Long Story Short
The Blazers fall one point shy of an amazing victory which seemed all but in hand with 2:00 remaining. Despite some incredible individual efforts by long-lost friends team defense just wasn't strong enough to carry the game.
The Game Story
Please note that since I was in attendance at the Rose Garden in a totally amazing section with totally amazing fans (more on this later) I did not have the usual access to up-to-the-minute stats and trends. With the commute time from the arena this report is already late so I'm going to guesstimate on the stats while describing the game.
The game started out in rocky fashion for the Blazers as the Hornets came out of the gate shooting approximately 800% from the field. New Orleans had the perfect game plan: take the ball inside and force the Blazers to compensate. None of their first four makes came farther than 6 feet from the hoop. In Portland's defense (not that defense should be used in the same sentence as "Portland" while describing the opening of this game) the fielded Yet Another Starting Lineup-a sure-fire Blazer blog name if I ever heard one-this one featuring Jeff Pendergraph at center and Steve Blake at shooting guard. Even if you have amazing individual defenders in the end defense is a team effort. Guys who are unfamiliar with each other will hesitate rather than anticipate. That's exactly what happened to the Blazers. As soon as the ball went through a seam in the defense everybody froze. Dunk, layup, chip shot...New Orleans goes ahead 24-8. Just when all looked lost, though, the Geezer Patrol took over. After Juwan Howard entered the game with 5 minutes left he and Miller started lighting it up, finding the seams in the Hornets' defense just as they had exploited Portland's. Meanwhile Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster sparked a little defensive rally, stalling the Hornets for a couple of minutes with energy and opportunistic plays. It was enough to prevent complete disaster in the quarter but the Hornets still exited with a 31-23 lead.
One of the things that frustrates me about the NBA is that teams are seldom content with doing what's predictable but effective. New Orleans, for example, made hay on the inside throughout the first 12 minutes and developed a significant lead thereby. So what do they do in the second? They figure it's time for the smaller players to score. And apparently smaller players' shots don't count unless they come from 20 feet or more. So they started passing the ball around the perimeter and heaving. Meanwhile the Blazers were energized by the return of one of their old friends, Nicolas Batum. One might expect that coming off of a season-long injury he'd work his way back in slowly. Mais non, mon frère. Batum started with an aggressive drive to the hoop and never looked back. I don't think he attempted a jumper in the game. It was all to the cup. He also got busy on defense, staying in front of whoever he guarded and disrupting both pass and dribble. Meanwhile Jerryd Bayless, sensing weakness in the Hornets' attack and commitment, began to look for his shot. Rudy and Martell followed suit. All of a sudden everyone was charging hard, everyone was running the court, everyone was sharing the ball with his neighbor, and the Blazers were taking the sting out of the Bees. The Hornets never converted a field goal closer than 10 feet in the quarter. Portland left the court happy at the half, up 2, 49-47.
The third quarter told a different story, as Chris Paul finally came out of his years-long hibernation against the Blazers and scored approximately 8 billion points in the period. He started with 2 three-point jumpers and never looked back. The Blazers responded in typical fashion...by shooting long shots themselves. A couple went in but in general it was a bad plan. LaMarcus Aldridge turned the trend around with a shot from the paint and from that point on Portland fought harder for their buckets. In the end they weathered Paul's barrage and took a 73-72 lead into the fourth.
The final period began with an offensive display by Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez. Bayless hit a jumper and then assisted on 2 Rudy threes. The Hornets, meanwhile, returned to their inside ways, scoring on a 5-footer, a layup, and 2 free throws. After the first flurry the game was still within 2. There it remained for the middle of the period as each team frantically tried to score and neither one could. A Dante Cunningham jumper off of another Bayless assist and a Marcus Thornton jumper off of a Paul assists were the only tallies until the 6:30 mark when the Geezer Patrol took over again. Juwan Howard made a nice layup and then Andre Miller assisted on the next three Portland buckets, all in quick succession. The most spectacular was a Rudy Fernandez steal at one end, a dash down the court with Miller, and then a nice layup at the other. The crowd was going crazy as the Blazers took a 9-point lead with 5:00 left. The Hornets scored three times on three plays immediately afterwards but the Blazers, behind Howard and Fernandez (the latter a victim of yet another flagrant foul) did the same. The clock had bled to 3:30 and the lead was still 8. One stop and one bucket might well have broken their backs. But that was as high as the lead would get. The Hornets finally played their trump card at point guard. Actually they kind of cheated by playing two point guards, Paul and Darren Collison, together. Portland had trouble stopping either earlier in the game and the results weren't much better late. Paul started the festivities with an "and-one" layup. When he drew attention he flicked it to Collison for a three. The scene repeated seconds later for a 15-footer. Portland, meanwhile, had trouble setting the offense, ending up with the Geezer Patrol posting up by default. Neither Miller nor Howard could score at this juncture, though. Perhaps it was late, perhaps New Orleans was more energized, perhaps one-on-one with the game on the line just wasn't their thing. Whatever the cause, the end result was a 1-of-2 trip to the line by Andre Miller summing up Portland's scoring. That single free throw kept Portland ahead by 1 with 1:20 left. David West and Chris Paul each missed jumpers. Andre Miller continued to miss off of posts on Portland's end. Then West got free inside, the Blazers collapsed to cover, and West tossed it to Chris Paul for a wide-open 15-footer. 3 seconds remaining, New Orleans had recaptured the lead by 1.
The Blazers sent out Fernandez, Bayless, Webster, Blake, and Aldridge for the final play...Webster apparently on an illegal out-and-in substitution. Bayless ended up with an 18-footer from the elbow for the win. It hit the back iron and the game was over. I have no problem with Jerryd getting the last shot in general. He's shown that he can put pressure on the defense. The main thing that went wrong here is that the ball was inbounded to Blake first and then went to Jerryd, forcing Bayless to put up the jumper. If Jerryd is going to have it in that situation I want him able to drive. He hasn't proven that jumper yet. Another Blazer should have been taking it. It was like going to hear a great Obama speech and watching the Pres pull out a tennis racquet instead. OK...maybe you do that decently, but we want the oratory, man! Bayless with 3 seconds driving for the layup and forcing the refs to make a call, great. Bayless with 1 second heaving...not as good. It was a tantalizing end to an emotional roller coaster ride. It was hard to leave unhappy but it would have been a honk-your-horn, chant-on-the-MAX night had that shot fallen.
Portland shot 47.6% to New Orleans' 51.5% but the Blazers actually made 5 more field goals by virtue of 84 shots attempted to 68 for the Hornets. Both teams shot 47-ish% from the arc, New Orleans hitting 1 more three than did the Blazers. Portland outscored New Orleans 46-32 in the paint as well...a surprise given the way the game started. Portland had more assists and obliterated the Hornets on the offensive boards. So what happened? Two things. First New Orleans shot 9 more free throws and made 10 more than the Blazers. Second when the game was close at the end the Hornets had more star power and knew exactly where they could get shots. The Blazers were making it up as they went, taking 3rd-quarter shots in the closing seconds.
LaMarcus Aldridge hit a few shots in the lane tonight, which was nice. Overall it wasn't the kind of game we needed from him, however. He ended up 8-19 for 16 points and 6 rebounds. He had 2 points in the fourth quarter, those coming off of a Miller alley-oop. Other than that he missed 2 jumpers and had a turnover in the quarter. Part of it is the Blazers not going to him down the stretch but part of it is him not demanding the ball in crucial moments and getting aggressive with it. Frankly speaking, when this team is healthy LaMarcus not needing the ball late is an asset. Roy handles that job. Failing that Outlaw does. We don't need another guy who wants it as much as we need a guy who will cede the spotlight to Roy and Outlaw when it's time. But with both of those players out the void is obvious.
You love Andre Miller's 10 assists, most of which were filled with energy and a couple of which sparked the team. You love his 5 rebounds too. You don't love the defense, though that could be anticipated against this opponent. You don't love his 1-8 shooting night which was less anticipated. You don't love him missing free throws. You don't love the offense starting and ending with him on those crucial late possessions. It looked like he was trying to do too much out there.
Martell Webster led a zinging defensive comeback in the second quarter and played adequately in the remainder of his 34 minutes. 14 points, 2 blocks, 3 boards. He responded well enough to the fuller roster.
Speaking of fuller roster...hello Nicolas Batum! We missed you. Nic played a sparkling 10 minutes which made you think he's been using his time off to think about his game as well as rehab that shoulder. It looks like he mixed a little Bayless in with his Webster. He's still quick and graceful. The man ought to be on Dancing With the Stars. I'll settle for Dunking With the Guards. 3-5 shooting, 6 points, nice D.
Speaking of fuller roster...hello again Rudy Fernandez! We missed you, even when you were back. This looked like the more typical Rudy night with the added wrinkle of him helping out big time on the boards. He had 7 rebounds, many of them as the third guy inside. He also had 3 assists and 2 steals. It's not so much the stats, it's that they show he was doing more than just trying to score. He's really shown the other facets of his game this year...or at least the willingness to flex those muscles. He also canned 2 threes and scored 12 points overall, showing a wee bit more confidence in his shot than we've seen lately. Unfortunately he also got clocked again with an opponent flagrant foul, this time at the hands (or more accurately, forearm) of Marcus Thornton. And this after getting smacked in the face on an earlier drive. Somewhere, somehow Rudy's name has shown up on opposing scouting reports as "soft" and "gets disrupted by contact". The fact that it's him over and over again isn't a coincidence. It's a bummer when that happens. Two responses are needed. First, Rudy himself has to keep making the opponent pay every time it happens. He has to get up, shake it off, and hit every resulting free throw plus some shots afterwards. Second, the big guys have got to continue sticking up for him. Somebody may need to throw down eventually to get the message across. If a young, poor big man gets a fine and suspension for coming to his aid Rudy needs to be a gentleman and pick up half the cost plus dinner. But he's got to have some support. This is how trust is built.
Steve Blake played a little bit of active defense, grabbed a couple rebounds, dished a couple of assists, and missed a bunch of threes. He ended up with 9 points on 4-8 shooting overall, 1-5 from distance.
Jeff Pendergraph got the start and had 5 boards in 18 minutes but was a little overmatched against Okafor. Juwan Howard had the better go of it with 16 points and 7 rebounds in 33 minutes regardless of the opponent.
Jerryd Bayless played 13 minutes in a game where he probably should have had more as we needed his scoring. Rudy was playing well, though, and Miller has been playing great lately. Maybe Blake's 22 minutes could have been lessened. As it turned out, though, Bayless probably should have had more of ‘Dre's time tonight. He was 5-8 for 12 points and 5 assists. My suggestion is putting him out there with Fernandez and Batum, as both can handle the ball a little. Rudy was bringing it up the court often tonight, in fact.
Dante Cunningham got 7 minutes and had 2 points. Nic's return is likely to affect him most of all.
I was really, really hoping that the last shot would fall to send the Blazersedge Night kids home happy. There were indeed 400+ there and the unbridled joy and cheering was amazing to see. I had a bird's eye view from the back row over all three sections over which the kids were spread. It was like every stimulus was a fountain evoking joy and mayhem. Serious props to those young fans and everyone who came with them for representing how to be a fan.
Though the win would have been appropriate and even more joyous, perhaps the lesson is stronger in falling just short. Not everything in life works out like it's supposed to. Sometimes life isn't perfect. But it doesn't matter as long as you're together, have a common cause, and enjoy yourselves along the way. There will be other games. The score of this one isn't that important. What's important is that you came, you cheered, and you showed your heart and passion in those high-level seats the same way Rudy and the Blazers were showing it down there on the court.
Thanks to everyone who came. Thanks to everyone who helped send our guests tonight. Thanks to the people who came by to say hello, to Lisa Swan of the Trail Blazers for helping us set this up and believing in us, and to the entire Blazersedge Family, which I hope is 400+ people larger because of tonight. It was a great evening. We'll have a fuller report this afternoon.
Check out the opponent take on this game at AtTheHive.
The Jersey Contest scorer is still on the fritz but your entries tonight were registered and thus are unaffected. We'll probably have the correct totals up tomorrow. The one consequence will be that Wednesday's game will have no form. Take the night off and be ready for Friday.