So that's what it looks like when everything comes together. It's been awhile since Portland Trail Blazers fans have seen their team play as dominant, inspired basketball as they did Monday night, pounding the Chicago Bulls 122-98 in the Rose Garden.
The win was a blueprint for how things should have been working all along. The tandem of Greg Oden (24 points, 12 rebounds) and LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, 13 rebounds) should overwhelm teams inside. The scoring ability and play-making of Brandon Roy (18 points, 7 assists) should open things up for his teammates. Andre Miller (15 points, 5 assists) should be free to attack weaker second team defenses, getting to the line for an endless string of free throws. Rudy Fernandez (13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) should play off of Miller, knocking down open shots and dazzling the crowd with his passes (except that one off of Luol Deng's face. Jeepers.). Steve Blake (3 points, 4 assists) should be the 7th or 8th offensive option, playing passably but not horribly. The youngsters -- Jerryd Bayless (4 points) and Dante Cunningham (4 points)-- should help step on the gas when appropriate. And Martell Webster (6 points, 4 rebounds) should do what he does best: try really hard during garbage time to make up for a lackluster game.
All kidding aside, this game was by far the best all-around performance of the young 2009-2010 season for the Blazers and was certainly the most impressive, entertaining victory of the year as well.
The Blazers won the first quarter, counted on their depth to blow open the game in the second quarter, did a solid job of weathering a Luol Deng-led (25 points) push in the third quarter and cruised down the stretch. With the game out of reach, the Rose Garden crowd took a break from doing the wave to serenade their starting center with chants of "Oden! Oden!" in appreciation of his play against NCAA rival Joakim Noah. It's hard to remember the Rose Garden cheering Oden as passionately as they did Monday night, and it was well-deserved. His strong, patient play on offense, his smart play on defense and his fantastic foul shooting added up to what was likely his best performance as a professional. It was, at times, mouth-watering and jaw-dropping.
His confidence soaring, Oden returned to the locker room after the game -- and an NBATV interview -- to joke on camera that his Ohio State Buckeyes would "smash" either the Beavers or the Ducks in the Rose Bowl. He laughed and smiled as he said, "Sorry, but it's true." What's this? Giggles talking smack? Love it.
While the hot discussion topic might still be whether Steve Blake or Andre Miller should start at point guard, tonight we finally saw real evidence that Miller running the second unit is good for all parties. Make no mistake, Miller had a much better game than Blake tonight. But ask yourself this: Does Miller score the same 16 points if he plays all his minutes alongside Brandon Roy? Probably not. Does Brandon Roy score 18 points if he plays all of his minutes alongside Andre Miller? Do these two players, the team's two best play-makers, combine for 12 assists if their minutes overlapped more? Are both Aldridge and Oden able to get going if Roy and Miller are both in the game simultaneously, if Blake isn't there to keep the defense a little bit more honest? Does the team's dominant second quarter take place if Blake is running the show rather than Miller?
We might not have solid answers to these hypothetical questions but we do have answers from tonight: simply put, Miller off the bench can work on the court. Indeed, it can work very well. Will it work over the long haul, taking into account egos, minutes, numbers, and all the rest of it? Who knows. But it produced the single best team performance of the season.
When the Blazers are rolling like they did tonight, there are not many teams in the NBA that can come in to Portland and win. Certainly, that effort would have beaten the Denver team that came to Portland earlier this season and, equally certainly, that effort will beat the Jazz team the Blazers face later this week. While the starting point guard battle can and should remain an open race, a new ceiling has been established. Surely, Nate McMillan feels vindicated in his lineup juggling thanks to this result.
At the same time, though, McMillan should feel satisfied that his current group, despite the injuries, is talented enough to win the Northwest Division. He should put to rest the talk of needing "bodies" and realize he's got 11 talented, healthy bodies that just ran a solid Bulls team completely off the court. Unless someone else goes down, it's not about bodies for this group right now. It's about effort and chemistry.
Random Game Notes
- Brandon Roy, on which team he's pulling for in next week's Civil War: "The Beavers, because the Ducks hate the Huskies more."
- Last year I attended the epic Free Darko launch party in Seattle and missed Derrick Rose's first tour through Portland. Tonight was my first look at Rose in person. While he started slow and didn't play a perfect game, there isn't a player in the NBA that gets from the corner to the hoop as fast and from the ground to rim level as explosively as Derrick Rose. One of those must-see-in-person-to-believe players. Rose's pre-game workout routine was impressive, particularly on the second night of a back-to-back. He shot for roughly 25 minutes, working on shots from every angle and taking probably 50 bank shots. Quite interesting that there is a noticeable difference in his shooting percentages when he goes from uncontested to contested even during warm-ups, as he started missing regularly with a simple hand in his face from the coaching staff. Obviously his form is far from ideal but he's a complete monster off the dribble. Good lord. The budding Derrick Rose vs. John Wall decade-long smackdown is top five on my list of most anticipated things about the 2010-2020 era, edging out flying cars and liquid pizza.
- Derrick Rose's adidas sneakers are official. I realize the angle and proximity of this camera phone picture reveal me to be roughly 2 feet behind him when I snapped it. Look I didn't plan for that to happen, it just did, ok? I promise. Blazersedge commenter Courtside Errand Boy is my witness.
- Joel Przybilla deserves a shoutout for not missing a shot (3-3 for 8 points) in 16 minutes. As Greg Oden becomes more dominant, Przybilla gets more invisible. But he's still there, doing what he's been doing.
- Look for more on Dante Cunningham's promotion to backup power forward tomorrow morning.
Nate's Post-Game Comments
I thought he was great. I thought he was really patient in the post. Did a nice job of taking his time, reading the defense. When the defense played him with single coverage he was able to score, with deep post position to start with. When they tried to double-team he did a good job of making good decisions out of the post. I thought he was really good. His pick and roll defense was really good on Rose, being up on those screens and forming that wall that we talked about. I thought our bigs, not just Greg, Greg, LaMarcus, the combination of Greg, LaMarcus and Brandon and Miller coming in and keeping that thing going. I just thought it was a solid game from start to finish with our guys.
Killer instinct tonight?
I thought the rhythm was a good rhythm. They played off of each other. They took what the defense gave them. They made the defense pay. We went to different guys, different parts of the game and all of them were ready. It wasn't like they were standing or not in rhythm or not involved in the play. I thought they did a good job of playing off of each other. When you have those guys moving the ball like they did tonight, it's going to be hard to stop everything. We had the inside game going with LaMarcus and Greg. Brandon was on the perimeter, Andre did a good job of coming in and quarterbacking and being aggressive and getting guys involved and it was just I thought all night long offensively a good rhythm.
Does that reinforce your new lineup?
I hope so. They've got to make it work. I feel that it can work if we take advantage of it but they have to make it work. Tonight we showed what we can do with that unit. Chicago has been playing really good defense lately. They've had a tough 3 game road trip but Noah and those guys they've been getting after teams. I thought tonight offensively we were just hitting on all cylinders.
Is that as hard as Andre has played?
I wouldn't say that. I thought he did a good job of directing and quarterbacking. Last game he did that and I thought again tonight where he got guys involved but he was able to stay aggressive and quarterback that offense and defense. Just be the playmaker with that second group. All the things I think he can do. We can take advantage of that. He reads what the defense is doing very well and he takes advantage of it. He gets the ball to those guys when they're open.
Oden's confidence rising?
Yeah, he's getting a better feel every night. Playing against different guys. He's seeing the different types of defense, where they're fronting him, double-teaming him on dribble, double-teaming him on catch, tonight he saw them come on baseline. Those are the type of reads he will have to play against. But he's really patient. So I don't think that will be a problem. Just knowing what to do once you see those coverages. He's taking his time getting to the rim and not just settling for the jump hook. He's getting deep position and getting even closer. He's doing a good job establishing deep position and being patient.
I like what Miller has done with that group the last two games. We'll need him to do that not only initiate it and set people up but be aggressive.
We're going to need him. He's worked hard. Every time you put him on the floor he's learning. He's picking up some things and doing some things better. We'll go that way. He's playing aggressive. He's smart. He's played big time basketball before. Yes, I do have confidence in him being out there.
Were Dante's minutes upped just for this game for match-up reasons?
Nah, I just like what I've been seeing. In practice, in games. Last game we gave him a few minutes he made some hustle players. Was doing some good things. With Outlaw being out, we're going to need both him and Howard to play that 4 position, that backup 4. And I wanted to give him some minutes off of what he did last game. After looking at him tonight, you put him out there again. But we will need both he and Howard.
-- Ben Golliver | (email@example.com) | Twitter