In a Nutshell
The Blazers vanquish the Raptors in perfunctory, though not perfect, fashion. The starters carry the day as the bench collectively blows its big opportunity for more playing time.
This game started out uglier than a Nick Nolte mug shot. The Blazers settled for jumpers on repeated possessions, most of which they missed. The Raptors shot their usual jumpers, most of which they missed. On the rare occasions Toronto ran the Blazers got back, forcing them into awkward layup attempts. On the rare occasions the Blazers got in the lane they scored. But they kept it rare. The bright spot for Portland was Nicolas Batum, who took advantage of the soft "D" to cut and pass as an initiator and stroke threes as a receiver. The bright spot for Toronto was Andrea Bargnani who looked every bit as good as advertised from distance. The result of all the sloppy offense was an 18-17 quarter for the Blazers.
Two Blazers prospered around the quarter break. One was Dante Cunningham, who straddled the gap with consistent hustle and drive even when he wasn't a factor in the offense. The other was Brandon Roy. He played (and shot) early in the second because the second unit seemed incapable of scoring. With nobody else to worry about passing to Roy took over and hit a bunch of jumpers over guys who couldn't cover. This padded the Blazers' lead. Marcus Camby, also playing through the second period, made sure the Raptors couldn't close the gap again by rebounding everything in sight. The Raptors posted another 17-point quarter but behind the demoralizing Roy jumpers the Blazers cruised to 27, opening up an 11 point lead at the break.
The starters came out with energy in the third, looking to make an early night of it. Roy scored deep and Aldridge echoed inside. The Blazers upped the lead to 23 with 3:30 left in the period. The first unit signaled it was time to rest by making a couple of silly turnovers. Nate McMillan obliged them and sent in the bench troops. They responded by missing everything in sight and allowing the Raptors 3 layups, a 5-foot shot, and 3 free throws in just 3 minutes of time. The gap closed to 14 at the end of the third, 73-59.
Figuring running a 4-point-per-minute deficit was a tad risky, since it would have put the Blazers down 34 by the end of the game, McMillan sent the starters out, minus Roy, to begin the fourth. After a couple of silly turnovers and 6 more Toronto points, Nate cried, "Uncle!" and sent in Roy as well. The lead was but 8 when Brandon entered. He killed off any Toronto hopes by driving the lane a couple times, hitting and drawing a foul. Aldridge helped by crashing the offensive boards. The rest of the guys picked up on the effort and started hounding on defense, grabbing rebounds, and running. McMillan made sure the second unit got the message, leaving every starter but Camby in long past the point the game was out of reach. (Cunningham came in for Camby. Dante was the only bench player who had played competently.) The Blazers ended up winning by 13.
The more the Blazers play offense the more it becomes clear that Nicolas Batum is the difference between success and failure. He's not the leading scorer, the biggest threat, or even that high of an option. But when he's touching the ball in positions to do harm the offense is going right. He can pass, he can finish on the break, and he can hit threes. All of those are signs of success. As soon as Portland goes stale Batum's hands become as leather-free as a PETA convention. I'm not saying the Blazers can win by forcing it through Nicolas. I am saying when things are easy for Nic they're easy for everyone. He's the barometer.
The Raptors toyed with a strategy that the Blazers are sure to see more of as the season progresses: they hounded everybody besides Andre Miller who tried to dribble the ball. It confounded everybody but Roy. He got doubled but they didn't sit on his dribble. Whoever aspires to be the ball handler after Miller is going to have to run a gauntlet.
During the slack times in this game the BOSH issue became obvious. Not Toronto's. Portland's Big Oden-Shaped Hole. LaMarcus Aldridge is literally their only inside option at this point and he's not that far inside. When he's being bumped there's nowhere to go except Jumperville, Population: Every Shot the Blazers Take. Oden won't be devastating from the block but even being able to throw the darn ball in there and having the defense react would be a huge relief and open up more possibilities.
The Blazers are sorely in need of a Tim Lovejoy sermon about sweet, sweet constancy. One indicator that they have become an elite-level team will be being able to predict how they will play night in and night out. Right now none of us, including them, know how they will play from quarter to quarter even.
Roy shot 8-8 from the foul line tonight and had 26 points on the standard Roy effort. He really carried the offense when everyone else was collapsing. Seeing him drive with some success was encouraging.
Aldridge had 6 offensive rebounds, shot 50% from the field, and scored 22. LaMarcus being efficient opens up more margin for error for the star guards...a good thing.
Andre Miller only took 4 shots tonight but had 13 assists and 6 rebounds. He was also the only guy who tried playing point guard who actually functioned. Well done on all accounts.
Nicolas Batum shot 7-14, scored 20, and played some great defense early. I love seeing him active. He only had 3 rebounds but filling the BOSH will make that an afterthought.
Marcus Camby had to play 30 minutes on a day he suffered from migraines. It's quite possible that every one of his 16 rebounds hurt his head. Appreciate them extra tonight.
Dante Cunningham played 23 very active minutes, guarding everyone he got stuck against from point guard to center, fighting for rebounds, and staying in motion. He scored 6 with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. The only blemish was 5 fouls but those Toronto guys move fast.
Luke Babbitt hit a sweet corner three tonight, going 1-2 for 4 points. He looked Babbitt-ish. His shot was nice and maybe a little quicker now that he's more comfortable. His driving was so-so and will be limited to particular situations. His defense was OK, highlighted by a nice straight-up blocked shot. He got a couple rebounds. It was a good game for him to get his feet wet and he did well.
"Well" and "Wesley Matthews" are not going to appear in the same sentence tonight unless it's in the "jump into headfirst" sense. His three-point shot looked atrocious. He scored 4 points on 7 shots and zeroed out the stat line except for 1 turnover. He gets around the court quickly enough but he's just not looking effective.
Speaking of not effective, Armon Johnson had a serious feet-of-clay outing tonight. In the first half the Raptors pressured him and sat on his dribble, which stifled him. In the second half they collapsed and dared him to drive and make something happen. He did and he didn't, respectively. He played 12 minutes. He had 6 turnovers. No harm, no foul. Potholes are part of the process.
Patty Mills and Sean Marks each got a handful of minutes, making sure countries where The Lord of the Rings franchise was shot were well represented. Peter Jackson appreciates the support.
Stats of the Night
- Toronto 36.8% shooting, 1-17 (5.9%) from the arc
- Andrea Bargnani 12 points total after coming out on fire in the first
- Toronto point guards combine for 10-18 shooting and 28 points but only 6 assists.
- Portland starters all play 30+ minutes with Roy playing 37. Not horrible but it would have been nice to see fewer
- Blazer bench 15 points collectively on 5-15 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block (thanks Luke!), 7 turnovers, and 16 fouls. Yikes.
- Blazers shoot 45.3% overall but only 25% from distance. Somebody better start hitting those relief threes. If the Raptors have success collapsing into the lane what will decent defensive teams do?
Odd Notes and Links
The Blazers went from long, bad hair with Fabricio Oberto to short, bad hair with Marks. I sense a trend here. Maybe they're going for a Prell sponsorship?
See tonight's Jersey Contest Scoreboard here and enter tomorrow's game (6:30 Pacific start) here. Note that the difficulties people are remarking about--entries not scored together (a.k.a. "It didn't count a game for me") and error messages--all have a common cause: not entering your name and e-mail address correctly. This is why I said at the very beginning of the contest to make sure you are precise in putting your name and address in the same way every time. This is why I'll say it again. If you don't enter name and address at all you'll get an error message. If you don't enter them the same way each time your games won't be scored together and it'll look like it didn't count one of them towards your total.