In a Nutshell
For the second straight night the Blazers stage a fourth-quarter comeback after slipping on a third-quarter banana peel, throttling an otherwise free-wheeling Clippers offense and scoring enough to make the difference. Portland's impressive rebounding performance throughout the night frustrated Los Angeles.
The Blazers are starting to establish that no matter what else happens, rebounding is their Best Friend Forever. Portland didn't snag every rebound. Both Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman had big rebounding nights for the Clippers. But L.A. could never be sure they'd get their hands on the ball off the glass on either end whereas the Blazers figured to have a coin flip on the offensive end and most of the defensive rebounds as well. Portland's ability to secure the boards masked droughts on both ends of the court that would have sunk the team not long ago. Both teams ended up shooting the same percentage from the floor in this game but the Blazers took 9 more shots, sealing the deal.
Portland also prospered from the arc for the second game in a row. Their success was not indiscriminate. They failed miserably when they tried to make Wesley Matthews into Kobe Bryant, heaving him the ball with the clock winding down 28 feet from the bucket. But when cuts or penetration forced the Clippers' defense to shift Portland whipped the ball across the court for a weak-side trey. It's nearly impossible for the Blazers to field a lineup without a couple of good shooters nowadays so there's reason to hope this punishment for opponents' missteps will continue.
Speaking of missteps, though, Portland's defense seemed as permissive as a hippie parent until the final fourth-quarter surge. All night long the Blazers let L.A.'s drivers into the paint, dangerously exposing Marcus Camby (who handled it quite well) or his replacements (who did not). Worse, Portland's transition defense was tardy on multiple occasions. This had been the one reliable aspect of the Blazer "D" for the past two years. They never allowed fast breaks. No more, apparently...and distressingly. The Clips scored 50 of their 88 points in the paint, 16 on fast breaks.
The one bright spot for Portland's defense is their continuing turnover production. They had 9 steals tonight and got their hands on a lot of balls. Marcus Camby's back-line play makes that possible but it's hard not to notice the Greg-Oden-sized hole in the defense right now. If he gets back with anything approaching the game he had last year, watch out. The Blazers will become a perpetual turnover/shot-block factory.
A little less rebounding, a couple missed threes, or L.A. just hitting more than 19 of their 30 free throws might have made tonight's outcome different. Fortunately the Blazers did enough to win and the Clippers weren't experience or coordinated enough to take advantage of Portland's mistakes.
The first quarter featured plenty of non-defense from both sides. Perhaps they played Journey in the pre-game introductions because it was any way you want it for 12 minutes straight. The Clippers compiled a season-long highlight reel in one quarter, dunking with impunity. The Blazers played the same inside-out passing game that they showed against the Suns and again it produced points. The difference was that the Blazers were scoring on more than dunks while the Clips went dry away from the rim. Portland led 31-23 after one.
The second period featured more easy trips down the lane for the Clippers. The Blazers' offense started to fall apart. The passing slowed in favor of individual skills. Nobody had enough mojo to make more than a single bucket until Brandon Roy showed the team how that iso game is done late in the quarter. He scored the team's last 11 points in the period, saving an otherwise disgraceful display. Meanwhile the Clippers relaxed a little bit, not having to scramble on defense or pull the ball out of the net every second possession. They mixed layups and threes for 26 in the quarter, besting Portland's output by 3 and closing the gap to 5 at the half.
The Clippers drew energy and hope from the third period, not so much because they prospered (scoring only 22) but because the Blazers continued to wilt (posting only 16). L.A. continued its night-long trend of only hitting close shots but they got 6 layups in the period. Salt in a few free throws and they easily outpaced Portland. The Blazers tried to post Aldridge in the third and it was bad news. The offense stalled and LaMarcus missed. Other than that the period featured Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum trying to get their own shots, the aforementioned Wesley-Heave scheme, a bunch of missed threes, and a bunch of Portland fouls on defense. L.A. came all the way back and led by 1 going into the final frame.
The fourth quarter was defense time for the Blazers. Finally Portland shut down the lane, allowing just 2 layups in the period. They combined busy hands, collapsing defenders, and a little bit of zone to force L.A. away from the basket. Shockingly the offensive bubble popped for the Clips. As with many young teams, when the offense dried up the defense lost its pep too. The Blazers turned the tables, first scoring at the rim then rediscovering their three-point shot. Andre Miller tried to take over the offense early. Brandon Roy came back to life late. In the middle LaMarcus Aldridge finally started scoring, largely from the foul line. But points are point and the Blazers got them. Portland outscored the Clippers 28-17 in the period and walked away with a 10-pointer and a 2-0 record.
The entire starting lineup played pretty well in this one except when players occasionally tried to do too much (Aldridge and Miller). Once the offense became more individually-oriented the usual suspects prospered but the bench players withered. The result was a huge-looking night for the starters and some sad-sack bench stats. Keep in mind the defensive contributions of the subs, though. Also keep in mind that this wasn't Portland's best game plan...just one good enough to beat the Clippers.
Brandon Roy led the team with 22 and looked good doing it. He hit buzzer-beating threes to end both the first and second quarters and looked like a star on offense. Not so much on defense, especially in transition, though I'd say his defensive game was better tonight than last. Roy drew 8 foul shots...always a great sign.
LaMarcus Aldridge tried to get more involved in the offense tonight. He was sometimes doubled but had more looks than the Suns gave him. He looked massively uncomfortable close to the bucket but smooth as silk when he could catch 12-15 feet away and spin for the turnaround against a single defender. He had 6 offensive rebounds and 10 overall. His defense wasn't great inside but was otherwise OK.
Andre Miller had 7 assists and 3 steals. He looked more comfortable with his role in the offense tonight, got off some shots, and did a good job on Baron Davis--a good matchup for him.
Nicolas Batum had a great offensive night, shooting 6-7, 3-4 from three-point range, and tallying 15. He had 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He didn't exactly take this game over but then again there were three other guys trying to do that. He and Camby were able to buoy the team from the second row.
Speaking of Camby: 14 rebounds (7 of each flavor), 3 blocks, and a bunch of "Get That Out of Here" defense saved the day. Chris Kaman scored 8 points. Portland's used to seeing 20. Had Marcus not been on the floor Portland would have lost 120-98.
Both Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews continue to look confident despite missing most of their shots in this game. I like their attitude and engagement. Portland just didn't play to their strengths tonight. Dante Cunningham had 3 fouls in 15 minutes. Fabricio Oberto had 3 rebounds in 11 minutes but in addition to shampoo he needs one of those weight belts to improve your vertical leap. You'd have trouble slipping a dollar bill under his feet when he jumps. Armon Johnson got 3 minutes but this was never going to be his night. Too soon.
Stats of the Night
Blazers 51 rebounds, 21 offensive. Blazers 8-20 for 40% from the arc. Blazers only 17 assists on 36 made buckets. (Compare with the Phoenix game.) Clippers only hit 5-18 threes and 19-30 free throws.
Odd Notes and Links
The ESPN announcers were drooling all over Blake Griffin. Rightfully so. That guy has a motor. They were almost rooting for the Clippers but I'm OK with that as long as Portland wins.
Hear them drool over Griffin and lament the loss at Clipsnation.