If you are not a fan of basketball then you might be now especially after watching the Portland Trailblazers’ overtime victory over the visiting Houston Rockets. The game ended with the Blazers winning by a score of 119-117. By now, several recaps have been posted about the game itself and all the glory of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum. But let’s take a deep breath and exhale before we start handing them the keys to Portland and the northwest in general because, after all, Seattle is without one. Portland will have to carry load and feed the ravenous masses of pro basketball in the great Pacific Northwest.
The Trailblazers served up a trifecta of courses that certainly brought indigestion to interim head coach, Kelvin Sampson, who filled in for the MIA head coach, Kevin McHale. First up was a dish served hot (yes, these are and will be cheesy food-related phrases) in the form of Batum. He absolutely began torching the Rockets and single-handedly got the Trailblazers back into the game in the second and third quarter after what seemed to be approaching a blow-out win for the Rockets. He did it on the offensive end with a blistering 13-19 shooting performance (including 5-8 from deep) and on the defensive end where he had five blocks, including a big time swat on James Harden. Every once in a while, the hand of God touches Batum and he reaches back and shakes it and then palms a basketball. This was one of those games where Batum did not seem to miss and he made impressive shot after shot.
However, Batum also delivered classic Batum. He will make an amazing shot and the next moment he will turn over the ball with an errant pass. He had SEVEN turnovers and some of them at key moments during the game when the Blazers finally managed to get a defensive stop. If you relax and really study the film, Batum simply had a hot hand and he was in rhythm. There were times where he had mismatches against Lin after a screen and he settled for some strange shot or a pass. For a guy of his length and quickness, Batum needs to start posting up guards and inserting his will. You get the impression that Batum has confidence this year knowing he gets to be the man to shoot the basketball and this translates into some big time scoring but it’s also noticeable that his offensive game is pretty much the same as before. Lots of jump shots and maybe a lay-in or two when the defenses start respecting his hot hand; however, when his hot shooting isn’t there…..
But still, Batum finished the game with a team high 35 points, although he did not score very much toward the end of the game because began he conceding opportunities to LaMarcus and Lillard.
Now how about a dish served steaming? Nothing too hot but nothing warm either. Just steady and solid. LaMarcus had 29 points and was just causing havoc for Asik and whoever the hell the Rockets had on him. It did not matter because LaMarcus was draining his outside shots and driving to the basket when the defenders closed in. He played well and was clutch towards the end of the game with jump shots and free throws. Great game but LaMarcus is still frustrating. He did not play solid defense. It was not so much as his play on his man because in that aspect he did well but it was his help defense. LaMarcus completely disappeared when Asik or Patterson were having their way with Leonard and Hickson. There were several moments where you wondered where LaMarcus was at after Asik looked like Shaq or Olajuwon with his post moves. As for his rebounding? Nowhere in sight. LaMarcus has pretty much checked out as a board crasher during this part of the season. It makes you wonder about his attitude and his ability as a leader. When losing is happening, as it will with a rebuilding team, are you only going to want to only score? Players like Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and Monta Ellis are like this. He is certainly giving a vibe of being second or third fiddle on a good playoff team with an elite player (sorry Roy). This was a solid night, as a whole, for LaMarcus, but outside of his offensive game, LaMarcus was incongnito.
The final dish was a served cold. No that’s an understatement. It was on ice and shipped in a container of glacier piss from Mount Everest. Lillard had ice in veins and he just carried the team in the final minutes of the fourth and into OT. He scored almost all of the Blazers baskets in that time frame and was just hitting clutch shot after shot especially when the Rockets seemed to suddenly gain momentum back. He did not hit the regulation game winner but he had the will to take it and you get the feeling that it was okay after all he was doing for the team in the fourth.
Hero ball aside, Lillard was not present in the first three quarters and he was having trouble blowing past Lin which should never be a problem. His long ball seems to be his go-to-shot despite needing to develop a more polished interior shooting game. He can be deadly on his perimeter shooting and Lillard needs to develop this aspect unless he wants to become the next Batum, although that seems unlikely. Honestly, Lillard is not the next Derek Rose or Russell Westbrook. He reminds you of a Deron Williams but without as much of a developed court vision or passing skill. He is not extraordinarily explosive but he does manage to get his shot off if you disrespect his quickness.
As a whole, the trifecta played well but there was again zero defense. Nice stops at key moments but no flow on defense or much pressure on the outside shooters of the Rockets. This was a "hot" game but hopefully it gives the three something to build on offensively.
Quick bites on other players:
Meyers Leonard – great boost off the bench especially since J.J. Hickson could not get it done on the defensive side. He needed to stay one more step with Harden when helping out with screens because there were times when Harden simply bounced off him and ran a straight line toward the basket. This was because Leonard did not give his teammate enough time to recover from the offensive screen.
Wesley Matthews – Great defense on Harden? I guess if you call fouling him next to the basket great defense. Harden still got 28 points but a key 11-12 free throws. He will get his shots but I still don’t believe Harden should look like Kobe with his play making ability. Wesley and Batum did well but not great.