A win! And a fairly nicely fought one too! Good news for the Blazers right now. The bad news is that it feels so good to win at home against the Kings, but what they hey. Beggars can't be choosers. And it was a nice win.
The game started out with a really nice offensive run keyed by Brandon Roy. Portland was setting screens on everything--two, three in every set--and players were running off of them on and off the ball. Roy looked sharp every time he came off of a pick, which confounded the Sacramento defense. With at least half an eye on him the Kings let Joel Przybilla and Martell Webster slip. Often that's a good bet but Joel slipped through for a couple of dunks and Martell hit a three and assisted on another to Brandon. Smackety-smackety and the Kings are down 9 before the halfway mark of the first quarter passed by. It was a textbook example of what the Portland offense looks like when it's running right. Everybody moved, everybody was ready to score, nobody held the ball, the team was almost unselfish to a fault, a high percentage of shots went in which made Sacramento stick close to their men which spaced the floor for penetration which in turn set up even more open jumpers. It was fluid, flexible, and fun.
The Kings, meanwhile, ran their offense through Andres Nocioni and Donte Green. They're nice enough players, but that has to be considered a victory for the Portland defense which was also working pretty hard, especially in the middle.
Then, as has been the story frequently this year, Portland got a little comfortable with the lead. They started shooting jumpers first, thinking of other plans later. Predictably misses ensued. When Joel Przybilla went to the bench for a rest the defense also lost its anchor. Beno Udrih and Ime Udoka connected on a couple shots each and the lead evaporated leaving the teams knotted at 23 after one.
The second period continued the way the first had ended. Portland got 4 free throws and a layup in the quarter but every other score was a jump shot. Meanwhile Przybilla started the period on the bench then came in and collected two quick fouls and had to sit again. The Kings' second unit began attacking from everywhere. They penetrated, pushed, stroked shots, shared the ball. The Blazers weren't rotating crisply or getting back in numbers. All of a sudden they're staring down the wrong end of a 31-20 period and the crowd is moaning.
Let's talk about those rotations for a minute. People wonder sometimes why this is so hard to get. A guy needs help, another guy goes to help him, a third guy is supposed to pick up for that second guy, and so on. But that third-guy position is darn tricky. Sometimes you have to pick up the open man immediately. Sometimes you have to shade over and watch how the play develops. Sometimes leaving your own man at all is more dangerous than helping and it's really more someone else's responsibility to cover. It's really easy to make the wrong decision. Sometimes if the opposing team is good enough there is no definitive right answer except for the original guy not getting beat in the first place. Any way you go, though, it requires that you keep watching your man while also being aware of what is happening in at least two other places on the court, processing all of that information quickly and acting.
On occasion we've watched the Discovery Channel series Deadliest Catch at home. It's the one about the crab fishermen in Alaska...a documentary/reality series following life on the crab boats during the winter season. The most interesting part of the show for the producers, and often for the audience, is the struggles of the greenhorns on the deck. The camera never gives them a break, catching every slip-up, chew-out, and frustrated moment. In the process a couple things become clear. The greenhorns aren't bad guys, nor even substandard workers most times. Their great limitation is that they are only able to do one task at a time because they only see the job in front of them and not how it relates to the whole. An experienced deckhand does his own job but is also able to see what else needs to be done and efficiently slide over to pitch in and keep the whole show running smoothly. That's why the old salts are infinitely more valuable even if they and the rookies do a single task at roughly the same level of competence. The second thing that's clear is that it takes multiple seasons for a greenhorn to develop that kind of vision and confidence. Learning six individual tasks is one thing. Learning how they all fit together and timing the need and your participation in each is quite another. Apparently it takes years to become a full-share deckhand on those boats.
That's fairly similar to what's going on with the Blazers defense most nights, particularly when you have weaker defenders at the point of attack and less experienced guys (which in some ways still includes most of the roster when you figure the primary focus of many of them has been offense) in the help positions. You usually get one good rotation from Portland. You don't always get two. And you don't always get people recovering to the correct place at the right time. It feels like the enemy just has to show a strong thrust to our front ranks to make us react and then they have our flank exposed. They sure seemed to in that second period.
Back to the game...
The third quarter saw a couple of significant developments. First, Joel Przybilla remained in the game. Second, the Blazers fed the offense through LaMarcus Aldridge. LaMarcus ate the Kings' lunch for the first half of the period, scoring 10 of the 15 the Blazers put up before the 6:00 mark. Once again the bold attack opened up opportunities on the perimeter which Martell Webster and Brandon Roy happily took advantage of. The Kings, meanwhile, reverted to their Nocioni-Greene offense. The Blazers encouraged this by steadfastly refusing to let them run. Bingo-Bango-Boinko, the lead is erased and we have a ballgame.
And from the time the score got close around the midway point of the third it really was a good game. The Kings suddenly remembered that they had Tyreke Evans on their side and that we weren't very good at containing penetration. The Blazers started hustling both ways, scrapping for loose balls, and putting up decent shots. The Kings drew first blood at the end of the third when Evans put the Blazers back on their heels. Portland came back by repeating their first-quarter screen-pass offense with some penetration by Brandon Roy thrown in. Evans kept fighting and corralled the heretofore-quiet Jason Thompson into the fight. Portland responded with Aldridge and Roy, then Jerryd Bayless started driving and drawing fouls, exposing the Kings' weakness on defense they way they had exposed ours. In the end three beat two. Sacramento couldn't keep up on the foul line and they never strung together enough shots to make the difference. 95-88, Blazers win. Energy, unselfishness, and a little know-how about breaking down a sub-standard defense carried the day.
Click through for Individual Observations, Jersey Contest links, and other notes.
Brandon Roy wasn't just the main scorer in this game, he was truly the main catalyst. He gave the Kings fits to the tune of 10-20 shooting and 25 points. But the bigger stat was his 10 assists. He used his influence to get his friends involved, particularly the big men early in each half. That doubled his effectiveness at least. He had 5 turnovers to go with those assists so it's not like the game was completely polished, but it was a Brandon you'd love to see every night. Of equal note: his teammates were ready to make this Brandon look good. They weren't standing. They converted the shots he gave them.
LaMarcus Aldridge matched Roy's 25, dominating the second half as we described. He kept Jason Thompson occupied which helped divert his attention from his strengths. Thompson had 1 offensive rebound on the night. Aldridge had 5. Having to protect the glass against LaMarcus and Joel kept the Kings from getting into their offense as quickly as they'd like.
I loved Joel Przybilla's game tonight. He led the defense in shutting off penetration, set the tone in taking charges (which the team did frequently tonight), grabbed 10 rebounds, and his 2 dunks off of feeds in the first period made the Kings a little leery instead of taking him for granted. He didn't force a thing. He just looked good.
Jerryd Bayless was the star off the bench with 14 points, 8-10 free throws, 3-6 from the field, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and even a block. This defense was made for him and he took advantage, making his bones in the fourth quarter when the coaching staff showed confidence in him by leaving him in until the game was done. He also played some nice defense down the stretch.
Martell Webster had a workman-like game. He kept the floor wide open by hitting a couple threes and came away with 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. When Martell is getting assists you know the offense is working.
Andre Miller did not have a good night. He had the usual defensive troubles but he also shot 2-10 from the field for 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in 29 minutes. He wasn't in synch with the offense. He was actually duplicating Jerryd's secondary-scorer role but he wasn't scoring.
Steve Blake got 24 minutes and blended in, hitting a couple shots (including a three) to keep the defense honest. 5 points, 2 assists, no big mistakes or awkward moments.
Juwan Howard hit all three of his shots for 6 points but he's no Przybilla on defense. The thing I like best about Juwan, something the other guys could learn from, is that his offense is so compact. You watch him and when it's time to shoot he doesn't mess around with the ball or the dribble or anything. He just takes the shot.
Dante Cunningham got 2 points and 2 boards in 6 minutes.
24 assists on 36 made shots with only 11 turnovers is going to win you a lot of games. But the stat of the night was Sacramento with 2--count them...2--fast break points to their credit. Nice.
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