"It seemed like you got some calls tonight that you haven't been getting recently, didn't it?," I asked Brandon Roy after his Portland Trail Blazers held off the Los Angeles Lakers 107-98 in Portland, running their home winning streak over their conference rivals to nine straight.
Roy put his head down and just laughed. "I don't want to talk about that stuff," Roy laughed some more, "but I got to the foul line tonight."
Yes he did. As did his teammates. The Lakers were whistled for 24 personal fouls and the Blazers attempted 39 free throws, converting 32 of them; by comparison, the Blazers committed 15 fouls and the Lakers attempted 10 free throws, making 5. In fact, by one estimation it's been nearly four years since an NBA team has enjoyed such a lopsided free throw differential.
Whether you attribute the foul calls to an aggressive, attacking Portland offense or homer officiating, that differential was the difference in tonight's game. Roy was the biggest beneficiary of the officiating, getting to the line more than the entire Lakers team combined as he converted 13 out of 14 from the stripe. "I tried to be aggressive," he explained. "We did a good job of getting into the bonus early which allowed me to attack. Kobe got into early foul trouble. Guys did a good job, made it easy on me late. If they did hand-check, the refs called it and I was able to get some easy free throws."
Jerryd Bayless added 10 of 12 from the line, succeeding in attacking the basket against the Lakers' reserve big men, drawing contact seemingly at will. Andre Miller found the line 7 times too, pushing the tempo in transition as aggressively and effectively as we've seen so far this season.
The story on one end was the free throws. The story on the other? Making Kobe Work rather than Kobe Doin' Work.
Earlier this season, I praised Martell Webster for his start-to-finish, end-to-end defense of Kevin Durant. Webster's defensive performance tonight was better. He played every second of the game's first three quarters and finished with 46 minutes played. He hounded Bryant, bumped Bryant, bodied Bryant, closed out on Bryant and didn't hang his head as Bryant methodically tallied 32 points as only Bryant can. Importantly Webster managed for long stretches without help, didn't commit dumb fouls and limited Bryant's interior touches, forcing the Lakers superstar to settle for jumpers (and settle he did, racking up 37 field goal attempts).
Afterwards, Blazers Coach Nate McMillan called it "one of his best games as a pro," lauding Webster's mentality as much as his physicality. "Staying calm. Not getting too excited. Sometimes people get excited when they feel they're matched up with Kobe. You're not going to stop him. You want to try and contain him and keep him in front of you." Guarding Kevin Durant is geometry; defending Kobe Bryant is calculus. Webster took his game up that level tonight.
Nevertheless, Bryant was still able to lead a strong Lakers push during the second half, compiling 7 assists when the Blazers did double-team and trap him before adding 12 fourth quarter points of his own. A jubilant Rose Garden crowd held its breath during portions of the final period, afraid that Bryant would single-handledly bull his way to a victory.
But Roy raised his game too, pouring in 11 fourth quarter points to help push the Blazers lead out to 20 points and seal the victory. Roy finished with 32 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, nearly identical to Bryant's 32 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. "I've been a big fan of [Kobe's] since high school. I was rooting for him [back then]," Roy said. "To be able to play against him in a competitive game like tonight was exciting for me."
Bryant returned the compliment, "[Roy is] a fantastic player. One of my favorite players in the league. One of my favorite players to play against. I enjoy watching him. He's very skilled. I think he's extremely versatile. He can go left, he can go right, he can shoot the longball, the mid-range game, he's fundamentally sound."
After going toe-to-toe and point-for-point with Bryant, does Roy consider his counterpart the best player in the NBA? "It's tough," Roy stopped to think. "Him and LeBron. They're right there [with each other]. We have LeBron on Sunday. But arguably Kobe is probably the top player in the league. And LeBron is coming."
Indeed, LeBron is coming. But that's a problem -- a huge problem -- for a different day. Tonight, revel in the defense, rebounding and shooting of Dante Cunningham (7 points, 5 boards, 1 block). Relish a focused, determined, balls-to-the-wall Andre Miller (17 points, 7 assists, 3 boards, 2 steals, 1 block), who responded to yesterday's argument with his coach better than anyone expected.
And, most of all, enjoy this product of a jovial McMillan post-game press conference, perhaps the best joke I've heard him deliver. Looking at the box score after the game, McMillan went down his roster, praising each player one by one. All except one: Andre Miller. When he finally came to Miller's name, McMillan paused and smiled before cracking, "And my main man Miller..." He paused again to let it sink in, before continuing, "... played great basketball." That brought the house down.
McMillan even started to laugh a little bit at his own joke. You can't blame him.
Random Game Notes
- The best moment of the entire night (year?) was when Kevin Pelton was forced to deal with the reality that Rumble The Bison, the "Oklahoma City Thunder's" mascot that KP2 was merrily mocking as "Sasquatch with horns," has more twitter followers than he does. Classssiiicccc.
- The signs handed out to the lower bowl seats. Nate McMillan references them below in one of his answers.
- Lamar Odom still uses a Discman. According to one of the LA beat writers, Odom does own an iPod. But for whatever reason he was using the Discman tonight. With the Dre headphones, of course.
- After the game, a Blazers executive, with a huge smile: "That was fun, wasn't it?"
- It's been awhile, a long while, since we've seen as many smiles and heard as many laughs from Blazers staffers, management, scouts, coaches and players as we did after the win tonight. Beating the Lakers in Portland is graduating from a pride-building tradition to an existential justification. The faces, the body language, all seemed to be saying: "Why do I put myself through hell for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week? Because we beat the Lakers. And that feels so good."
- I sat next to Denver Nuggets front office member, statistician, author and Ph.D Dean Oliver during tonight's game. I haven't felt that whole since the Anthony Tolliver waiving.
- Phil Jackson moved slowly around the locker room after the game, grumbling to the locker room attendants and poking fun at the large media contingent that spent nearly 45 minutes waiting for Kobe Bryant to give his post-game remarks. Before the game I managed to just barely beat the Lakers bus into the arena. As I passed through the bag check I noticed that Phil Jackson was following right behind me. "Between me and the next guy coming through we've got 12 rings," I joked to Brother Wendell Maxey. Pleased with myself, I repeated this line at least 10 times to various people throughout the night. And now I wrote it!
- Paul Allen's courtside seat was empty again tonight.
Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments
A good win?
I thought it was a great win for us in the sense that we played great basketball tonight. And to beat the Lakers we needed this type of effort. From start to finish. From both groups. I thought defensively we played the way we've talked about. We need to play that way and be consistent with that. Be physical, making them work. Offensively we got the movement tonight, we attacked, I thought we pushed the ball. Both units played well. You can go down the list of every guy that played and they did something special. From LaMarcus having to guard Bynum. I thought Martell played one of his best games as a pro tonight having to just guard Kobe and keep him in front of him. And stay focused on the offensive end of the floor. He rebounded the ball. Brandon accepted the challenge tonight. And stepped up and played well. Howard, again, our young guys, DC and Jeff came in and played with some energy. And then Bayless came in and 21 points off the bench. And my main man Miller played great basketball. It was good. We needed to play that way and we got that game.
What'd you think about team effort on Kobe?
The main thing is to deny him his catch or deny him the catch. Towards the end we had control of the game so it was given to him up the floor and he was putting his head down. Kobe took 37 attempts. Just stay in front of him and make him shoot the ball. He can do that but try to keep him off the free throw line. We were great attacking and getting to the free throw line tonight. That's the game we want to play. When we play that game, attacking the basket, rebounding the ball, and moving the ball, we're normally in good shape.
Tired of talking about Andre. But is this a fresh start? Starting over? Having things clear?
It was clear, again, this morning when I talked to my team. I told them that was on me and I need to control that. And I should have controlled that. We put that behind us.
But from a season standpoint? Does that win help you move on?
Yeah, we are. I didn't plan for that to happen and for this to end up this way. Things happen. For us we put that behind us this morning. I talked to the team this morning. I talked to Miller and we put that behind us. We went to focus on the Lakers and moving forward and I thought our guys came out with that focus. Hopefully it is something we build off of and we get consistent with this type of effort and this type of play for 48 minutes.
I thought we just beat them to the spot. We touched them. We were physical. We bodied their cuts. We kept them in front of us. We mixed up our defense as we talked about we're going to have to do. And they burned us with some threes. So we went away from that and started to play straight up defense when we had a 4 point lead and made them score over the top. We have to adjust our defense and tonight we did that. Because they got hot from the 3 point line and I thought that was the defense.
Did the incident yesterday help cause the win tonight?
You know, if we would have lost that, we would have been sitting here saying that was the reason we lost. "Turmoil," is what I saw on the news last night. "Turmoil with the Blazers." So I can't say that. We won this game and could that have had an impact? My thing is challenging my guys because we've got to fight the rest of this season. We have a huge challenge to stay in this race the rest of this season. And finding ways to motivate them to get them ready is what I have to do. Sometimes they may not like some of the things that I do. But that's where we are. I can't say that that had an impact on tonight's game. Because I would be saying the same thing if we lost the game. Did that have an impact? The thing for me is over. I thought we came out and played the game the way we needed to play. And we beat one of the top teams in the league.
Brandon's efficiency puts him in the MVP Race?
You know, that MVP... I know Kobe came to play tonight. He was riding Brandon and Brandon was, I thought, really calm and did a good job of attacking and being aggressive tonight. He was able to finish and Kobe is an unbelievable defender, we needed that 32 points. I thought it was in the flow of the game. But he also allowed Bayless and Miller and the rest of the guys and trusted them to contribute to the game. I thought he just played a solid, great floor game.
Why so much success against the Lakers in Portland?
Well, we've certainly been able to rise to the occasion. Our fans, they are fired up right from the start. When you've got that crowd like that and you know you're playing the Lakers, the guys come ready. We've been able to defend. We've been able to be sharp at the right time. We've been able to execute our plan defensively as well as offensively. In those games that I can remember, we've played well as a team. And we've beaten them, which is what you've got to do. You're not going to get lucky against the Lakers. You're going to have to be playing at your best.
Are you aware of the streak?
We're aware of it. We talke about it. That was for me tonight motivation for our guys that they know about it. And especially them dropping a game to the Clippers and coming here and the streak they were going to be ready to go. We needed to be ready to go.
Martell's Defense on Kobe
I thought he played one of his best games as a pro. Just staying in front of Kobe. Defensively, rebounding the ball. Offensively, being able to contribute on that end and staying calm. Not getting too excited. Sometimes people get excited when they feel they're matched up with Kobe. You're not going to stop him. You want to try and contain him and keep him in front of you. And I thought Martell did a nice job. We mixed in our defense, as far as double-teaming him and playing him straight-up. He started to find the 3 point shooters in that third quarter and they had like 9 threes so we took off the trap and played it straight up.
Resiliency over last 10 games
Well we're not quitting. I think I saw some of those signs in the stands. We just take it one game at a time. And we try to focus on that game. For the coaching staff trying to... we've had some good wins, but trying to get that consistency from our guys. The effort, the focus. Good team play is not one or two individuals or one unit. Both units are playing well and we've got guys coming in scrapping and contributing.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter