In a Nutshell
The Blazers do a ton of things right, hanging tough with Boston's superb shooting and defense via opportunistic points off of turnovers, offensive rebounds, and hustle. Portland keeps the score low and the margin tight through three quarters, boxing in the Celtics heading into the fourth, just as planned. Then the cornered animal rips Portland's face off.
Oh what a difference a game makes. The lackadaisical Portland team that strolled through Monday's loss to the Sacramento Kings was not in evidence early in this game. Instead Blazer fans were treated to a physical, mobile, attacking (dare we say scrappy?) team. Portland trapped off of made buckets to force Boston out of its offense. The Blazers nabbed steals and offensive rebounds. Joel Przybilla stared down and/or stood over anybody who so much as brushed him. It was like the Celtics came to the game in suits and the Blazers came in pinkie rings and pinstripes. Portland didn't so much score points against Boston as extort points out of them. The Celtics were around 50% for the period and the Blazers were in the high 30's but Portland took so many more shots it almost didn't matter. A couple Paul Pierce shots kept the Celtics ahead 21-18 after one. Score low, margin low...recipe for beating the Celtics intact.
Naturally Blazers fans held their breath as the second unit took over. On the intimidation scale Portland's reserves fall somewhere between Care Bears and Caroline Ingalls. Apparently their pre-game film tonight consisted solely of Sopranos episodes. Rudy Fernandez was the jewel thief, running around and nabbing everything in sight. Patty Mills was the driver, zooming through the lane and putting up shots. Przybilla continued to provide the muscle. The second unit kept the tempo high and the shots plentiful and actually outplayed Boston's reserves...no mean feat. The Celtics put their starters back in to finish the half, once again relying on Paul Pierce to save them, which he did with an array of jumpers. When the smoke cleared Boston led 41-37 at the half. Score low, margin low...recipe for beating the Celtics intact.
Nicolas Batum banged knees with Rajon Rondo in the second period (injury update here) so Rudy Fernandez started the third in his place. He played his Steve Buscemi role to the hilt, sneaking in and robbing Boston blind before they noticed him, then darting away. The Blazers still set physical picks and got in their share of shoves too. It got to the point where I was cheering every time a Celtics player got chucked even more than I was cheering Portland's made hoops. This was made easier by a Blazer offense that can only be described as clunky. As had been true the entire game, Portland was scoring in the paint or not at all...mostly not at all. The difference in the third was a general lack of continuity as Boston bore down. You could tell the Celtics were beginning to take this game more seriously. Still Portland maintained composure and made the opponent work for their points. The problem with the grinding strategy, though, is that small leaks can turn into big problems. Boston had a flurry between 6:20 and 3:00 of the third wherein Ray Allen hit a couple threes and a layup, interspersed with a couple other Boston deuces. That three minutes of fast and free action was enough to counteract Portland's ugliness-based plan. Still, Boston only led by 6, 64-58, heading into the final period. Score very low, margin pretty low...recipe for beating the Celtics mostly intact!
And that's when we saw Sonny at the Toll Booth.
Boston decided to stop messing around in the fourth. They started by beating Portland down on the defensive end. And we're talking gang-kicking-on-the-ground style here. This was Portland's scoring production up until 3:04 of the fourth period: Luke Babbitt makes a layup, Andre Miller makes a layup, Andre Miller makes a free throw. Yeah, that's all. You might notice some names missing there...namely all of them. It's not like the Celts set the world on fire with their own offense but they had equaled those 5 points in the first three minutes of the period, leaving them 6 extra ones in which to build a margin before Portland's offense switched on again. When the rest of the guys did show up it was too late, as if they thought the meeting was in Manhattan but it was really in New Jersey. The Caddies peeled around the corner to find the deed already done. The Blazers tried gamely to get back in it but, rattled, they gave up turnovers and offensive rebounds, sealing their fate. The Green Mafia walked with an 88-78 victory. Score low, margin never overcome...recipe for beating the Celtics failed.
Even with the loss, this was a semi-brilliant game in which each team played to its strengths. The Celtics were efficient. The Blazers couldn't begin to match them in that department so they emphasized opportunism. Often you have a clash of styles show up on paper that doesn't play out on the court. Not so tonight. The differences were two:
1. Boston has a championship pedigree, knowing who they are and how to win.
2. Boston had more players than Portland.
Though Kevin Garnett only scored 10 he was a nightmare for the Blazers with 9 rebounds and 9 assists (out of Boston's total of 21). He showed how to dominate a game without shooting. On the other hand Portland's pressing and constant buzzing kept Rajon Rondo out of the game. He finished with 11 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds but also had 6 turnovers. Accounting for Rondo and not accounting for Garnett left the Blazers vulnerable to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen who scored enough (17 and 18 respectively) to foil Portland's low-score scheme.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 8 offensive rebounds and 16 total. He was as opportunistic as any of the guards. Unfortunately he was the one guy the Blazers needed a little "pretty" and "dominant" from, to balance everybody else's opportunism. 17 points on 8-20 shooting is decent, but it wasn't enough.
Andre Miller scored 14 on 6-15 shooting with 5 rebounds and 7 assists. He had trouble finding seams in Boston's defense and the recipients of his passes had trouble converting. It wasn't a bad night for Andre but as with Aldridge, it just wasn't enough.
Rudy Fernandez made a big impact on this game despite his 4-11 shooting for 11 points. He had 5 assists and 3 steals...the most opportunistic of them all. (I promise that's the last time I use that word tonight.) Unfortunately he was also the culprit in some of Portland's defensive breakdowns that led to those critical Boston flurries. But if the Blazers were to have a chance tonight, Rudy had to play with abandon, and he did.
Joel Przybilla had 4 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes. He played Luca Brasi tonight, muscling his way through everybody and wishing that LaMarcus Aldridge's first child be a masculine child.
Wesley Matthews' gun got jammed tonight. He shot 4-15 for 12 points. Shrugging, he just turned it into a club, netting 7 rebounds and 2 steals. If he shoots 45%, though, the Blazers have a chance for a buzzer-beater.
Dante Cunningham had a hard time handling any Celtic on defense tonight BUT gave it his all with 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 9 points in 32 minutes. He's starting to come back to the Dante we're used to seeing.
Patty Mills might as well have been doing a drive-by tonight, spraying 10 shots in 14 minutes. He missed 7 of those 10, missing all 3 of his threes, but still ended up with 7 points and 3 rebounds. Hard to fault him for being aggressive on a night when the Blazers needed every bucket they could muster.
Young Henry Hill Luke Babbitt played 9 minutes. He's still not ready.
Stats of the Night
- The Law ended up coming down on the Blazers for their thuggery, as Boston attempted 33 free throws to Portland's 13. This resulted in a -15 point margin at the line. It was worth it though. Regret nothing.
- Portland 19 offensive rebounds.
- Portland 13 steals for 21 Boston turnovers.
- Portland 36.7% shooting overall , 25% from the arc, 61.5% from the foul line.
Odd Notes and Links
CelticsBlog will let you know how winning an ugly game felt.