Let's get something out of the way right at the start. ANY win right now is a good win. This was a good win. Let us not lose sight of the forest for gazing at bark and branches. Good win...job well done...end of story.
That win was only secure, however, in the last couple minutes of the game. In many ways this felt like the Orlando contest Part 2. The Blazers played back and forth with the opponent, alternating runs of brilliance with runs of deficiency. Sterling cuts and swished jumpers off the pass were followed by one-on-one futility and shot clock violations. It was the classic accordion game: get a lead, give it back...fall behind, catch up again. The only real constant was that the team controlling the paint at the moment controlled the game. Whichever team penetrated and worked for their shots streaked ahead. Those lofting prayers fell behind. Both teams did some of each.
The difference between tonight's game and last night's was the lack of a dominant middle man for the Heat. The Blazers made off with rebounds they weren't getting last night. They also showed less fear inside. The fact that the Heat had to devote extra men to watching cutters and posters meant more free shots for the Blazers' perimeter players, which brings up the second major difference: Portland hit their threes. 58% worth, in fact. Portland also got production from forwards as well as guards. After disappearing last night LaMarcus Aldridge took 23 out of Portland's 74 shots tonight. Martell Webster didn't take that many but he hit the ones he did take. This also contributed to the Heat scrambling on defense.
In the end, though, it was all down to Brandon Roy. He switched into deity mode in the second half, blistering the Heat with unstoppable jumpers and hesitation moves. It wasn't like he bashed them in the face. More like he ducked under them and simply went about his business no matter what they tried. This game was won because of Roy, pure and simple. To put it in perspective, both he and Dwyane Wade scored 28 on the evening. Wade took 31 shots to do so. Roy did it in 14.
Portland's defense was good in spurts. Overall the Heat had a lot of success but during the final, crucial moments they found themselves on the perimeter. 5 of their final 8 shots of the game were from 25 feet or beyond. Whatever lapses Portland might have suffered are probably washed away by that alone. The Blazers also drew more foul shots, got more rebounds, held the Heat to 6 fast break points, and shot better in every category.
One thing I have noticed about the Blazers lately is that they're playing almost dispassionately. Professionalism can be good but how long has it been since you've seen an extended, concerted effort to gobble up loose balls...somebody throwing themselves on the floor in anything other than an "Oh Crap!" situation? Even the coaching staff, meaning the guys sitting behind Nate and occasionally the guys beside him, looks half-dead when the camera catches them. Is it fatigue? Resignation? Just grinding? Whatever it is, I can't help but think that it's making wins a little harder to get.
But for tonight that's not an issue. The Blazers won. Every win is a good win. End of story.
Brandon Roy was fantastic tonight. 28 points on 79% shooting from the field, 5-5 threes hit, 8 assists, 4 rebounds. The caveat is that he was jump shooting the vast majority of the game and didn't draw any foul shots (which were rare tonight for everyone anyway) so that's not sustainable for him. But Brandon has already proven that he's plenty sustainable, so no argument here. He led us to the win.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 23 points on 23 shots plus 8 rebounds. He looked for his shots and his teammates seemed glad for him to get them.
Martell Webster hit 3-6 from distance and 4-4 free throws for 15 points overall. Again, things become so much easier when he makes shots.
Joel Przybilla continued the string of wonderful games with 12 rebounds, some great interior play, and 8 points off of 5 shots. When Przy is scoring at all it means the offense is working right. It's not working because he is scoring, rather his scoring is a sign that there's enough room near the bucket to get passes in and shots up which means other people are cutting, moving, and hitting shots. When the defense is set Przy doesn't score much, even off of offensive boards.
Andre Miller got 10 shots up and hit 6. He also hit 5-6 free throws for 17 points. His shots were under control and of the type you feel comfortable with even if he wasn't driving all the time. He had 4 assists, but then again if the offense consists predominantly of Brandon and LaMarcus are scoring in the halfcourt offense the point guard isn't going to get as many assist.
Steve Blake missed a bunch of shots and looked like he was defending with energy but over his head tonight.
Jerryd Bayless was one of the guys showing real energy of the type we mentioned above. When the Blazers walk the ball up the floor (which I hate) I always think they could use a little dose of Jerryd. He also hit 2 threes, which is good. Unfortunately he made a couple glaring errors as well, one on offense at the end of the first that the coaching staff lived with and one on defense in the fourth that immediately preceded Martell replacing him. The plan may not have been to play him the whole fourth period tonight anyway with Webster running decent and the Blazers lacking height. 16 minutes, 6 points, 2 assists.
Juwan Howard played 18 minutes and was 1 of 4, which is bad because it's hard watching him defend. He had 5 rebounds though.
Anthony Tolliver's debut lasted about as long as Taylor Swift's VMA acceptance speech. He did manage to collect a personal foul in a statistical minute of play.
I said before this trip that 1-3 would be acceptable, 2-2 fantastic. The Blazers have half of that already. Catch Dallas or San Antonio napping and we can return home happy.
See how Heat fans reacted to the loss at PeninsulaisMightier.