Well, well, well...look who's back from the dead. Hopefully it's not a one-night-only engagement.
In a Nutshell
The Blazers finally get help from their guard corps as Wesley Matthews, Andre Miller, and Brandon Roy join LaMarcus Aldridge in the double-digit scoring column, spreading the floor and keeping pressure on the Dallas defense. Turnovers create enough extra opportunities for Portland to overcome near deadlocked offenses. The Blazers also hustle hard in the latter stages of the game, reversing the trend from Dallas.
Portland rode the obvious wave of emotion at the outset of this game, blasting off to a 10-2 lead that would hold through the first four minutes. The opening stretch included 2 forced turnovers and 2 Wesley Matthews threes. Both would become a theme for the quarter. The Mavericks would eventually work the score back by attacking the paint but Matthews just kept slapping them from afar with triples. He'd hit 4 in the period plus 4 on other shots for 16 points by the time the horn sounded. Dallas wasn't going to counter THAT entirely. They did make an impressive run behind Jason Terry who scored 10 aggressive points himself. (Terry drives harder and fouls harder than any Blazer. You'd think Portland would pick up on this.) But 6 turnovers in the period shanghaied their comeback attempt. The Blazers led 28-23 at the end of one.
Things got sketchy in the middle periods of this game. The tempo slowed, turnovers ceased, and Dallas ground down the Blazers. Portland's slower attack resulted in a paucity of points at the start of the second. Meanwhile Dallas got 2 threes, 2 free throws, and 2 Nowitzki hits, turning a 5-point deficit to a 5-point lead by the time the clock hit 8:45 in the second period. A couple of old hands saved Portland's bacon as Brandon Roy and Andre Miller hit jumpers and drove the lane respectively. Roy looked like he wanted to be instant offense man off the bench. Miller simply lit up when he saw J.J. Barea take the court. Combined they poured in 12 points in four and a half minutes, countering the Maverick tide. When the Mavs started missing jumpers mid-quarter the Blazers surged ahead again. A couple of Matthews drives near the end of the period ensured that Portland would walk into the locker room with a lead, albeit a small one, 54-52.
Both teams continued to grind through the third. Jason Terry continued to torch the nets in the period and Shawn Marion finally got on track from mid-range. Those two made up for Nowitzki missing shots and turning over the ball, the result of concentrated Portland defense from all angles. Dallas packed in the defense on the other end but Portland's guards continued to produce, first Miller then Matthews and finally Roy again. Three scorers held off two and Portland escaped with a three point lead, 75-72.
As in both previous games, this one would come down to the fourth period. To this point the script actually looked similar to the defeats in Dallas. One wondered if the Mavericks were toying with the Blazers, taking Portland's best shot, hanging close, then accelerating away at the end. The Blazers would have to prove themselves in order to win.
Though the first three quarters had belonged to the Blazer guards, the fourth period was all about the forwards. Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum started out the period hot, scoring 7 and 5 in the first four minutes. The nice thing about those two getting their games rolling? It carried over to the defensive end as well, a phenomenon absent the Blazer backcourt scorers outside of Matthews. For the first 4-5 minutes of the fourth Dallas could only muster contested jumpers. Having settled for just a Terry three and Marion layup in that stretch they decided to go to their standby and feed Dirk. The Blazers were having none of it. They fronted a little, doubled with smalls when they got switched into a bad matchup, and moved their feet enough to stay out of foul difficulty. When Nowitzki did go to the line his free throws betrayed him, helping out Portland's cause. Helping out the cause even more, the Blazers limited the Mavs to a single shot. Portland also turned the table by making efficient use of screens on the offensive end, making the Mavericks look a little lost defensively for a change. Portland was able to open up a 91-82 lead with 5:22 left. They'd need every bit of it as the Mavericks made one more run, mostly from the line with a couple jumpers thrown in. Portland tightened up (in the bad way) on offense, stalling the clock but missing the potential money finishes. Dallas had the lead down to 5 when Nowitzki hit with 42 seconds left, then an incredibly blown defensive coverage left Jason Kidd alone at the arc with 12 remaining. His toe was right against the line and the predictable swish was called a 2 and confirmed on a fuzzy replay still-shot. Another shot after the call was cemented showed it was probably a three. Portland led by 3 with an asterisk with 12 left. Fortunately we were spared Dallas fans screaming bloody murder when Andre Miller hit 2 of 2 free throws with 9 seconds left to put the game out of reach. Blazers win by 5, 97-92.
The killer aggression at the outset of the first and fourth periods was nice to see. Still, the Blazers played pretty darn well and yet managed to leave this game in doubt. Part of that is Dallas being good but part of it is also Portland still not grasping the concept of "dominate 'til they're done". No matter how well the Blazers play Dallas is always there to knock on the door again. That's a serious disadvantage. One of these should-win home games for Portland is going to get pushed to an overtime coin flip and then all bets are off. When the season's on the line you want to avoid walking the precarious edge. They've found their aggression. Let's see if they can sustain it.
Brandon Roy was a huge development in this game. He looked like he FINALLY said, "Awww...forget it. I'm just going to score out here." Suddenly the lift was there, some of the moves were there, and the confidence was back. Anyone with objections to Roy leaving his conscience on the pines and playing that point-a-minute scorer role for the 20 minutes he's out there raise your hand now. Patty Mills, put your hand back down. You don't count. Aggressive Roy beats the stuffing out of amorphous Roy. The Blazers needed his points too.
The Blazers started jumping Dallas picks early...infinitely preferable to the whole "run under the pick and then get confused who's picking up the dribbler and get burned by a jumper" scheme they were employing before. I don't think you can make a whole series out of dealing with screens that aggressively but at least the aggression did SOMETHING.
Portland's three-pointers were qualitatively different than the variety they got in Dallas. In Games 1 and 2 the Blazers were dribbling into them for lack of anything better to do, often against the clock, often guarded. Here Portland got the ball down the floor quickly, didn't let the defense set, created pressure inside (usually with Aldridge), and then whipped the ball past a confused and collapsing defense for a wide-open, gotta-shoot-it-money look. Matthews was brilliant on the catch and shoot. The Blazers overall were brilliant (57%) from the arc.
I'm going to say it again: the Blazers should foul and drive as hard as Jason Terry fouls and drives.
Wesley Matthews scored 22 points in the first half, a team-high 25 for the game. He went 8-12 from the field, 4-6 from the arc, 5-6 from the foul line. Even better, the uptick in his offense spurred some truly great defense. This was the Best Wes, a two-way player who really disturbed the Mavericks and bent the game in Portland's favor.
LaMarcus Aldridge went 9-21 for 20 points with 4 rebounds but don't bag on the slightly lowered stats too much. To start with, he set up the pressure that allowed Matthews to do what he did. Second, Aldridge was pretty aggressive going against screens and moving his feet tonight, meaning he was roaming more than rebounding. Other Blazer bigs picked up the slack, which was fine. Dallas got only 7 offensive rebounds so it's not like the ball was sailing into their hands due to LaMarcus' negligence.
Andre Miller played as tight of a game (in the good way) as he has in the series, scoring 16 on 6-13 shooting with 7 assists. It was one of those games where you never noticed 'Dre except when he was doing something good: perfect point guard-i-ness.
Brandon Roy: 6-10 for 16 points and 4 assists in 24 minutes. Now don't revert to Previous Brandon in Game 4.
Gerald Wallace has yet to dominate in this series, still looking strangely passive on offense except in obvious situations. HOWEVER he made bank on the other end of the floor and in between in this game, nabbing 11 rebounds with 2 steals and a block to go with his 7 points. Also somehow Shawn Marion just isn't going off in any of these games. Could a little of that be Wallace's doing?
Marcus Camby 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Nicolas Batum went 2-5 in a relatively quiet night, scoring 7 in 24 minutes.
Chris Johnson played 6 inspired minutes in the second half after Camby had gotten in foul trouble and Aldridge had gotten tired of playing center. He had 3 rebounds and 2 blocks in that stretch, including a magnificent swat of a Nowitzki lane attempt. Little moments like that make a game sweet.
Rudy Fernandez had 3 rebounds in 11 minutes. He missed a couple shots and Nate pulled the plug in favor of Roy and Matthews.
Stats of the Night
- Mavs 16 turnovers, Blazers 9. That's Portland ball. It's probably not a sustainable way to win a seven-game series but it looks great when it works.
- Mavs 51.5% to Portland's 48% from the field but 7 fewer shots than the Blazers.
- Blazers 8-14, 57.1%, from the arc.
- Jason Kidd 2-8 from distance, Peja Stojakovic 1-4. Welcome back to reality.
- You can't put a stat on heart. That's what the Blazers showed in the fourth, finally.
Odd Notes and Links
Tonight Andre Miller hit a three, Brendan Haywood hit two free throws on the same trip to the line, and Wesley Matthews finished two drives to the hoop, one with a foul...all in the same half. I began to look around to see if the moon had turned square and Lakers fans had suddenly become geniuses.
This was the win that Portland needed but wasn't enough to erase the memory of the wins Portland wanted and couldn't get in Dallas. It doesn't feel like this series has turned at all. Portland will need to play another tough, smart, and passion-filled game to even this up. Even then I'm not sure it will have turned. It feels like the real story has yet to be written.
Mavs Moneyball will not be as enthused about this outing as the others.