In a Nutshell
The Blazers were the Style Police and the Mavericks the mullet tonight. Portland dismissed a worn and tired Dallas team, turning good defense and rebounding into great offense both in the halfcourt and on the run. Dallas can't muster enough determination to find Dirk Nowiztki in their own offense and in his absence the rest of the team can't match the Blazers' output.
The first period was a quasi-defensive struggle. The Mavericks did damage with Rodrigue Beaubois and Shawn Marion, taking advantage of speed and athleticism against Portland's Nowitzki-denying rotations. But neither player is capable of scoring at a Dirk-like level. Solid rebounding and the absence of Tyson Chandler prevented Dallas from getting second shots off of misses. Dallas managed only 17 in the quarter. The Blazers, meanwhile, LaMarcused them up and down. (Yes, it's a verb now.) Brendan Haywood failed abjectly at stopping LMA from getting inside and LaMarcus simply rose over smaller players who shifted over to him. Meanwhile Gerald Wallace tore a hole in the Mavs from the other side of the floor, going around or just shooting over everybody. The Blazers notched 23.
The tempo picked up in the second quarter but Dallas had only enough energy to sustain it on offense. Their guard scoring picked up mightily behind Jose Juan Barea who was too quick for the larger Blazer guards to guard. He spearheaded a 29-point period for them. The problem was, the Blazers scored 38. Portland scored on the run and off of turnovers but mostly they scored via size. Both teams went with "small" lineups but Dallas small is 6'2, 6'3, 6'4. Portland small is 6'6, 6'6, 6'7. The Blazers posted up Barea mercilessly and bulled through the lane on everybody else. When Dallas collapsed the defense passing to the corner was an easy matter. Fernandez, Batum, Roy, Matthews...they just destroyed the opposition. The Blazers led by 15 at the half.
After that Portland never looked back. They denied the ball to Dirk, forced turnovers, hustled, rebounded, and watched the Mavs wave the white flag in a laugher. Portland was up by 20 for most of the second half before Dallas closed it to a not-as-gruesome-looking margin in the final minutes of the game. Blazers win, 104-96.
Four things stood out strongly in this game:
1. As we've been saying all season, you can tell how well a game is going simply by looking at the rebounding numbers. When Portland stays even or pulls ahead on the boards they have enough other things going for them that they will edge the opposition. When the opponent is dominating the boards they're probably making a ton of shots. Plus they're controlling the ball when either team misses. In those cases the Blazers have to play too much defense and don't get the same running opportunities, the energy goes away, and Portland becomes less than ordinary.
2. One thing Portland doesn't get enough credit for is denial defense. Everybody notices their length telling in the form of forced turnovers. But those long arms and tall wings also serve to make passes to superstars difficult. Nicolas Batum is particularly good at this. The best way to prevent a fire is to hide the matches and Portland's defenders are good at it.
3. One thing the Blazers did differently tonight (or at least better) was playing big. They often have height mismatches with those same wing players but seldom post up. It wasn't just Andre Miller tonight. Brandon Roy feasted. Batum and Matthews looked over defenders instead of at them. This is a natural advantage for the Blazers many nights but they just don't use it like they did against the obvious short lineup of the Mavs. Exploiting those mismatches would go a long way towards playoff success. Who's the opposing point guard watching in those Rudy-Nic-Brandon lineups? Let that guy dominate.
4. In many ways the Blazers' defensive effectiveness boils down to how well they deal with screens. Very early on they were four feet away from everybody on every pick, leading to easy Dallas shots. As soon as the bigs and smalls got on the same page and started playing tight, coordinated defense on the screens Dallas stopped scoring.
Again being at the game live doesn't afford the opportunity to take notes without missing half the game so these are impressions more than complete descriptions.
LaMarcus Aldridge did a great job of getting into the paint against everybody tonight. The next thing he needs to work on is not going past the bucket before releasing his shot when he goes through the lane from the side. He ends up jumping past the hoop and then having to shoot that little hook-flip back across his body while floating away from the rim. He did a pretty good job on the boards tonight considering he was playing defense outside.
Stop me if you've heard this before. Gerald Wallace is superb. Even in warmups he's walking and running with a purpose and when the game starts all bets are off. Man how I like this guy.
Marcus Camby grabbed a lot of rebounds and even took his turn on Nowitzki. He's got such quick hands to the ball, both on rebounds and steals. It's fun to watch him play against smaller lineups.
Andre Miller seemed to be having fun against smaller defenders too. He's so good now at picking his spots to score.
Wesley Matthews so needs to improve his dribble drive and finish but even he managed to score in the lane tonight. Plus he drew a bunch of fouls. Plus he's Portland's best defender against quick guys.
Brandon Roy had a huge night by his new standards. He was bending the defense by posting up and driving, plus passing, plus he took some nice-looking, old-school-Brandon jumpers that just didn't quite fall. He looked snappy and happy in this one. Good to see.
Rudy Fernandez had another great energy night. He created turnovers, dove for balls, made passes...he's just looking great in that Twenty Minutes of Hell (with STYLE!) role.
Nicolas Batum had a masterful defensive game and also played smoothly and aggressively on offense, driving, passing, and hitting jumpers with ease. These games are starting to come with more frequency for him. It used to be 1 in 6, now it's more like 1 in 3 or 2 in 5. Dare we hope that someday it'll be all the time? He and Matthews make a NASTY punch playing against opposing second units. When Roy is involved the Blazers also have a ton of height against those bench players.
Chris Johnson is skinny but springy.
Stats of the Night
- Dallas 5 offensive rebounds. The Blazers only had 4 themselves but the Blazers were also concerned about Dallas breaking.
- Blazers 50 points in the paint. That's a huge amount for a team with no true low post player. It shows you how energetic these guys were.
- Dirk Nowitzki 12 FG attempts on the night.
Odd Notes and Links
The Rose Garden crowd is great and really self-sustaining. Credit the Game Ops folks for getting the scoreboard chants and other noise out of the way and letting the Garden feed on itself. They've got such a smooth flow going with music in some timeouts, games in others, and many where they just show the crowd and let them dance and display signs. It's like the guys running the arena are in touch with the crowd instead of trying to force them places. It feels organic and really sustains the atmosphere. Way to go everybody in the stands and behind the boards! Attending games in the Rose Garden is a great experience!
Speaking of great experiences, the spontaneous applause of the night came when a grandma and (I assume) her granddaughter held up a sign saying, "I waited 89 years to see my first NBA game." They showed it on the big screen and everybody went to town for that woman. Welcome to the fun! The other big applause came when they flashed that it was Rudy's birthday. He had a great game to celebrate.
Mavs Moneyball will no doubt dismiss this game as fatigue at the end of a long trip. Maybe that's accurate but the win still feels good from this side.
The new Jersey Contest form will be up with tomorrow evening's Golden State preview.