Long Story Short: The Blazers play Sacramento's game for the first half but behind a little chutzpah from Andre Miller and Marcus Camby, plus some scoring from their friends in the starting lineup, Portland batters the Kings enough to come away with the win.
Next time you get the chance, check into a really fancy hotel. We're not talking Marriott instead of Super 8 fancy. Head to a destination city and grab one of those $10,000 per night penthouse deals. When you get up there, check out the linens on the dining table. Then head to the bed and nuzzle the six-billion thread count sheets. Then head over to the bathroom and squeeze the ultra-high-end toilet paper. That should give you a decent idea of how soft the Blazers played for the first 2.5 quarters of this game. Oh, there were bright spots. LaMarcus Aldridge's offense started far closer to the bucket than usual. Portland dominated the boards early. But other than in isolated moments the Blazers didn't fight, didn't claw, didn't even drive that much. Nicolas Batum threw himself around a little. That was the exception in a game that might as well have been played by Beno Udrih and his Nine Clones. (I expect a fee if you want to use that for your band name, by the way.)
With both teams stroking jumpers and stayingout of each others' way the game remained tight during the first half. Portland led by 7 after the first quarter, courtesy of some early inside play and a run of threes midway through. Behind some atrocious play from Portland's bench, Sacramento came right back and took the second period by 8, leading by 1 at the break. Kings fans were elated. Blazer fans were nervous. Whenever Portland had gone inside, particularly to Aldridge, they prospered. Whenever they didn't they faltered. Would they learn the lesson in time? And would they ever bother defending the Kings?
The offensive end of the equation got changed early, courtesy of Andre Miller. He had three layup attempts and canned three short pull-ups in the first six minutes of the second half. Add in a little Nicolas Batum rim action and Portland was starting to prosper. But the Blazers still had no answer on "D". They weren't forcing turnovers. They weren't dealing with picks. Only Batum was racing around to get somebody's man or get his hands on the ball. As a result the Kings were hanging close no matter how many shots the Blazers hit. With about 4:00 left in the third Marcus Camby took matters into his own hands, not by blocking shots or even by defending better, but by knocking the crap out of Jason Thompson and then Carl Landry as they came into the lane. He didn't look angry. He didn't even put that much mustard on the hacks. Rather he walked slowly away looking remorseless and perfectly capable of doing the same as long as was necessary for both teams to get the message.
Predictably the intensity picked up after that. Now the Kings were motivated, getting inside and rebounding. The Blazers matched their pace. But this game favored Portland far more than the polite jump-shooting contest that had preceded it. Miller knocked people around on the drive. Portland banged and dove for balls. The only guy still playing outside was Brandon Roy. You couldn't complain much about that because he was hitting every shot he took, victimizing a Kings' defense that was suddenly worried about its doughnut-esque interior. Portland took the third period by 4 and then rode the starters home in the fourth, finishing the night up 11, 98-87.
You never got the sense that this game was hard or even perilous. It just lacked intensity until late. The stats reflect that. Both teams shot well (48% for Portland, 46% for Sacramento). The Blazers won the overall rebounding battle by 3 but the Kings got 3 more offensive boards. Points in the paint went to Portland by 2 (30-28), fast break points went to the Kings 11-5...the only huge difference was 21 points at the line for Portland to 12 for Sacramento but the actual free throw attempts were only off by 4. Sacramento just shot poorly at the line. For better or worse the Blazers played at the level and with the style of their opponents, depending on the veterans to shake them out of their trance again.
Another recurring theme was the dominance of the starters and the relative impotence of the bench. Four reserves played tonight for Portland and the only one who could claim to make an impact was Dante Cunningham, who ate Juwan Howard's minutes after the latter was stricked with food poisoning. Had Howard played tonight the bench might have been so generic-vanilla-ice-milk lousy that we'd have to devote a separate post to the issue. It's something to keep an eye on, particularly as you start contemplating playoff matchups.
Brandon Roy led the team with 24 points tonight, mostly via ace shooting from the perimeter, though he did go 7-8 from the line. He had 6 assists and 4 rebounds but 3 turnovers. Portland does need to remember that if the opponent throws on a zone 1-4 iso with Brandon is not the way to go as it quickly becomes 2 guys on Brandon and three playing the field preventing passes. It only happened once glaringly but that's enough.
LaMarcus Aldridge continues to look comfortable on offense even though his post moves are...non-standard. He had 21 points on 8-17 shooting. I've also been impressed with his passing. He got 3 assists tonight which isn't a huge number but he's become a subtle threat if you only play him for the shot. He had 9 rebounds as well.
Nicolas Batum was the one consistently active Blazer tonight. He had 3 blocks and 2 steals. It didn't hurt that he went 5-8 from the three-point arc as well. Add in a couple layups and his 21 points were really, really pretty. He's easily the most confident Blazer stroking from distance right now.
Andre Miller had a poor first half in almost every way (cough...transition defense...cough) but made up for it with an aggressive second half, ending up 9-15 for 23 points with 4 assists. He helped turn this game up a notch, for which we are thankful.
Marcus Camby had those wonderfully prominent fouls and also managed to gather 15 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal, and played some nice defense, particularly on the perimeter, particularly against the pick and roll. All of this on a night when he only took 2 shots. I'm guessing Nate loves this guy.
This marks the exact spot where the bottom drops out though. Dante Cunningham gives us something of a transition, shooting 2-4 with a rebound, 2 steals, and a statuesque blocked shot that made me go "YEAAAHHHH!" at my TV screen. He had 2 turnovers though. He got 16 minutes.
Rudy Fernandez played 19 minutes, shot 0-5, managed 3 rebounds and an assist. He was the only bench player without a turnover.
Martell Webster played 10 minutes, missed 2 shots, and had a turnover.
Jerryd Bayless played 14 minutes, hit 1 three and missed 2 others, had 2 assists and 3 turnovers.
In case you're counting that's 6 turnovers for the reserves in 59 combined minutes against 5 for the starters in 182 combined minutes.
At the end of the day the Blazers did what they had to. A win is a win. Getting the same type of win against the Clippers Wednesday would be fine with me, as long as it goes in the "W" column. One critical swing game down, two to go.
Check out the Sacramento point of view at SactownRoyalty.
I will be virus-fighting on Easter. I hope to see you clean and operational again on Monday.
Current Conference Standings
- L.A. Lakers 55-21 -
- Dallas Mavericks 50-27 5.5
- Denver Nuggets 50-27 5.5
- Utah Jazz 50-27 5.5
- Phoenix Suns 50-27 5.5
- OKC Thunder 47-28 7.5
- SA Spurs 46-29 8.5
- Portland TB's 47-30 8.5