In a Nutshell
The Blazers click in every aspect of the game with only minor lags. The Pistons have no chance to shoot their way out of trouble in a game where they were outworked, outmanned, and outskilled.
You knew this was going to be a different game when the Blazers' jumpers started falling in the first period. And I mean literally, every Blazer's jumper went through the hoop: Brandon Roy's, LaMarcus Aldridge's, Nicolas Batum's, even Andre Miller's. The Pistons started out in single coverage. Aldridge and Roy murdered them. When they started helping the passing fun began. Portland didn't challenge inside as much as usual but they did find open shooters. When the Blazers started gambling on defense as well, poking away steals and running out for easy hoops, it didn't seem fair. Portland leads 36-25 after the first.
The second quarter saw the second unit take over. First, a compliment: the group of Armon Johnson, Wesley Matthews, either Roy or Rudy Fernandez, Dante Cunningham, and either Aldridge or Marcus Camby makes a potent defensive lineup which is only going to get scarier with time. Johnson and Matthews provide stalwart defense against opposing wings, providing the fig leaf for Roy and Fernandez, actually allowing Rudy to gamble for steals with impunity. Cunningham's energy, the improved mobile defense of Aldridge, and Camby's brilliance lock up the bigger guys while ensuring all the rotation help needed. With a little more experience and confidence this group is going to dominate that end of the floor. The rapidly descending other shoe, however, is that absent Miller the Blazers still have a devil of a time managing the ball, let alone the offense. Portland's second squad turned the ball over, drove aimlessly, found well-covered shooters for poor shots, and through offensive mismanagement allowed the Pistons to score easily before the killer defense could set up. Only a 7-0 run to end the period saved Portland's bacon, finishing a 20-17 period in favor of the Pistons. The Blazers still led by 8 going into the break.
The Blazers put everything together in the third period. The first unit adopted some of the second's defensive intensity. The Pistons had to work for almost every shot. When they missed the Blazers were all over the rebound, returning to the foundation which has brought them success. Once they had the ball via board-work or theft they were off to the races, engaging in a quick-hitting, confident offense that had the Pistons bewildered. LaMarcus Aldridge and later Rudy Fernandez deserve special credit, as they were the most active of all the Blazers on both ends, but particularly on offense. Though the Blazers ended up taking the quarter by only 3 points the writing was on the wall. The superior rebounding and nifty offense carried through into the fourth and Portland waltzed away with a 22-point win, having done almost everything better than their counterparts.
One wonders how this game would have gone without the torrid jumper parade early, but it was good to see the Blazers get away from the perimeter-only offense and start running and slashing. The real key was rebounding dominance, though. As long as the Blazers own the boards they make hard games winnable and winnable games easy. The energy level was sky-high tonight. Every single Blazer came to play. That was good to see.
Brandon Roy played but 21 minutes, hitting 4 of 7 shots for 11 points. He had 1 rebound and 1 assist, looking un-spry.
LaMarcus Aldridge seems to have adjusted to being the #1 option in the offense. If he can ever get a 4-foot running hook in the lane to fall he's going to score approximately one million points. As it was he went 8-19 (a ton of those misses coming in the lane) for 19 points. He also had 17 rebounds, 12 defensive. He was active on defense and did a nice job defending close in. This was serious New LaMarcus and it was good.
Nicolas Batum went 7-11 for 17 points in 29 minutes. He also looked like he was trying to pick up a little of Roy's slack and he did well with that aggressive outlook.
It's been a while since Andre Miller took a bad shot. I'm liking the Miller we've seen the last few games. He had a modest stat line with 8 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds but he fit seamlessly into the flow. I know it's weird because he's capable of standout nights, but I tend to think Portland's best games are the ones in which you don't notice Andre that much. That usually means the game is going well and he doesn't feel obligated to save it.
Marcus Camby had 8 rebounds and 6 assists, the latter of which no doubt made the Pistons cry, "No fair!" It's bad enough when everybody else is dancing an offensive ballet. When the center is dishing dimes, it's time to quit. Those 6 assist led the team, by the way.
The bench effort was heroic tonight. It started with Rudy Fernandez, who was fully engaged, energized, and looked darn good. He had 2 steals, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, and 13 points on 4-7 shooting, 3-5 from distance. He was contained yet all over the floor at the same time. It was one of the best all-around games I've seen Rudy play. Standing ovation for Mr. Fernandez.
Dante Cunningham was a ball of fire out there as well. He racked up 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 10 points on 5-6 shooting (mostly jumpers punctuated by a huge exclamation-point one-handed dunk on the run off of an Armon Johnson pass). Watch the Pistons struggle to score on the tape and you'll see Dante in the middle of it.
Wesley Matthews also looked chipper tonight. He didn't quite have the production of Fernandez but he provided nice defense and hit 3-8 shots for 9 points. Like Miller, some of his best moments come when he doesn't stand out.
You can look at Armon Johnson's 17 minutes in a couple of ways. To the positive, he was darn aggressive on the drive on a night when many Blazers shot outside. To the negative, he forced that drive and his shots. The Pistons quickly figured out to play against the layup and they blunted his edge. As the game slipped away from them Detroit forgot about AJ, though, and then he shone brightly. He ended up with 3-8 shots in 17 minutes with 4 assists and 2 turnovers. In the end the aggressiveness is to good. He just needs a little...tempering.
Sean Marks, Patrick Mills, and Luke Babbitt made like the three wise men, coming late to the party having followed the stars and bringing gifts of an assist, a turnover, and a personal foul.
Stats of the Night
- Guards Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon--Detroit's super-scorers--tally 4 and 8 respectively. Props to the "D".
- Blazers shoot 50% from the field, 43% from the arc.
- Blazers 45 rebounds, Detroit 33
- Blazers 26 assists on 40 made shots
- Blazers score 27 fast break points! On the other end Detroit manages only 26 points in the paint. When you score more on the run than the opponent does in the key you killed them.
Odd Notes and Links
See tonight's Jersey Contest scoreboard here and enter Friday's game here.
Detroit Bad Boys (wherein "Bad" had a new meaning tonight).