Long Story Short: Andre Miller pays a touching tribute to Greg Oden by scoring 52 points, including 7 of Portland's 11 in the overtime period, to send the Mavericks packing and perhaps save the week for the Blazers.
I said in this week's Trailblazers.com Podcast that it appeared the Blazers' bag of miracles had run dry just when one or two would be handy. Obviously I hadn't looked carefully enough because Portland dug down deep in the sack tonight and pulled out a sweet, and much-needed, win against one of the best teams in the West on the road. Just when I think I'm out, they keep pulling me back in...
The game started out both briskly and well for the Blazers. The team made a concerted effort to get shots earlier in the clock than usual. Between that and quick feet getting down the floor the Blazers looked almost frisky. Though Dallas hit three shots to go up 6-0 at the very beginning of the night the Blazers, shooting instead of thinking, closed the gap quickly, tying the game around the 9:00 mark and pulling ahead in the quarter for good behind a brief flurry from Jerryd Bayless a few minutes later. The Blazers were still shooting jumpers but they came off of ball movement which meant the players were more open and the shots were, by and large, taken closer to the hoop than the ones that come off the dribble. A 20-footer is the inside limit of Portland's attempts in many quarters. In this period the 20-footers were long bombs. Dallas got its points from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry but neither one of them looked as aggressive as Miller, Bayless, or LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland gets off to that crucial good start, 26-21 after one.
Predictably the second quarter didn't go nearly as well offensively. Dallas clamped down a little bit, sure, but the injured Blazers have had problems fielding any kind of second unit that can score consistently. All of a sudden Portland was back in the plodding, late-clock, long-bomb offense. Dallas, meanwhile, decided that wings driving would be the best way to exploit Portland's defense. Lacking an inside-scoring big man, they were correct. Drew Gooden and Rodrigue Beaubois got a couple looks inside but the real Neato Bandito for the Mavs in the period was Josh Howard. He started abusing the Blazers, first receiving bounty from guys who had broken down their defenders and commanded help, then torching the net straight up once he had warmed to the game. He scored 15 in the quarter. The Blazers scored 18 as a team. Dallas heads into the locker room up 3, 47-44. It looked like Portland had their early hurrah and were ready to get swamped.
The halftime pep talk must have included some discussion of Jason Kidd not being the defender he once was...and Jason Terry having never been a great defender...and Jose Juan Barea and Defense never having been introduced. Whatever the speech entailed, Portland came out determined to exploit Dallas' backcourt defense. It was the right plan. The first few scores of the period for Portland went: Bayless, Miller, Miller, Bayless, Miller, Miller. Only two of those attempts were beyond 10 feet. Dallas wasn't rotating quickly enough to stop the mighty Portland guard attack. When they did rotate gamely, having been baked to the tune of a dozen points in 4:30 by the duo, LaMarcus Aldridge happily stepped up and scored 5 in 1:30. Behind some Shawn Marion buckets the Mavs were scoring enough to keep pace but at this point they weren't supposed to be keeping pace. They were supposed to be opening up a double-digit lead and wondering where to go for drinks after the game. (As it would turn out the only place they'd be going for post-fourth-quarter drinks was the Gatorade bucket, but more on that in a minute.) After a dry spell the Blazers scored 9 points in the final 2 minutes and Dallas needed a last-second Barea heave from 25 to close the gap to 4. Blazers take over the quarter and lead 73-69 going into the final period.
A quick look at that third-period exit score will show you that to this point Portland was winning the game the same way they had their earlier contest in Dallas: limit the Mavericks' shots and points to a manageable level. The key to this plan was denying Dirk Nowitzki touches, which the Blazers were doing admirably. Dirk had only 6 shots to his credit at this point...not makes, attempts. But Dallas, as we mentioned, is a good team and they were having none of that in the final period. You knew Terry and the forwards who had heretofore kept them going were going to get some attempts, but this was going to be Dirk time. The Blazers hadn't won the game. All they had done was give themselves a chance to go shot for shot with the Mavs. Even sporting a four-point margin it wasn't a prospect you'd relish.
But these weren't the angst-ridden, navel-gazing, directionless, run-the-clock-to-death Blazers we've seen so often this year. Instead the Blazers seemed to realize that they like playing basketball and they like shooting. So they played and they shot. LaMarcus Aldridge and Steve Blake started the period firing and scoring. Blake looked particularly carefree as he hit a 20-footer and then a three a minute later. What the heck. We have to score, right? Then it was Miller time. Blake's three gave the Blazers 80 points for the game. They would end the fourth quarter with 103. Miller scored all but 5 of those remaining 23 points: another Blake three on which Miller assisted and a LaMarcus Aldridge layup. He had no fear and Dallas had nobody to stop him. He posted little guys and drove around bigger ones, much as we said Dirk Nowitzki did in the game preview. Indeed, Miller was Nowiztki tonight and Dirk did a pretty good impression of Miller by shooting awkward, fall-away jumpers. The Mavs' interior defense proved marshmallow-soft. None of Andre's 18 points in the quarter was scored from more than 13 feet from the bucket.
On the other end, though, Nowitzki was putting on a show of his own. The Blazers doubled him much of the evening but they were getting burned and went to single coverage late. He ate their lunch. It seemed no matter what Portland did, they were toast. Also the familiar bugaboo of stupid late-game mistakes raised its ugly head again. Fortunately the Mavericks missed no critical free throws so we couldn't pull the old "Don't get the free throw rebound even though you have two guys with inside position" trick. However LaMarcus Aldridge did miss two free throws with 59 seconds left in regulation. That left the score tied at 99. Then the next play down either Aldridge stupidly followed Batum as Nic cut through a screen to stay with Jason Terry or Nic stupidly didn't call out his intentions to LaMarcus. However it happened both defenders followed the dribbler and left Nowitzki completely. Boom. Dallas leads 101-99 with 41 seconds left. Miller hit a couple free throws to tie it again at 101 but the next trip down the court LaMarcus, waving his hands like Presto the Magician in front of Nowitzki's face while guarding him, poked Dirk right in the eye before Dirk even had a chance to make any kind of move. With the Blazers over the limit the unforced foul led to free throws, which Nowitzki calmly canned. 103-101 Dallas, 26 seconds left. Then came the shot of Andre Miller's life. He had dribbled the ball for a while probing but couldn't find any openings. With the clock running short and aggression needed he swept across the lane left to right and put up a sweeping hook shot over the fingertips of the defender. You read that right...a sweeping hook shot. Think Magic Johnson in that famous playoff clip in the lane, but this time the guy putting it up is half a foot shorter but the defender's not. It bounced off the rim and...and...went in. Sick. Tie game at 103. Nowitzki can't hit the game-winner from 17 and we're into overtime.
The extra period was decided by a couple of things. The first was Miller's 7 points, including a three to open the session that had everybody thinking that he had sacrificed chickens to some heretofore unknown basketball deity before the game. The second was Nicolas Batum's defense. The Blazers actually botched a couple of significant plays in the extra period. They blew the rotation getting over to Jason Terry for a three and JT put Dallas ahead with the shot. Then the next play after forcing a Nowitzki miss they let Kidd in for an offensive rebound putback. It looked like the small mistake ghost was going to haunt them yet. But in the end the Mavericks needed Dirk Points to finish the game and they got only 2 (and those early) because Nicolas Batum stood in front of him and forced him to shoot over the top fading away again and again and again. Those aren't unusual attempts for Nowitzki, but since they hadn't been falling past the midpoint of the fourth quarter you got the feeling that even he would have preferred some other kind of shot. Nic said, "Mais, non!" and made it stick. Dirk took 3 of Dallas' final 4 shots and got, in order: bubkus, nada, and squadoosh. Batum's defense made Juwan Howard's 16-footer with 44 seconds left--Juwan's only points of the game--the deciding bucket. Portland walks out of Dallas with a 114-112 overtime victory. Amazing.
You can quote all the stats you want from this game but the basic story is that the Blazers won it with heart and confidence. They shot 53.5% because they worked hard enough to get makeable shots (only 10 three-pointers attempted in the game and 60 points in the paint scored to Dallas' 46) and didn't hesitate when they had them. They moved the right guys onto the right Dallas players at the right time and those defenders came through enough to make the difference. Even with all of that it was only a coin flip coming down the stretch but the whole idea of a coin flip is that it can go your way. The Blazers gave themselves that chance and it did. Well done.
Andre Miller...whoosh. 22-31 for 52 points. He battered down the Mavericks. His offense was physical and they couldn't match it. He might as well have been Kobe out there for all they could stop him. What a performance! It's also a good reminder, though. Had this been Jerryd Bayless people would have been screaming to the highest heavens that he is the next Superstar of the League and Portland should start him now and always and so on and so forth. Miller had 52 points in this game and he's none of those things (except the starter part), never has been, and never will be. In fact he had 7 and 2 points in the two prior games. Good players can have fantastic games. You ride them and celebrate them but in the end you judge a guy on what he does night in and night out and not what he did in one or two games.
Speaking of Bayless, he keyed off of the aggressive vibe and Dallas seemed just as powerless to stop his penetration as they were stopping Andre's. 7-11 shooting up real close, 17 points and a lot of camel-straw-breaking when Dallas wanted to focus elsewhere.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points on 10-20 shooting. He only had 4 rebounds and had some critical mistakes late though. But we needed every one of those 21 points and he looked as definitive in his offense as Miller and Bayless were in theirs, even though his consisted of jumpers.
Side Note: Outside of Juwan Howard's game-winner and 2 free throws by Bayless Aldridge and Miller were the only Blazers who scored after the 9:00 mark of the fourth quarter. They literally carried the offense.
Steve Blake hit a couple of threes en route to 10 points in 25 minutes. He appeared to be the guy who got hung out on that Jason Terry three.
The rest of the Blazers combined (Webster, Howard, Pendergraph, Cunningham, Fernandez, Batum): 3-14 shooting, 14 points, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks, 5 turnovers, 17 personal fouls. Juwan Howard gets credit for his 12 rebounds and the game-winning shot. Pendergraph had 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 12 minutes. Cunningham provided the usual hustle and 2 blocks as well. It doesn't matter what else Batum did because he shut down Nowitzki late. Whatever slice of the game ball that doesn't go to Miller heads to Batum.
Ohhhhh this win is going to make things look more rosy. Assuming a Monday win against Charlotte (which may be a dangerous assumption) and 1 of 2 versus San Antonio and L.A. (also dangerous) this now looks like a decent stretch instead of an God-awful one. Even if only one of those 2 wins materialize it's not complete disaster. If nothing else, the gross 6-7 game losing streak is averted and Portland probably won't have to deal with anything close.
Hear the plaintive cries of Mavs' fans at MavsMoneyball. (No truth to the rumor it's going to be re-named "Andre'sMoneyBall".)
You can see the final Jersey Contest scoreboard for the month here.
Congratulations to Oldbaum who is our Jersey Winner for January! He edged out MavetheGreat by 3 points and Blazersand2000 by 4. What a month!
Enter the first game of the February contest here.