In a Nutshell
The Blazers ride good performances by their main starters--rebounding, running, and attacking where the Jazz can't stop them--to out-Jazz the Jazz and walk away with a relatively easy victory.
Portland's plan out of the gate was a solid and familiar one: run out, look for the early shot, but if it's not there go to LaMarcus Aldridge and let him spin around relatively weak Utah frontcourt defenders for short-range hoops. The Blazers looked so good executing in the first period that, were you to cover both sets of uniforms, you might guess that the Blazers were the Jazz and vice-versa. As the period progressed Portland pasted cut after cut on Utah's flat-footed defenders, with both Aldridge and Cunningham burning the Jazz down the lane for quick passes and hoops. Aldridge was also active on defense, helping out in the paint with alacrity. Ever since he's been here we've talked about LMA's defensive strength being off the ball where mobility is prized and quick-twitch doesn't matter. He lived it out early in this game. The Blazers built a 21-13 lead by the 4:30 mark in the period and looked to be cruising. Then, in another familiar story, Portland's second unit hit the floor. The defense immediately died. The Jazz started hitting open shots, scoring in the paint, and parading to the foul line. The Blazers also scored thanks to Aldridge and Andre Miller, but a 2/3 court banked heave by Deron Williams at the buzzer brought Utah to within 4 as the period closed. 29-25 Portland was still a good result, but not indicative of the Blazers' play in the period.
The second period started with more second unit. Now the offense died. Portland would not hit a field goal for the first 6 minutes of the quarter, scoring only 2 points in that span. Fortunately the Jazz reserves were nearly as incompetent, else Portland would have been working uphill the rest of this game. Once the starters returned the ship righted. The Blazers again mixed paint points and free throws with a few open jumpers. Only turnovers marred the stretch, but they didn't end up costing too much. When the halftime horn sounded Portland had increased its lead by 1, 46-41.
The Blazers played professional ball in the third period, getting after the game immediately and looking to put Utah away. They again ran out behind great rebounding. On both ends of the court the looked two feet taller than their Jazz counterparts. Utah couldn't get inside without getting hassled or outright stripped. Utah couldn't get a rebound. They settled for longer and better-covered jumpers, shut out of the interior entirely. The Jazz made a run late in the third but a couple great Wesley Matthews buckets shut them down. The Blazers scored 33 in the period to Utah's 27, leading by 11 heading into the fourth...a period in which the two teams played to a standstill. That ended up plenty good enough and the Blazers walked away with a 100-89 victory.
Continuity is making up for talent as this particular incarnation of the Blazers grows together. They've got some chops defensively between Matthews, Marcus Camby, and Nicolas Batum. Not having to take the ball out of the enemy net every play makes a quicker tempo possible and makes the whole game look smoother. They're also looking for each other on offense, seemingly delighting in a great pass as much as a made shot. We're clearly seeing the best point-guard play from Andre Miller than he's evidenced as a Blazer. Everything he does looks in time with the game. Even his mistakes, which are relatively few nowadays, come off of positive attempts instead of confusion. Combine that with the best play of Aldridge's and Matthews' careers and you have some nice outings. Portland's vulnerability right now lies solely in the prospect of a good defense taking away a leg of the offense, likely causing the whole to crumble from imbalance. Contrast that with a season ago when defenses couldn't take away everything but the Blazers couldn't get into many of their multiple options smoothly either. You can debate on which is better. If only there were a way to combine the two the Blazers would be cooking with gas.
LaMarcus Aldridge beasted out for 27 points on 10-18 shooting plus 7-8 free throws. The percentage was good, the extra points were good, the offense was good. The boxscore says 3 rebounds but ignore that tonight. LMA was all over the place on defense. Rebounding was somebody else's job.
Wes Money led the team with 30 on 9-16 shooting, 4-10 from distance, 8-9 from the line. Hitting threes and free throws are good for him and the Blazers. He also had 4 steals, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists...just the kind of game you want to see from him. It seems like every time he scores 20 with some extra stats the Blazers win easily. I'm not sure yet if that's cause or symptom, but I'll take it.
Andre Miller had 10 assists plus 16 points on 6-11 shooting and 4-5 free throws. He pretty much matched Deron Williams' contributions and looked awesome doing so. When you read "continuity" above, think heavy doses of Miller.
Why didn't the rest of the Blazers have good rebounding numbers? A. The Jazz only missed 32 shots tonight. B. Marcus Camby grabbed 17 of those rebounds, leaving just 15 to be split between 10 other players. Camby had 20 boards overall plus 2 steals, 2 blocks, and 5 assists. That line would do Bill Walton proud.
Nicolas Batum played 34 minutes and scored 9. The defense was good. He didn't get much of a look on offense.
Rudy Fernandez was the most significant bench player. He wasn't as sharp as he has been the last couple games but he still had his moments. The whole second unit defense collapsed into oblivion for large stretches of their tenure and Rudy's defensive game works best when everybody else is solid and he can be a free roamer. He played 22 minutes and scored 8 points.
Slowly but surely the Patty Mills thing appears to be not working so well. He again shot an abysmal 1-7 in 15 minutes while notching 2 assists. You can't fault his effort or drive, but something needs to be reset in his game.
The rest of the bench was just place-holding so the starters could get some rest. Every starter topped 30 minutes tonight so we didn't see much of the reserves and what we did looked sloppy.
Stats of the Night
- Portland actually shoots worse than Utah, 48.4% to 45.9%. The Blazers got up 12 more shots, hit 4 more field goals, and notched an extra three for the difference. It was an energy-hustle thing more than a shooting thing tonight.
- The Blazers got those extra shots in part because they committed only 9 turnovers while forcing the Jazz into 18.
Odd Notes and Links