those late offensive rebounds. Portland also stayed even on points in the paint and were close in turnovers. The Blazers almost doubled up the Pistons in assists which is indicative of the fractured nature of Detroit's roster right now, both because of new personnel and injuries. Ben Gordon only got 12 shots and only made 4 of them which was huge for the Blazers. It's going to be hard for Detroit to win any game right now where Gordon only scores 11. Credit Blake, Roy, and helpers for making that happen.
Click through for individual notes, final thoughts, and links.
Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge both had fine offensive nights, each shooting 50% and scoring 20. The Pistons didn't have an answer for either unless they threw extra men at them. LaMarcus was streaking up and down the floor in transition and grabbed 7 rebounds. Roy had 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
Say what you want about Andre Miller--and I had some issues with his defense tonight--but the guy is the key to making our offense click right now. The Blazers look different when he's in there. They attack more aggressively and move the ball more freely. 10 points, 4-8 free throw attempts, and 11 assists.
Greg Oden scored 6 and had the chance to score twice that many if he would have slowed down a little on offense. The Pistons had a hard time stopping him from backing into the post and getting whatever shot he wanted but he didn't finish really strong and didn't get that many chances to work on it. He grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 3 shots though. He kept the middle Piston-free for most of the game.
Blake was the Blazers' third-leading scorer tonight with 17 points off of 3-6 three-point shooting. He looked more confident in his perimeter shot tonight which was good. When he hesitates he gets in trouble. He needs to be like a professional angler...catch and release. Blake also got matched up with somebody he could defend with some degree of success tonight in Gordon. Well done there.
Joel Przybilla caught a variety pack of passes underneath the rim tonight and scored on three for 6 points. He got 5 rebounds as well. But his biggest contribution was just helping out on defense. With Ben Wallace and Kwame Brown lacking that offensive savoir faire Przy was free to man up on drivers and help jump screens.
Rudy missed all 4 of his threes tonight but injected some energy into the game and finished with 4 assists and 2 steals to go along with his 6 points. He had 3 turnovers but this was a turnover-heavy night for the guards because of how Detroit started defending. Blake had 3 and Miller had 2 so Rudy wasn't out of step. He played 28 minutes.
Martell Webster played 12 minutes, took 3 threes, and missed them all. 1 rebound, 1 steal, 3 personal fouls, and not a lot of confidence-inspiring play.
Juwan Howard played 10 minutes, hit that shot we mentioned, and got a rebound.
Final Thoughts and Links
It's a win. Go and get one in Oakland and we'll forget all about how ugly this got.
Check out Detroit's reaction at MotownStringMusic