Media Row Report: Blazers 96 Spurs 84

Before the game started, the gameplan was labeled a "gimmick" and derided as "desperate," the idea met with scoffs and outright laughter.  Miller and Blake in the starting lineup together?  Really?

In the countless starting lineup polls that we've run here over the past few months, not once did Miller/Roy/Blake/Aldridge/Oden appear as an option.  The idea of going small -- that small -- to start off a game was so unconventional and so risky given the Spurs' height at the 2 and 3 positions (both Michael Finley and Richard Jefferson are 6'7") that it even caught Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, master tactician, off guard.  

Popovich scrambled to inform his guards of the switch shortly before the game and then watched the Blazers run out to a 8-0 advantage in just over 2 minutes of game time, despite spending a 20 second timeout less than a minute into the game to get his defense right.  

The quick start was keyed by Steve Blake's energy -- he was playing like he knew his job was on the line -- and Brandon Roy, who had 7 first quarter points and finished with 24 on an efficient 9-15 shooting. The team's ball movement was the best of the season (8 Blazers scored in the first quarter) and yet the ball control was also solid (just 2 turnovers in the first 12 minutes).  It was by far the Blazers' best overall first quarter this season: the team scored a season-high 29 points and maintained a season-high 15 point lead after the first quarter.  

From there, an ankle sprain that knocked Tony Parker from the game made life pretty easy. The Blazers executed just enough down the stretch to maintain a firm grasp on a game they led the entire way.  The final margin of victory -- 96 to 84 -- was both comfortable and comforting: a return to normalcy for a Blazers team used to winning handily on its home floor.

Asked about his downsized starting lineup after the game, Nate McMillan said that he had already eyed the upcoming schedule and plans to stick with that Miller/Roy/Blake over the next couple of weeks.  The big question mark with this grouping is on the defensive end: a large, potent backcourt trio could present serious mismatch problems for the undersized Miller/Roy/Blake.

Yet surveying the team's upcoming opponents it's easy to see why McMillan might feel fully confident with this lineup for at least the next five games, if not longer.  

  • Minnesota Timberwolves: one of the weakest teams in the league features rookie Jonny Flynn (nice potential, not there yet), Corey Brewer (barely an NBA player), Ryan Gomes (nothing to write home about), and Ramon Sessions (not physically imposing).
  • Memphis Grizzlies:  Undersized starting guards Mike Conley and OJ Mayo plus the Charmin soft Rudy Gay.
  • Minnesota again.
  • New Orleans Hornets: a little bigger with Chris Paul (All-World), Mo Peterson (Meh) and Julian Wright (Still waiting for this guy to develop...) but they're off to a terribly slow start and have been reduced to a one-man show.
  • Charlotte Bobcats: Not exactly an overpowering offensive juggernaut (held to 59 points... for an entire game... by Boston) with Raymond Felton (hit or miss), Raja Bell (aging defensive specialist) and Gerald Wallace (nice player, not going to carry a team).

After that, it's Atlanta, Detroit, Golden State and the Timberwolves again.  At this point, Atlanta (with good sized wings in Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson plus explosive scoring from Jamal Crawford off the bench) seems like the worst matchup for Miller/Roy/Blake. Detroit has been juggling lineups (starting rookie Jonas Jerebko at the 3!), the Warriors are basically the Oakland Raiders of the NBA and the Timberwolves were covered above.  

So with the exception of that game in Atlanta on November 16, which could give Nate McMillan some pause, there's a chance McMillan talks himself into this starting lineup for the next 9 games.  

Who would have thought we'd be here?  

It's not clear whether anyone did, outside of McMillan.

Asked after the game what he thought about the new starting lineup, Brandon Roy said, "I'm fine with it. Whatever we go with, my thing is to continue to be aggressive. Defensively we can't have a drop off."

That's the spirit!  Roll with it. If you're going to go with something new, might as well embrace it with open arms and an open mind. It's different, it's weird, it probably won't win a playoff series but it's something.  This team -- lackluster through five games -- needed something, and tonight it got it. 

Just a few notes late on a Friday night...

Rudy Fernandez

The biggest loser with this new lineup juggling? Rudy.  He played just 11 minutes (less than 2 minutes during the fourth quarter) and despite attacking the bucket a little bit more than he has in the past, and throwing an absolutely spectacular backdoor pass to LaMarcus Aldridge for a dunk, he was a shell of the Rudy Fernandez that electrified the Rose Garden last year.

If and when he returns to form, it will be game-changing.  Because right now, he's giving McMillan as close to nothing as possible.

Jerryd Bayless 

Rex got some run!  Interesting that his first playing time of the season would come against San Antonio and George Hill, a team and player he dominated during Las Vegas Summer League.  In perhaps his best performance of last summer, Jerryd hung 19 and 5 (and, yes, 7 turnovers) on Hill and locked him down pretty well on the other end, holding Hill to 6 and 3.  

Tonight Bayless did what we've seen him do before -- attack the basket, draw fouls -- and didn't do what we haven't seen him do before -- truly run an offense, make his teammates better.  It's clear that a Bayless/Fernandez backcourt is not the best pairing to maximize the strengths of both players.  

Nevertheless, you can't help but be happy to see Bayless in the rotation rather than rotting on the bench.  Bayless even has the potential for steady first-half minutes as long as McMillan continues to start both Miller and Blake. How quickly fortunes change.

Greg Oden

You guys thought I was lying through the preseason, didn't you?  Greg Oden making shots?  Playing calmly?  Dribbling the ball without travelling?  It all sounded preposterous, didn't it?  Well tonight a television audience finally saw the offensive flashes that Oden treated the Rose Garden crowd to during the preseason.  He drew oohs and ahhs during the game and big-time post-game kudos from Nate McMillan (not to mention a number of writers) for how he stood toe to toe with Tim Duncan, getting the best of Duncan physically on a number of occasions down the stretch.  

Both Duncan and Oden finished with 14 and 8.  McMillan will surely take those numbers 100 times out of 100 this season.  And I didn't even mention the four blocks, 3 of which came during the fourth quarter.

Nate's Post-Game Comments

Do you feel like a genius?

No, I'm happy to see the movement. That felt more like a flow, more like a rhythm on both ends of the floor. What we wanted to see I thought we saw. I thought Dre, we got more from him. He got everybody involved. A lot of communication, just looking in sync, even though that team hasn't played a lot together. I thought we got the ball movement, we were attacking. When we stopped attacking, and started back isolating and going one on one, they were able to get back into the game.

When you started to sputter in the 4th quarter did you intentionally put the ball back in Brandon's hands?

Yeah because we were in the penalty. So we were going to drive the ball and we went with the power set to drop the ball low, ended up getting a 3. I think Blake hit a big 3 off of that. For the most part, having that lead with Tim being in the game, basically we were going to spread the floor. I went with Travis, Blake...

But before that, when you had five straight possessions where you didn't score. Andre was bringing it up and then Brandon was bringing it up, did you make that call?

I did. I did.

They adjusted after the early energy. Late in the game you pounded it into Oden. What are you seeing from him offensively?

What I was hoping for was with Miller in that game, he would be able to get Greg the ball. A lot of the calls tonight, Dre called those sets. He did a nice job of mixing it up. He got Blake involved. He got Greg involved, deep post position. He called the right sets. Greg had deep post position, they were playing him straight up, a couple of times he got himself in trouble trying to beat him with speed as opposed to just taking his time and going over the top. I thought he was, for the most part, patient and did a nice job establishing himself down there.

Does that give you another option?

That is an option. We want to take advantage of that option. We don't want to be stagnant and just pound, pound, pound. I thought we had movement, with pin downs and pick and rolls that led to the post ups as opposed to coming down and just pound it. Sometimes the best way to get into the post is starting with the pick and roll to get some movement to get it there, then that defense is not set. Normally when we try to pound it, they trap us, they're set defensively and they take it out of the posts' hands.

What does this win mean?

It's a good win for us. We're trying to find our rhythm. I felt like we haven't played well. Even though we have two wins. Tonight I felt like we had a good rhythm. The offensive execution, the movement was better. We got the tempo we wanted. Defensively we did all the things we wanted to do. It was a game we needed. At home, against a very good team. This game, games like this, you want to take and build off of it. It should give us some confidence that if we do those things again, against any team, play together, move the ball, play defense, you can win ballgames. It's something to build off.

Will you go back to the three guard lineup again to start?

I looked at the schedule. The schedule that we're playing here in the next week or two, we can stay with that. I'm going to look at that lineup. I'm going to stay with that for awhile and we'll see. I thought it was good. It was what I was hoping for. Some movement with those guards being in there. We were able to get the ball to the bigs when they were open. It was a good unit tonight. 

What happened during the 4th quarter dry spell?

We stopped moving. We stopped reversing the ball and getting into our pick and rolls. We became stagnant, trying to play just an option. It was a lot of dribbling, holding the ball, and not that quick swing, run out into a pick and roll. That team is too good and most teams are to just go isolation, raise up. Pretty much the way we were beat the other night against Atlanta. You gotta have hot shooting to do that. We got a little stagnant, we were able to knock down some shots and get a little more movement and eventually put it away.

Greg's defense.

I thought he did a nice job. I thought he did a real nice job of being big and getting him off the block and for the most part we played him straight up. Andre was quarterbacking that defense and doing some things that we don't normally do. With his communication we double-teamed a couple of times and got out of those rotations and was able to cover the perimeter. We did some nice things. It started with Greg, just getting him off and being big.

Rudy.

He hasn't knocked down... his shooting is off right now. He has to keep shooting the ball, getting some movement, attacking the basket, getting something easy would be good for him.

Bayless.

Bayless I wanted to try to get him somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes and see how he went. They cut into that lead going into the fourth quarter and I wanted to get the first group back out there. We'll keep doing this. The guys, they go out there and make some things happen, we'll keep them on the floor.

Scoring balance.

Yeah, I was hoping to get that, more movement with that group. It's been one or two guys scoring. Brandon and LaMarcus, or Brandon or Travis. Tonight we had four guys in double figures, a guy with 9 and a guy with 8, we do have some balanced scoring, and more guys putting the ball in the basket.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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