Note: The latest updates on Brandon Roy's knee can be found in this post.
Long Story Short: Both teams run hot and cold on both ends of the floor throughout the game but fantastic second half rebounding and amazing defense on Kobe Bryant keep the Blazers in position to walk away with a win after an improbable, Keystone Cops-esque ending that left both teams looking strictly Junior Varsity.
This game had so many ebbs and flows it felt like eight different games mashed into one. Here's the general drift.
The Blazers started out the game quite poorly. Their defense was suspect against everyone but Kobe. Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher scored at will. The L*kers got the ball inside easily, mostly off of unmolested passes. On the offensive end Andre Miller came out determined to take over the game. Unfortunately he wasn't hitting his shots or taking care of the ball. Blazer fans know that spells trouble because he's stubborn. L.A. got out of the gate 7-0 and then 11-2 before Nate McMillan was all but forced to call a timeout after a Miller travel, his second turnover and the Blazers' third in the last 90 seconds. After that Portland calmed down. Marcus Camby steadied the team on the boards and anchored the defense. L.A. still scored but not as frequently. Portland finally got some energy from the second unit, as the reserves helped push the tempo and moved their feet on defense. The Blazers manufactured enough points at the foul line and beyond the arc to keep the margin respectable, 23-20 L.A. after one.
Portland started the second period strong behind a flurry of scoring from Martell Webster. Webster had 7 points in the first 6 minutes of the quarter. His counterpart, Bryant, was held to a single three-pointer in that same span. Pau Gasol picked up some of the slack but the L*kers couldn't run away as most of their shots were coming deep. For the middle minutes of the quarter the Blazers somehow decided that shooting even deeper than L.A. was the way to go. At one point they attempted threes in four straight possessions. Predictably the offense tanked. Coincidentally (or not) those were the exact moments when L.A. was able to run and get the ball in for layups. But once again Portland pulled the fat out of the fire, this time behind a resurrected (and much more controlled) Andre Miller who either assisted on or scored Portland's final dozen points in the period, all of which came after the 4:00 mark. Closing the quarter strong the Blazers cut the lead to 1 at intermission, 45-46.
Portland received some bad news to start the second half as Brandon Roy was scratched from the game because of lingering effects from a knee-first collision with Ron Artest in the first half. Rudy Fernandez took Brandon's place and Artest immediately began trying every other form of collision he could think of with the much slighter Blazer sub. The L*kers made free with the scoring at first but soon a battered and bruised Rudy started throwing himself around, taking contact, accepting whistles, and limping away. At one point he had half the Blazer bench up waving arms as he took a charge from Artest. This seemed to inspire the rest of the team as the footwork and team rebounding solidified. One guy who didn't need inspiration was Camby who continued his manly work on the boards. When he wasn't in the play, however, the Blazers' interior defense had no answer for L.A.'s penetration. Portland's help defense was helpless all afternoon so when any L*ker got a step two points were all but assured. Layups, fouls, and dunks made up a good portion of the Los Angeles scoring in the period. But they didn't get put-backs off of offensive rebounds and they didn't hit jumpers. Portland rode Aldridge early in the period but Pau Gasol stepped up with some amazing defense as the quarter progressed so the Blazers were forced to look elsewhere. Miller, Batum, and Fernandez each chipped in a little and Portland again survived the period, trailing only by 2, 69-71.
To their extreme credit the Blazers manned up and locked the joint down as the fourth quarter began. L.A. got nothing. No clean shots, no rebounds...they scored exactly twice before the 3:21 mark of the period. Again the second unit energy contributed. Sadly the offensive execution didn't match the defensive passion. A Jerryd Bayless three and his lucky bank shot were all the Blazers could manage in the first half of the period. Portland led by 7 with 3:33 left. They went back and forth scoring with L.A. to remain up by 5 with 54 seconds left. That's when the game stopped and the circus began.
First of all Derek Fisher moved aside Martell Webster like a football player hitting a tackle dummy (which is illegal, by the way) allowing Kobe Bryant to hit a three-pointer that was legitimately 4 feet behind the line, maybe farther. Now 5 points was 2. On the ensuing possession Miller got trapped driving down the sideline by a springing Sasha Vujacic and got called for the charge not even making a viable offensive move. Aldridge attempted to jump in front of the ensuing drive by Bryant but was whistled for a block. Bryant hit the layup and the extra foul shot and now L.A. was up by 1 with 31 seconds remaining. The Blazers went to Aldridge but the L*kers read the play and stymied him high in the key. He tried spinning one way then had to reverse and put up a dipsy-doodle without traveling. He missed badly but Camby snuck in on the weak side and put the ball home. Portland leads by 1 with 12 seconds remaining.
As if that weren't enough, here's where it gets weird. Bryant naturally took the ball on the critical possession. He blew past Webster but was still well out on the court when Martell just hacked him. Portland was in the penalty which meant guaranteed free throws for Kobe to put the L*kers up. The ESPN commentators called it a bonehead play. The saving grace was stopping the clock with 6 seconds remaining instead of Kobe draining a buzzer-beater. At least Portland would get the ball back after Bryant hit the shots. But wait! HE MISSED BOTH! BOTH! Now Portland would get the ball ba...but wait! The Blazers BLEW THE FREE THROW REBOUND! Now Fisher had the ball deep on the court with only 4 seconds left! Well, at least there was little chance of him making a....but wait! The Blazers FOULED HIM! Andre Miller just closed and bulled right into him, giving the L*kers free throws to win it AGAIN! And Fisher never misses so you can just...but wait! Fisher, an ungodly-percentaged free-throw shooter, misses the first, making three in a row missed for L.A.! He made the second and Portland called a timeout. 4 seconds left, tie game. Well now the Blazers are going to have to make a tough shot to prevent this from going into overtime. And guess what? No Brandon Roy to do it. Rudy Fernandez inbounded to Martell Webster REALLY deep after the Blazers flashed everybody towards the ball with no success. Dang, it's going to be a tie game because there's no way that Martell can...but wait! Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant conspire to FOUL a DESPERATELY LEAPING Webster as he rises ON THE RUN for a HORRIBLE attempt at a three-point game winner which had about as much chance of going in as a cow has of giving pure, unfiltered Captain Morgan from her overflowing teat. Now Webster stepped to the line and (mostly) calmly sank three free throws to put the Blazers up by 3. Pau Gasol's three pointer hit the bracket and backboard at the horn and...but wait...but wait...but wait....the BLAZERS WIN 91-88. If there's ever been a more bonehead series of mistakes to end a game I've not seen it. But what matters is Portland finished ahead on the scoreboard.
After trailing badly for much of the game in field goal percentage the Blazers finally got their execution and defense working at the same time, finishing ahead of L.A. 45% to 42.5% from the floor...no mean accomplishment. Portland also went 6-15 from the arc when the L*kers couldn't buy a three and shot 87% from the charity stripe to L.A.'s 64%. Portland won the battle of the boards as well. L.A. dominated the turnover contest, scored more fast break points, and scored more in the paint. Basically it all worked out even until those wacky last few moments when Webster hit 3 free throws and the L*kers missed 3 of 4. The stats of the night were Kobe Bryant 8-23 from the floor for 20 points and Ron Artest 3-10 for 7. With their biggest two teeth pulled the L*kers just couldn't manufacture enough offense to win a game that they otherwise probably would have.
This game belonged to a bunch of different people for different reasons:
Marcus Camby probably earned the game ball for his 17 rebounds, 7 offensive, 4 blocks, and the only thing resembling help defense that the Blazers played all day. Without him Portland gets blown out of this game.
LaMarcus Aldridge provided 24 sorely-needed points and even showed some nice post presence, finishing with 11 rebounds overall. Portland needed those bulk points tonight and without Roy healthy, LMA was the only guy in position to give them.
Martell Webster and Nicolas Batum should split a second game ball for their defense on Kobe Bryant if nothing else. Webster was also the second-leading team scorer with 16 points, 6-6 from the line, 2-4 from distance.
After a rough start Andre Miller really, really got the offense rolling with the pass and the drive. It wasn't a dominating performance but he hit some critical layups when Portland was otherwise stalled and set up the shooters nicely. 15 points, 7 assists.
Rudy Fernandez was inspirational in his gritty hustle. He didn't take many shots but he hit 3-6, 2-4 from distance, and dished 6 assists, a couple of which were devastating. He stepped up when the team needed him.
Jerryd Bayless shot 3-5 and got 5 rebounds and 8 points in 16 minutes.
As advertised, this win means that Portland will play tomorrow night to either go ahead of or fall behind the Oklahoma City Thunder no matter what the Thunder do or don't do in their game tonight. A win tomorrow pulls the Blazers at least into a tie owning the tiebreaker with one game remaining. If you thought this game and the Dallas contest were huge, forget it. That will be the game...of...the...year. Enjoy the chance to anticipate it. And enjoy escaping with this win! Roy's knee aside, it's nice to have something bounce Portland's way for once!
Check out the impressions over at SilverScreenandRoll.