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The Blazers work hard through most of the game but the opportunism and poise of the Lakers prove too much to overcome when the score ends up close in the fourth period. Defense tells the story on both ends through shooting percentage, rebounding, and in the closing minutes through turnovers as well.
This game started out disastrously for Portland. Behind Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, and eventually Lamar Odom L.A. scored repeatedly in the paint, controlled the glass, and looked like they were on their way to a slow, yet virtually unstoppable, demolishing of their guests. Only a slick effort by Nicolas Batum catching passes and converting saved the Blazers. Granted it wasn't all Batum, as all of his 10 points in the period came off of assists. Portland was milking him intentionally, especially since the Lakers tried to hide Derek Fisher on him, but still it took him playing his mind out to keep Portland close. Nothing else was falling anywhere. Nothing else even looked good. The tide started to turn when Artest--who plays like a sickly lump against most other teams but becomes a terror against Portland--picked up a second foul with 4:15 left. This spurred the Blazers to easier rebounds and interior play. Still the Lakers led 27-20 after one.
The Blazers started the second period slowly behind the I-honestly-never-want-to-see-them-together-again backcourt lineup of Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, and Patty Mills. L.A. pushed the lead to 9 behind two easies at the rim courtesy of unopposed Steve Blake assists. Then Batum re-entered the lineup and the game was on. Not only did Nicolas provide more sweet drives to the cup, he bolstered the defense, allowing the bigs to concentrate on rebounding at both ends. As soon as Portland controlled the boards they controlled the game. They maximized each offensive possession with passing and offensive rebounds. They whipped the ball around so fast that you could watch the Laker defense breaking in real time. Most times when you talk about slow rotations you mean a team is a couple of inches or a foot behind a shot. L.A. rotated so slowly you could actually see them not coming. The Blazers began to erode the lead and eroding turned to full-on erasing once Portland got its own defensive act together in the paint later in the quarter. Portland put a 28-17 hurting on L.A. in the second and walked into the locker room with a 4-point lead, 48-44.
The third period was a fierce, grind-it-out effort. Portland's offense ran through LaMarcus Aldridge's halfcourt sets. Wallace beasted up the boards. The Blazers gave the Lakers liberal doses of zone defense, which L.A. tried to solve by shooting deep. That didn't work for anyone on either side tonight. The Lakers scored but 6 points in the first 8:52 of the period and 4 of those points came from the free throw line. The Blazers weren't great shakes either with their grinding but they managed enough to push the lead to a full 9 during that same span. Sadly the Blazers would turn over the ball a couple times in those final minutes and L.A. would score on dunks or layups for three consecutive possessions. Portland still had a 7-point edge before Matt Barnes heaved a mid-court shot as the buzzer expired, changing 7 to 4 in a heartbeat. Blazers 66-62 entering the closing stanza.
Both teams continued the slow grind entering the fourth. Portland had a couple of huge advantages in Marcus Camby's rebounding and Aldridge's offense. L.A. scored but Portland answered and had the lead to 6 with six minutes remaining. That's when the night started to crumble. Portland weathered an odd turnover or two by Andre Miller, which would eventually get him pulled with 2:20 left. Then Marcus Camby's ankle gave out trying to rebound and he had to leave the game for the final 4 minutes, leaving Portland without its rebounding advantage and interior defense. The Lakers busted layup after layup. The Blazers didn't. Interesting tidbit: after 5:54 remaining in this game the Lakers neither attempted nor scored on a shot farther away than 17 feet from the hoop. The Blazers, on the other hand, attempted only 2 shots closer than 17 feet and didn't hit on either. Close offense beat far away offense (or no offense in the case of turnovers) and the Lakers crawled even, then ahead. Nicolas Batum would hit a last-hope three with 28 seconds left to pull the Blazers within 2 but Derek Fisher sealed it on the next possession with a jumper and Portland bowed, 80-84, after a hard-fought game.
If I told you Portland's backcourt players--starters and bench--would combine for a 9-40 evening from the field, 2-12 from the arc, draw only 6 foul shots between them, plus Gasol and Odom would go 14-26 and combine for 30 rebounds, plus Portland would shoot 38.6% from the field overall, we all would have predicted a 25-point blowout. That this game was in Portland's grasp late and ended up being decided by 4 was testament to the rebounding, hustle, and defense played by the Blazers plus a little amazing offense from Batum. The Blazers played as a team tonight. That team just broke down at critical junctures, not in cohesion as we've often seen in the past, but through individual errors that are mostly part of the game. This wasn't a bad loss even though it was a tough loss.
Another lesson in this to bank in case the Blazers ever become great: Never go neck and neck with the champs. They're the champs precisely because they beat other teams that don't close out games on them. Leave the door open and a team like L.A. knows how to walk through it without fanfare. They've been there 100 times before. You have to beat the men soundly to be the men. For all of the effort, the Blazers failed to do that tonight.
In the end Portland's offense blew apart Portland's good defense during those critical moments. Not being able to manage anything but TO's and long shots allowed the Lakers to run out and score before the Blazer defense was set. The Blazers were doing quite well defensively throughout but they didn't give themselves a chance to show it late.
Nicolas Batum had the game of the night with 25 points, 10-16 shooting, 4-9 from distance, plus 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. His most impressive offensive achievement was attacking the rim and finishing effortlessly when he got there. He looked like star material tonight...his ceiling unveiled yet again. Next game? Who knows. One thing that has been impressive about Batum pretty consistently over the last few games has been his standing up in the face of obvious attempts by opponents to rattle him physically. He takes a ton of hard blows by sturdier guys as he's running around the court. He's beginning to show you can't take him out of his game that way.
Gerald Wallace went 4-8 for 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals. He helped key that second half defense and win the board battle for the Blazers. He also took Ron Artest into a possible-critical technical foul situation with 45 seconds remaining and the Blazers down by 4. He and Artest tangled in the lane and Ron-Ron met somebody as big and tough as he. Artest didn't lit it and threw a couple of forearm shoves into Wallace's face. The whistles blew and the Blazers netted a point. More importantly Wallace was welcomed to the Lakers-Blazers rivalry and instilled a dose of toughness.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points on 8-17 shooting with 6 rebounds. It wasn't classic New Aldridge but L.A., like most teams, was pretty invested in making the Blazers go elsewhere as the game progressed. Despite the double- and triple-downs LMA still got his shots and points.
Marcus Camby made a HUGE difference in this game with 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. More on his ankle as the story develops.
Of the guards Andre Miller likely had the best game with 7 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes. That's kind of like saying the green cherries are the best thing in the fruitcake though. It's still sad that you have to eat it. He shot 3-14 from the field, missed some open opportunities for teammates in the fourth trying to get his own shot, and had the aforementioned turnovers. It wasn't a horrible game for Andre but it wasn't his best by far. Note that he wasn't guarded by a point guard for most of the game. This may have taken him out of the offense even as it let Batum in...a trade the Lakers were evidently willing to make.
Rudy Fernandez also had an impact with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in 28 minutes. At least he scored, albeit from 3-10 shooting overall and 2-7 from the arc. He is the new go-to-guy behind Miller now and is earning plenty of fourth-quarter minutes, even some that once belonged to Andre.
Brandon Roy went 3-12, 0-5 from distance, for 8 points, 2 rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 25 minutes. He wasn't sharp, especially shooting.
Wesley Matthews went an ultra-ugly 0-4, 0-2 from the arc, with 0 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist in 19 minutes. His game was way off tonight.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 6-25 from distance, 32-83 overall
- Blazers 17 offensive rebounds though
- Blazers 21 assists on 32 made buckets
- Lakers 19 fast break points, 54 points in the paint. In the end the easies killed Portland.
- Kobe Bryant 9-20 for 22 points. He wasn't effective at all despite the scoring...like a shadow of Kobe.
Odd Notes and Links