In one of the better renditions of a Summer League game that you're likely to see this year, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Golden State Warriors, 96-95, in the Rose Garden Saturday night, as a Monta Ellis potential game-winning jumper rimmed out in the closing seconds.
Now I see Timbo beat me to that lede but there really isn't any other way to put it. The Blazers played without so many rotation players tonight it's not even worth listing them all. Instead, three guys who do normally play -- Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge -- were surrounded by two guys who usually play (Dante Cunningham and Rudy Fernandez), a guy who is starting to play regularly (Patty Mills), two guys who are just hilarious to watch play for all the wrong reasons (Sean Marks and Luke Babbitt) and poor Armon Johnson, who occasionally gets let out of the doghouse for a breather.
The injury list and what remained of his roster caused Blazers coach Nate McMillan to endorse his prescription sleep aid of choice after the game. "Ambien has been a friend for the last week or so," McMillan said. Nervous laughter ensued.
Somehow, out of that mess, all five mashed-up starters, plus Mills, managed to score in double figures, thanks in no small part to the Warriors, who lived up to their reputation as a talent-deficient, effort-deficient defensive unit. The Blazers got out in transition for the second night in a row, which made things easier, and Fernandez showed up again, hitting for 15 points on just 12 shots in 38 minutes, which is also a huge bonus.
Portland won this game, though, because Golden State really struggled to get into its offense early in the game. Surprise, surprise, they were playing without their starting point guard, Stephen Curry, who would have run wild in an otherwise flat first quarter. The game petered along without much unusual excitement either direction, until a series of careless Portland mistakes (one of which left Matthews pretty ticked off with himself after the game) and a missed free throw by LaMarcus Aldridge with just over a minute to go let Golden State back into what seemed like a closed contest.
The Warriors set up their final play for Ellis -- who led his team with 26 points -- which found him isolated near the top of the key. His jumper, contested by Aldridge, rimmed out, and Portland secured the rebound and win. "A chance, what you want on the road. The captain of your team with a chance, the ball in his hands, to make a play with a jumper or at the rim. He had it right there, It was lined up, but it didn't go in, it didn't bounce our way tonight," Warriors coach Keith Smart said. "We thought it was in."
While Smart was upbeat in defeat, happy to see a late comeback from his group, McMillan was relieved and pleased to witness two teaching points demonstrated on that final possession. "I thought [Aldridge] had a great effort contesting Ellis' shot at the end. Rudy got a box out, and rebounded the ball. Two things that we hadn't done a good job of all game long, getting out to the shooters and rebounding the ball, we did that at the end."
This game, more than most, was devoid of storylines. Blazers forward Dante Cunningham netted a season-high 13 points after being tapped to replace injured center Marcus Camby in the starting lineup, and Mills tallied a career-high 12 points in nearly 20 minutes off the bench. But their performances, against Lou Amundson and Acie Law respectively, are difficult to get too excited about.
Because so many players were out injured, Portland's win felt like a bit of a breather. With games against Utah, Denver and Utah again next week, it served as a much needed respite from what has been a marathon month, with 11 games in 18 days so far.
Leave the pills in the bottle tonight, coach. You can sleep a bit easier, the shot rimmed out.
Random Game Note
- Sean Marks is the most entertaining player in the NBA. That dunk. The pass 27 feet wide out of bounds. The pump faked corner three fooling no one. He will endure past this season. In two or three or 15 years, you'll be saying, "Remember Sean Marks?"
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
We needed, we had to do the things to win the game. It comes down to one play. It's amazing to play 48 or 47 minutes and it comes down to 8 seconds. We needed to make a stop and we did. I thought L.A. had a great effort contesting Ellis' shot at the end. Rudy got a box out, and rebounded the ball. Two things that we hadn't done a good job of all game long, getting out to the shooters and rebounding the ball, we did that at the end.
We thought it was good ball movement throughout with this group. I think we have 15 assists at the half. The movement was good. We felt like we would make them defend, from side to side, we would get open looks and guys did that. Good ball movement leads to open shots and shots in rhythm and we got that tonight.
Rudy as a playmaker
Well, he's doing a good job of attacking. When he gets to the paint there are times when we can get to the rim but he sees the floor very well. The aggressive move to the basket sets up everything. I've often said that Rudy is a guy that does need minutes because he likes to get into a flow. He doesn't like the pressure of having to come in and be a scorer, he needs time to get into a rhythm. He likes to play team basketball, which is what you want. With the short minutes, sometimes you don't get a chance to see that so he's getting those minutes now and he's doing a good job.
Who is the coach that hasn't been playing him major minutes?
He's playing behind an all star.
Don't say injury. We'll look at the guys tomorrow. And Monday morning I'll get more information as far as how all of our guys, Nic, Camby and Joel feel.
Build off this win because you pulled together after injuries?
As I talked to the team before the game, with everything that has happened as far as the injuries, there's a game to be played and we need to win this game. The guys that are on the floor, you've got to do the things that the guys who are not here would need to do, which is play team basketball and outwork this team. Play together, and they did that. Defensively I thought we did a nice job of trying to contain their penetration. We just didn't rebound the ball the first half. We did a better job the second half of rebounding the ball and then we got good ball movement on the offensive end of the floor. They played as a team, good connection on both ends of the floor.
Learned about this team without Brandon?
This is a situation, deal with it. What do you expect? Guys getting opportunities playing together. When guys are injured, they're not available, that gives someone else an opportunity and everybody has to do their part. It's not on one guy, it's on everybody. And I think they've done that. Rudy has stepped in and done a nice job. Patty has stepped in and played very well. We're not going to sit here and say we don't need Brandon Roy. Brandon is a part of this team, a big part of this team, but these guys have stepped up when given the opportunity.
Andre Miller's steal at end of first half
It was a smart play on his part because we had a foul to give. Basically, whenever you have a foul to give, as opposed to just fouling a guy, go for the steal. He executed that perfectly. If you don't get it, you foul him. He was able to get it, timed it perfectly, surprised Ellis, great steal, great steal.
Minutes split between Miller/Mills
Patty can give us these type of minutes it would be good because now Dre is fresh going down the stretch. Patty has given us a tempo that has been pretty good. We're pushing the ball, spreading the floor, running some pick and roll sets, he's knocking down shots and finding guys. The tempo changes when he is in the game, which is what we've been looking for in that second group.
All the stuff that has gone on give you heartburn?
Well I need some help to go to sleep. Let's put it that way. Ambien has been a friend for the last week or so.
We are just throwing him in the fire. He came out, he was aggressive, he had some looks, he was scrapping. He will probably want to go away again because he got more minutes tonight than he did when he was here. We needed him to put him out there. He missed some shots but we knew he would be aggressive and bought us some time which was good.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter