Media Row Report: Blazers 107, Nuggets 106

The Portland Trail Blazers pulled out a 107-106 overtime victory over the Denver Nuggets in Portland in a surreal game that featured a badly shorthanded team against a team whose roster was so mashed up after a blockbuster trade that the various parts provide a cognitive dissonance factor when scanning the box score.

This one was a toss-up from the start and it seemed fitting that three Blazers three-pointers in the final 39 seconds were only enough to push the game into overtime. The final triple, a Brandon Roy leaning prayer from the left wing, set off the Rose Garden in a big time way, causing deja vu flashbacks to his winner over the Houston Rockets and prompting a euphoric reaction from his teammates.

"Every time I make one, it always feels like the first time," Roy said. "I was just so excited and so blessed to make a shot like that. It never gets old, it always feels like the first time. I was excited and the fans cheering, teammates jumping up and down."

Roy, who had praised Kobe Bryant's clutch play on Wednesday night, was happy to find himself in that same situation tonight. "I wanted to take the last shot against the Lakers," Roy admitted. "I'm just competitive, but at the same time we have a lot of talented players on this team. If I get my shot at it then I want to take it with confidence ... It felt good. Just going through so much, it's always good to make a shot like that. It's good for my confidence."  

Obscured by Roy's memorable shot -- which was all the more amazing because it came in just his second game back after months away from the court due to knee surgery -- was Portland's offensive balance that came before and after it. 

The big question during Roy's return form injury has been: How will he fit back in? Tonight, there was some ball-stopping, particularly in the first half, but down the stretch the Blazers were able to capitalize on his shot-making and ability to collapse a defense while still mixing in other options, including LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller. The result was an unpredictable and varied attack that seemed to have Denver on its heels. Five Blazers finished in double figures: Aldridge led the way with 24, Miller had 18, Rudy Fernandez had 18 in a rare start and Wesley Matthews had 16. Roy finished with 18 off the bench.

It wasn't just balance in points, it was balance in offensive sets too. In the last six minutes of the fourth quarter and the five minutes of overtime, we saw Aldridge work in isolation, we saw Wesley Matthews scrap in a putback, we saw a Miller finish near the hoop off a dish from Batum, we saw a driving finish by Miller followed by another from Roy, we saw both Roy and Fernandez hit from deep, we saw Roy drive-and-dish to Matthews for a wide-open three, we saw Aldridge score again and then later get fouled in isolation, cashing in both free throws to provide the winning margin. That's a heck of an 11 minutes for the Blazers and a far cry from the 1-4 blandness that was so often derided in previous seasons.

Attacking, aggressive, movement, getting to the free throw line. A lot to like. None of it was lost on either Roy or McMillan. 

"We did have a few more options [tonight]." McMillan told me. "We went to Miller who we felt had a match-up. L.A. against Nene. And then we finally went to Brandon. We were looking for matchups we could take advantage of. Tonight we did have more options with Rudy and Wesley spreading the floor. I thought LaMarcus, Brandon and Miller did a good job of making decisions, whether they had a match-up or kicking the ball out."

McMillan, of course, has a trust factor in these players that he might not have had in previous years because they've now had months to get their late-game reps in during Roy's absence. Roy told me he noticed a difference playing with his teammates now that they have more game-on-the-line seasoning. 

"The biggest thing I'm noticing is that - I'm not in full shape yet - but guys are playing at such a high level and are so aggressive that teams are guarding me one-on-one," Roy told me. "And I haven't really been guarded like this since I was a rookie. Those guys have become threats and because of that it's hard for teams to decide what they want to do. It's giving me some looks, I'm seeing them now but I can't quite do it because I'm trying to get my legs. We're going to get better, the more conditioning I get, the more game minutes I get, it's going to definitely help us. These guys -- Wesley, Nic, Rudy, making big shots."

He then stopped for a second to pay a few compliments to his big man, the only Blazer to play tonight that can be properly regarded as a true power forward or center. "L.A. -- He's playing like ... no, he is an All-Star," Roy said. "He's an All-NBA performer. Him playing like that, it's making it easy on me."
 
McMillan said the multi-pronged late game approach bodes well for the playoffs too. "You need options. You need options. It's good to have those options down the stretch."

Random Game Notes
  • Blazers GM Rich Cho gives Gerald Wallace his new jersey.
  • Who here is familiar with The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Is this what he had in mind?
  • Mike Acker over at Rip City Project is a great writer, but don't sleep on his photography skills. Check out this action shot of James Collier hitting a halfcourt shot with a one-handed fling to win a Toyota Tundra. That is a heck of a photo and he shot it from the 200 level.
  • A couple nice shots of Blazers fans wishing Joel Przybilla well at his airport departure.
  • Aldridge's block on J.R. Smith was ridiculous.
  • Batum had two critical open court steals to keep Portland within striking distance in the second half.
  • Roy on exceeding his allotted 15 minutes of playing time by playing 25 minutes: "I told coach if I have to go over mine, then let's do it ... I feel good. The biggest thing is just conditioning. I was telling our trainer, 'Let's try to build on these games. Let's not try to keep it at a set amount of minutes.' I want to try to build because that's the only way you can gain some momentum. But I thought 24 or 25 minutes was a good mark tonight. I'll sit down with coach tomorrow and see how I feel and we'll come up with a gameplan for Sunday."
  • Roy said the doctors are scheduled to re-evaluate his recovery plan and the limits on his playing time next week. (That doesn't necessarily mean anything is going to change, just that they'll be looking at everything based on his progress.)
  • In a post-game interview at center court with Mike Barrett, Gerald Wallace said: "That gave me the itch, I wanted to be out there with them."
  • Luke Babbitt should shave racing stripes into his bowl cut to improve his lateral quickness.
  • The Sean Marks highlight of the night unfortunately came when he got waived without ever playing for Charlotte despite the fact that the Bobcats had to waive a player to create a roster spot to accept him in the Gerald Wallace trade. Sad, but incredible. 
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

Initial thoughts
We were due to win an overtime game. All of the things we talked about this morning, as far as losing the last game to the Lakers. I thought our guys did that tonight, we got stops, offensively the execution was good. Down six with a little over a minute, we hung in there, we made plays down the stretch, and having to win it in overtime. Making plays, getting stops, did the things we needed to do.
Big win 
It's a great win for us, it really is. Our guys tonight -- LaMarcus continues to be just amazing. Playing 50 minutes against big Nene, establishing that paint for us. I thought we had balanced scoring tonight, moving the ball, Andre, all of our guards. We needed our guys to rebound the ball. We won the boards tonight, Dre with 9, LaMarcus with 14, Rudy and Wesley with 6 and 7, everybody got in there and did the things we needed to do. Brandon played over his minutes, so I know I'll be hearing from Dr. Roberts tomorrow. But just a great effort by the team, effort by the guys.
Brandon's shot to force overtime
Basically we were looking for a slip for Rudy. If we didn't have Rudy, who had just knocked down a three, if we didn't have Rudy I wanted Brandon to go and get us something good and he did. Had Nene on him, I think, and was able to raise up and shoot it over the top and knock down a big shot to take us into overtime.
Brandon's performance so soon after coming back
We have to keep his minutes under 15. We really have to follow that. Tonight, was really different in the sense that only having nine guys, Nic's ankle was bothering him, basically not many options on the bench tonight. But we've got to be slow with bringing him back, he did some good things tonight, two of his assists tonight were in the fourth quarter which led to six points. So good job of spacing the floor and moving the ball.
How Wallace fits into lineup
I'll talk to him tomorrow and get a feel for what he's thinking and what I envision or how I envision playing him. I think from the start we'll bring him off the bench and look to make him a focal point coming off the bench and then we'll go from there. Right now, we'll bring him off the bench but who knows. If Nic is not able to go at the small forward spot, if Camby is able to go, then we may have to look into putting him in that lineup. But until he learns the system and some of the things we want to do, we want to be slow with him and bring him off the bench.
More late-game options
We did have a few more options. We went to Miller who we felt had a match-up. L.A. against Nene. And then we finally went to Brandon. We were looking for matchups we could take advantage of. Tonight we did have more options with Rudy and Wesley spreading the floor I thought LaMarcus, Brandon and Miller did a good job of making decisions, whether they had a match-up or kicking the ball out.
Late game options important for playoffs
No question. You need options. You need options. It's good to have those options down the stretch.
--- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter
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