Whew! I wasn't sure if we were going to pull that one out. But in the end the Blazers did just enough things right to earn the victory. It wasn't a masterpiece but at this point any win goes on the refrigerator proudly.
Portland's offense was actually pretty steady tonight. That doesn't mean it was particularly well-executed. The Blazers ended up shooting mostly jumpers. But this was one of those nights when the jumpers fell from the opening bell. When the Blazers can hit them the floor opens up and they become a much more dangerous team. Still in my first quarter notes I have the following:
The Blazers' jumpers are falling. But will they all game? Fool's gold?
We shall have to see.
Chief perpetrator and leader of the Falling Jumper Brigade was LaMarcus Aldridge who had his turn-around working like clockwork early. After one attempt to post Brandon Roy on the first possession of the game the Blazers just decided LaMarcus was their man. He delivered, scoring the first 10 Portland points. Once the Pacers failed to stop him open shots started appearing for his teammates.
On the other end the Blazers showed quickly what the story of the game would be. When Portland got back in transition the Pacers had a hard time scoring in the halfcourt. When the Blazers trotted the Pacers put the ball in immediately. Except for the few times the Blazers committed to a zone which smelled worse than week old head cheese Indiana could never find enough makes to dent Portland's lead at a slower tempo. Portland exited the first quarter with a much-needed 7-point lead.
The second period saw much of the same action on offense except many of the jump shots came from outside the Roy-Aldridge duo, to mixed results. Jerryd Bayless had a nice run and Juwan Howard contributed some points but that only kept the offense even, not excelling. Meanwhile the Blazers weren't quite as energetic on defense and they also failed to take any rebounding advantage, letting the Pacers off of the ropes. The quarter ended up 26 all as Portland nursed its lead into halftime.
The third quarter saw a near-breakdown on the defensive end as the Blazers were unable to keep the Pacers out of the paint no matter what kind of defense they employed. We saw more of the stinky-zone, which actually isn't stinky in theory but it certainly is when you just run to a spot and sort of stand there, failing to stop anyone, cover for anyone else, and above all rebound. The smell also started to permeate the man defense, though it looked better as the quarter progressed. The rebounding was off as well. The Blazers were confined to jumpers again, almost never scoring in the paint. You started to see signs of fatigue as the shots drifted. The Pacers scored 30, made up 5, and started the fourth down 2.
The Blazers looked for all the world like they were going to give the game away in the final period. Two things saved them. First the Granger-less Pacers went kind of spastic, especially early in the quarter, evidently figuring that since a comeback was imminent they could shoot any shot they wanted as quickly as they wanted and old Santy Clause would wrap it up in a bow for them. Second, Portland started missing jumpers in earnest. How does that help, you ask? It apparently turned on a light in Brandon Roy's head and he started the "We're Not Losing This" routine. Inside, outside, upside down...he just called for the ball, dribbled the defender into wooziness, and hit at the first sign of daylight. Once again this opened up the spacing for guys like Miller and Blake to take shots they couldn't refuse (and fortunately for us couldn't miss either). In the end Brandon kept the jumpers from becoming fool's gold. Smacka-smacka-smacka, whappa-whappa-whappa, the Blazers outscore the Pacers by 9 in the quarter and win by 11.
The effort was never consistent tonight but it was spread widely enough at different times that at least the team avoided the predictability that marred the Knicks game. Most of the big men had their defensive moments. Everybody scored a little, keying off of Roy and Aldridge who scored a lot. The fact that Indiana nearly doubled the Blazers' offensive rebounds and took 92 shots to Portland's 79 could have been a disaster. Had the Pacers been able to hit a couple more shots this would have been a different game. But sometimes it's just your night for the ball to fall and this was Portland's. They spaced the floor well enough to justify it and evidenced enough individual talent in the end to cement it, so call the win good.
Click through for Individual Observations, Final Thoughts, Links, and the Jersey Contest
As we said, the Blazers made a conscious effort to get LaMarcus going early and it paid dividends for the game. He looked more excited to be out there tonight. It wasn't a stellar game defensively but he held his own. 20 points on 8-12 shooting is nice.
Brandon Roy bookended the game with that final flurry. We needed his penetration and his moxie badly. This looked like old Brandon (for those who have been wondering where he went). 11-21 from the field, 6-10 free throws (good number drawn there), 29 points, 7 rebounds (missing the team high by only 1), and 5 assists (again missing the team high by 1).
Andre Miller had a mixed game but ended up making a sizable dent. The bad part was him settling for jumpers, which is exactly what the opponent wants. Fortunately he made some, ending up 5-12 for the night with 15 points. He had 4 steals but only 2 assists. Then again both the jumpers and the assists can be explained by the ball being out of his hands much of the night. Often when that happens ‘Dre is all but silent. He found ways to contribute tonight.
Steve Blake had 6 assists and lived chiefly by not holding the ball long whenever he saw it. He either passed it or shot it. I like that Steve. He was only 2-7 from the field but he was 2-4 from distance which is the more important number for him. You expect because of the injuries he's going to be put in the position of shooting from places he's not comfortable. That's fine as long as he hits from the places he is comfortable as well. His three-point shot is vital if he's going to be out there.
Joel Przybilla played 30 minutes and provided almost half of the Blazers' paint points with 12 off of a couple of nice feeds and some put-backs. Him contributing anything on the offensive end helps. He wasn't matched up with classic offensive centers on the other end so his defense was understated. But he did help keep Indiana away from the rim in the halfcourt...though it's not like they were going there much anyway. Not a bad game from Joel overall.
Martell...where has your shot gone? Find it, because we're leaving. 2-8, 1-4 from distance, 5 points in 30 minutes.
Juwan Howard got 19 minutes and is starting to look more comfortable out there. One thing you can say about him...even if his individual skills aren't what they used to be when you look at where he is on the floor he's usually in position to do something. He knows where to get open for the outlet jumper. He knows where to shade on defense. It's not like he's making a huge difference, but this team needs just a little bit more of that and I'm willing to sacrifice some explosiveness to get it. 3-3, 6 points, 3 rebounds, 5 fouls in 19 minutes. He had trouble keeping up with the unorthodox Indiana bigs as well.
Dante Cunningham brought at least some mild energy and looks like he's reintroduced himself to his shooting confidence as well. He only got 8 minutes but he contributed 4 points and 3 rebounds. I would love to see him get even more aggressive on defense and especially going for loose balls. I'd like to see him become a Jerome Kersey-Ruben Patterson guy that way.
Jerryd Bayless had a pretty nice 14 minutes offensively, driving hard, creating havoc, and even dishing a couple of assists to go along with his 5 points and 2 boards. He'd be a really nice off-guard if you could pair him with a tall, shooting point guard who could switch to the 2 on defense.
This was an important win psychologically with Cleveland and Milwaukee coming up. Now you have a chance for a decent road trip by any standards if you win 1 of those 2. Considering the situation, .500 would be a great road trip for us right now.
Check out IndyCornrows for their assessment of the game.