Let's get the preliminaries out of the way first. The Blazers and Spurs won tonight, San Antonio needing overtime to come out ahead against the Hornets. The Rockets lost handily to Dallas. That makes the Western playoff bracket look like this:
1. L.A. L*kers vs. 8. Utah Jazz
4. Portland Trail Blazers vs. 5. Houston Rockets
2. Denver Nuggets vs. 7. New Orleans Hornets
3. San Antonio Spurs vs. 6. Dallas Mavericks
The road to success this year looks near-insurmountable, but like Hubie Brown said during the ESPN broadcast tonight (and I'm paraphrasing here) the Blazers have everything you need to win plus they're too young to know they shouldn't.
Then again, we're going to go over this series (hopefully a couple of them?) with several fine-toothed combs all too soon. This is the night to just enjoy the moment.
The Portland Trail Blazers are back in the playoffs. And they got there in style, with a top four seed and an incredible run to end the season. It's far more than even the greediest fanboy could have wished for in mid-April of 2008. Celebrate, Portland. Celebrate hard.
As for tonight's game...
This game started out with an interesting feeling-out process, where both teams were putting in a ton of energy with sputtering results. The Blazers did well (and remember this, because it will be important versus Houston) when they reversed the ball on the court, setting up their scores with passes. They did poorly when they kept the ball still or went one-on-one. Denver, meanwhile, forgot what gave them victories against the Blazers in prior games. Instead of using their big men to set up their wings they tried to give Portland huge doses of guard and small forward plays. Portland helped by overplaying, forcing the ball to go to Dahntay Jones, for instance. It's a fair bet that plays for Jones aren't to be found in the first 600 pages of the Nuggets' playbook. When Jones couldn't hit Anthony, Smith, and Billups took over. None of them really found success. Denver ended up with 9 assists for the entire game. Sergio Rodriguez could use half of his court time playing folk songs from Tenerife on his armpit and still get that many. The Nuggets also paid for their lack of subtlety with 16 turnovers leading to 29 Blazer points. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The second period saw a bench rush the likes of which we've not seen this year. You know how all of the Blazer reserves have talent and something to give, which we see from one or another each game? Imagine all of them turning on at once. It was like hitting the Powerball jackpot.
The guys who busted this game open for us were Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez. Sergio was amazing. This is what we've waited 217 games to experience. I've seen kids bump full-on into a hornets nest and not cut as hard or run as fast. They were expecting a butter knife. Sergio was a Cuisinart. He passes! He penetrates! He hits shots! Do you like your Nuggets sliced, diced, blended, or pureed? Rodriguez ended up with 12 assists in this game. Denver had to compensate for the havoc Sergio and his moving targets caused, so they decided to go with the percentages and leave the perimeter free. Enter Rudy. Fernandez took 9 shots tonight, all of them threes. He hit 6, putting himself in the record books as the rookie with the most threes hit in a season. He also stuffed the Nuggets so far down a hole that they were looking up at a white rabbit's behind.
How serious was the second-unit dominance tonight? Not a single starter scored in double-figures. Not Brandon, not LaMarcus...nobody. And yet the Blazers won by 28.
Somewhere in the middle of the game the Nuggets heard that the Rockets had lost and that the second seed was theirs no matter the outcome of this game. Except for a token run in the third period it was all Portland after that. 104-76 and the Blazers finish the season with another blowout. I've typed the second part of that sentence before, but it's always been in defeat. It's nice to have things turned around.
So...on we go. The second season starts this weekend. We'll give you all the angles in the next couple days.
Read the Denver reaction at PickAxeandRoll. And while you're at it you might as well get familiar with TheDreamShake. We're going to be spending some quality time together. Rep this site well as you check them out.
Jersey contest participants, stick with me one more day. I'll hapve the results up tomorrow evening. I'm on the road in Seattle with a fussy Baby Point Guard that I need to keep asleep, so I need to tune out for now.
Great game, great night, great team. Go Blazers!