Even though the Nets shrugged off the Blazers in the fourth quarter this was one of those games where objects in the mirror were closer than they appeared. The Blazers stayed close through the first half even though LaMarcus Aldridge sat out this game with back spasms. Portland kept a lid on Brook Lopez, fronting him with Meyers Leonard. This is one of the things I appreciate about this incarnation of the Blazers. The McMillan philosophy was to make other teams adjust to his squad. That's a valid--actually the correct--approach when your team is talented and capable of winning every game. But as Portland's talent dwindled watching them get killed night after night while making few adjustments got old. Terry Stotts has these guys coming out with plans tailored for the opponent and their skills. Eventually they're going to have to learn the other way, establishing themselves instead of playing to the opposition. In the meantime it was more fun watching Leonard use his mobility and energy to deny Lopez the ball than it would have been watching him try to play behind Lopez and get killed ever play (which is exactly what happened when Brook caught in the paint).
In any case, denying Lopez helped curb the Nets' scoring for a while. Deron Williams either passed or missed shots. Portland rebounded well and moved the ball themselves. They also hit some improbable threes which never hurts. The only hitch in the program was Joe Johnson. He scored on Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews alike. Still, this was a manageable leak. The Blazers led 50-46 at the half.
The game started to fall apart in the third quarter as Deron Williams, evidently not getting enough for dessert on Thanksgiving, made mincemeat of Damian Lillard. The veteran All-Star blew by the hot rookie repeatedly. He didn't score himself as much as set up wide-open teammates as Portland's defense frantically collapsed. After getting sliced and diced, Lillard picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. The offense struggled thereafter.
Portland's bench players didn't notch their first point until the 9:49 mark of the fourth period. Starters who had been springy and spry in the first half started to slow down under heavy minutes. Rebounds disappeared and turnovers abounded as the combination of fatigue and lack of talent took its toll. All of a sudden Brooklyn was scoring real easy and the Blazers had no answer. What were they going to give, though? You'd like to say, "If only this or that happened..." but realistically the Blazers might not have had the horses to finish this game even had Aldridge played. Without him it was a lost cause. Still, the Blazers played with courage and confidence, ran plays, and had some good defensive stands. It wasn't a bad game to watch. The loss was more than fair.
Damian Lillard had moments and moments tonight. His three-point shot was sweet. He banked his first one and ended the evening 3-5 from the arc. 7 assists and 6 rebounds attested that he worked hard. He shot 4-12 overall, let Williams drive him into some precarious situations and turnovers, and D-Wilted under the onslaught in the third period. But that's life in the big city, a learning experience. Until Williams turned it on Lillard looked just as good as his famed counterpart. The lesson here is that the great ones have another level that Lillard doesn't even know how to get to yet. Someday...
Nicolas Batum went 5-13, 1-5 from the arc for 12 points. He had some nice moments but it wasn't a great game from him. For all his ability he still makes silly technical mistakes...a bad closeout here, continental-level drift on his jump shot there. They're little things but they add up to him shaking his head and wondering what's going wrong. If he could just tighten it up...(sigh)
J.J. Hickson started in place of Aldridge, played 33 minutes, and scored 19 with 10 rebounds. The defense wasn't spectacular. Kris Humprhies went gonzo there for a while. But really you couldn't ask more from the guy.
Meyers Leonard kept his composure against one of the best centers in the NBA. He never gave up on the game plan and he managed to keep the fouls to a reasonable level. He looked plenty confident on offense, shooting 6-10 from various ranges for 12 points. He got out-muscled and collected only 3 rebounds. But again, what more could you ask from the guy, knowing that he's not a great individual defender yet and that he's played a month in the league? I was impressed by what he was able to do.
Wesley Matthews had the jumper stuck on automatic for a while. He scored a team-high 20 on 8-18 shooting, 3-7 from distance. He looked good defensively as long as he wasn't on Johnson. But somebody needs to get him some Tarn-X for the finish the rim. Those attempts were pretty rough today even though he got past his man repeatedly.
You don't want to hear about the Blazers' bench in this one. They got outscored 29-9 by their counterparts, managed 7 rebounds, committed 8 turnovers and 10 personal fouls. 9 points, 7 rebounds, 8 turnovers, and 10 fouls would be a semi-disturbing line for a guy playing 22 minutes in Summer League. As an aggregate for 7 players in a combined 73 minutes of real NBA time...well, let's just say the Red Cross showed up with doughnuts and blankets every time Portland's reserves took the floor.
The Blazers play Detroit tomorrow, certainly a lesser team but not without problematic wrinkles. If Portland puts in the energy and execution they showed today it should be a good contest. Momentum is a fiendish and fickle influence on young teams, though. Let's hope they don't throw a bad loss after a good one.
The boxscore for this game.
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P.S. Somebody needs to tell J.J. Hickson that Portland's colors are black and crimson and/or scarlet. He's running around in what appear to be fuchsia slippers. Somebody needs new kicks for Christmas.