I was at the game last night, Section 301 (center of the court) and some of this is based on what I saw last night, but I wanted to back myself up with some stats before I posted this.
Nicolas Batum is one of my favorite players on this Blazer's squad, and not just because it gives me an opportunity to scream "Ba-TUM-shaka-laka" whenever he posterizes someone (my personal favorite here). Batum has been the starting Small Forward almost all season, and has been, by leaps and bounds, the best wing defender on the team. He takes the responsibility of checking the other team's best offensive threat, and doing a great job of frustrating his opponent. This formula has worked all year long. You don't start a rookie at a position that is, pound for pound, probably the deepest and in the NBA, and still win 54 games "by accident." Nic really is that good.
Nic has, if not sut down, at least has made life very difficult for his man whenever he's in the game. And he doesn't foul much for all of that. 1.8 per contest. He's also been solid from beyond the arc though he hasn't taken very many from there, but that's probably due to his 18 minutes per game more than anything. There's really nothing to see in Batum but good things and upside.
However, after last night, I don't think that this is Nic's type of series, at least not this year. Think about it this way, The Rockets don't really have "That Guy." You know, the one he's been on all year? The Wades, the K*bes, etc. (Artest sometimes likes to think he is, and quite frankly I would love to see Ron take 30 of his "Cardiac Artest" shots in game 6, but I don't think that's gonna happen) Meanwhile, when Nic goes out of the game,
Baron Cookie Von Wafer usually enters.
Nicolas Batum has scored seven points this entire series. He's seen his playing time decrease game by game (18:41 gm1; 15:29 gm2; 10:17 gm3; 10:11 gm4; 5:47 gm5) Meanwhile, the Rockets defense has been predicated on stopping Roy and LaMarcus. From what I've seen, the Blazers have broken down that defense when either Rudy or Trout is in the game. Travis hasn't shot well the entire series, but he has broken down the Houston D time and time again. And the Blazers did very well last night as soon as Rudy checked in. It might not shine through on the stat sheet, but I was at the game, and it seemed like every other play involved Rudy, from tipping steals, to smart (though not flashy) passes, and a couple of big shots. Fernandez created havoc, and the Rockets scheme washed away into the cold Portland night. Putting Nic on the bench allows Nate to stick him on
Cookie Monster Von Wafer when he enters the game. Or on Aaron Brooks if he gets loose again. Those are really the only types of "Those Guys" that Houston has, and right now, they're poor man's versions at best. So if Nate is only going to play Nic 10 minutes a night, why not have it all be on one of them?
The Rose Garden in the fourth quarter was louder than anything I have ever heard. It made a Aerosmith concert sound like a barbershop quartet. It was awesome.
Rockets fans: You better start praying right now that your boys win game 6, there is no way they'll win at the Garden in a game 7.