Long Story Short
The Blazers get the monkey off their backs in a game filled with indifference, parlaying five minutes of solid effort per quarter into a road-trip saving win. Multiple Blazers fill in the gaps after Brandon Roy re-strains his hamstring late in the second quarter.
The Game Story
At first blush this game looked like it would be a recap of Monday's outing against the Wizards...a game the Blazers lost. Neither team had energy coming out of the gate. The early minutes were a mélange of disjointed offense, indifferent execution, ball-walking, and late-clock shooting by both teams. It was everything casual observers say they hate about NBA basketball. Around mid-quarter business started to pick up on each side as Andre Iguodala started attacking for Philly and LaMarcus Aldridge got interested for Portland. Aldridge made a concerted effort to get closer to the bucket before launching his turn-around and even scored in the lane. Neither star lit it up completely but in this game 5 points of any variety made a highlight reel. After Steve Blake made a buzzer-beating wrong-handed layup off of a desperation drive the Blazers led 22-21 at the horn.
The offensive "show" continued in the second quarter with the Blazers drowning their offensive woes in the usual way: reaching for the jumper. Unsurprisingly it didn't work. However there were a couple bright spots. The second unit brought energy on defense with Rudy Fernandez disrupting the passing lanes, Jerryd Bayless poking away steals, and Dante Cunningham playing better defense than he had a right to against the Philly big forwards. Bayless also gave Portland a little lift with a couple layups and Rudy did the same with 2 threes. When the smoke cleared (what little there was) the Blazers had a 25-21 quarter in hand and a 5-point lead at the half. Unfortunately with a minute left in the period Brandon Roy pulled up gimpy on a runner, clutching his strained hamstring. With 20 seconds to go he left the game and didn't return, putting pressure on the rest of the team to follow up on the lead.
Unfortunately Philadelphia seized control early in the third, pounding and rebounding their way into the lead. But just about the time they got ahead Andre Miller started taking over. He lost his man repeatedly and twisted to layups or short jumpers. Then he called on his Geezer Patrol buddy as a secondary outlet and Juwan Howard punished the Sixers for sagging in on Miller. When Andre hit a three with 4:58 left in the period to break Portland out of a tie you started to get the idea that this might work. Unfortunately the scoring dried up after that and the Blazers couldn't push their advantage beyond the 3-point lead that ‘Dre had given them. 26-24 Philly in the period, 71-68 overall. Whoever wanted this game was going to win it.
In the final period the Portland reserves proved they wanted it more, finally showing signs of life...the first for either team outside of the Miller and Iguodala outbursts earlier. The tempo picked up as Jerryd Bayless turned into a driving machine. Bayless would score 10 of the Blazers' first 14 points in the period, hitting only one true jumper in the process. Everything else was on the move going to the basket, mostly layups. Philadelphia got a point here and a point there but they never seemed able to take advantage of the defensive mismatched the Blazers left on the floor. Philly did scratch back though on the strength of Samuel Delambert denying the Blazers at the rim and their bigs providing good rebounding. Portland played a couple of possessions deep into the shot clock, neither successful, and Iguodala made as if to take over again, hitting a couple of shots. Now the lead was just 2, down from 6 after the Bayless flurry.
This time LaMarcus Aldridge saved Portland's bacon, getting a put-back off of a Bayless miss and cutting down the lane for a sweet and-one off of a beautiful Fernandez pass. With the converted free throw the Blazers were up 7 with 3:12 left. But Portland would not score from the field again in the game and Philadelphia brought out the heavy artillery with Iggy and Elton Brand. Between the two of them they cut the lead to 2 twice over and you began to wonder if we'd let another team hang too close in their home building. Fortunately the Blazers stayed aggressive on offense and drew 8 foul shots in the final 1:20. Miller shot 2, Aldridge 2, and Bayless 4...every one of them made. Meanwhile the Sixers looked confused on offense and never could get a decent shot off. A game that started lethargic but showed brief signs of life in the middle of several quarters appropriately ended with Portland's foul shots...points being scored while nobody on the floor was moving. It was hardly a work of art but the Blazers, sans Roy for half the game, come out with the 98-90 victory.
Two stats were key for Portland this evening. First they kept the boards even at 36-37. Second Philadelphia was only +6 in the paint. You have to credit the Blazer big men for the former and the penetrating guards for the latter. Everybody did a little bit and it ended up meaning a lot.
Also note that this kind of sloppy game would have had the Blazers staring at each other in consternation earlier in the season. Tonight they kept their noses to the grindstone and gutted it out. Winning ugly is still winning. The Blazers appear to have figured that out. That can take them a long way in this league.
LaMarcus Aldridge started the offensive aggression when the Blazers were muddling through that first period. Even though he didn't sustain it he did activate whenever called upon, allowing the Portland offense to reset back to basics when needed (stemming the tide of jumpers). He also had 9 rebounds, a couple of the late (and therefore critical) ones truly hard-fought. I wasn't crazy about his close-out defense when the Philly forwards took jumpers but then again it's hard to close out hard and then get back for the rebound. He was really playing more of a Przybilla "D". I do get pretty happy when I see 4 assists because before this year passing wasn't in his portfolio. 23 points, 9 rebounds.
Andre Miller had another game where he wasn't going to let the team lose without a fight. He seemed to realize that the Sixers would have a hard time defending the dribble. He put his head down and went straight at them. Scoring towards the basket is his game and it worked tonight. 24 points on 8-17 shooting (and we needed them).
Jerryd Bayless played an impressive, controlled game complete with timely offensive fireworks. I liked the way he interpreted his role tonight: attack when he had the chance, don't force shots when he didn't, bother the heck out of the opponent when he's dribbling. Those are marketable NBA skills. Did I mention that this guy can finish a little bit? Bet you've never heard that before. 7-12 shooting, 4-4 from the line late, 18 points, 3 steals.
Juwan Howard knows what we need and when we need it. Yes, he played solid position defense against his counterparts. Yes, he helped make Philly have to work for the boards they got. Yes, he hit timely shots. No, he didn't do anything more than he needed to and was more than happy to just help out when other guys picked up the scoring. Yes, I like having this guy on the team right now. 8 points, 9 boards.
Rudy Fernandez had a couple of threes go in...the first ones that have looked relatively decent since he came back. Those were the only 2 shots of the 6 he took to go in but I'll take it at this point. He was bothersome on defense in a good way, picked up a steal, and had that sweet assist to LaMarcus. Not a spectacular game in 24 minutes but a decent one. 7 points overall.
Martell Webster must have been shooting from the Ames Room tonight because he went 1-9 for 2 points total. His other contributions weren't enough to keep him in the game either. 20 minutes and 2 rebounds.
Brandon Roy hit a couple of typical Brandon shots before he went down, notching 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 18 minutes. If his hamstring is tweaking like that don't expect him to play for a while.
Dante Cunningham had a really nice night in front of the home folks, playing 11 minutes, grabbing 5 rebounds, and busting chops out there. It's good to see his intensity back full-bore again. The key for him will be playing hard no matter what the clock reads and no matter when he's pulled.
Jeff Pendergraph got a couple of fouls in 11 minutes and Cunningham's play apparently didn't let him off the bench as much as usual to redeem himself.
Steve Blake had that nice drive at the end of the first but to my eyes he was over-dribbling a bit, as perhaps all of the point guards were. But Miller and Bayless make better things happen when they over-dribble than does Blake. Steve had 5 assists and 4 points in 22 minutes.
It's really, really good that the Blazers won this game. It takes away the specter of a disastrous road trip followed by a tough two-game homestand followed by another hard road trip. If Portland can win 1 of the next 2 they can call the trip good. Even if they don't they're still on solid ground if they play well at home next week. The real danger at the end of January is a mammoth slide. And it's quite possible. Perhaps winning this game stops the tiny snowball rolling from the top of the hill before it becomes an avalanche.
See the Philly take at LibertyBallers