Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
The Trail Blazers play nice with the Detroit Pistons, resulting in Detroit's natural positional advantages prevailing over Portland's. LaMarcus Aldridge reasserts his dominance in the process and Will Barton plays the best game of his career.
For those interested in the game flow, Timmay's quarter-by-quarter recap is HERE.
The story of this game is fairly simple. If you've read anything we've written since the pre-season began you'll know the 2012-13 Trail Blazers have flaws. You also have a pretty good idea what those flaws are: point guard defense, paint defense, depth, inability to score in the paint, and so on. Unless the Blazers force the game to pivot around other factors--turnovers, tempo, three-pointers, or multiple brilliant performances at once--those flaws are going to prove fatal against 90% of the teams around the league. That's not a reflection on the team as much as an admission that this team isn't finished yet. It's like Coach Terry Stotts rises from his black throne and says, "Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station! Fire at will, Commander! Wait, what do you mean, 'No fuses yet?' And the weapons haven't been delivered or installed? And the superstructure is only half complete? Awwww crap. We're gonna get killed."
That's pretty much what happened tonight. You knew it the moment the Blazers started walking down the floor on offense and settling for jumpers...a.k.a. the first quarter. Absent extenuating circumstances the "You shoot, then we'll shoot" mentality was going to leave the Blazers vulnerable to Greg Monroe (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Knight (26 points) and no natural advantage would make up that gap for Portland.
The Blazers did get a couple of those extenuating circumstances. The bench, led by Will Barton, fired up the tempo in the second period, shook the team out of its doldrums, and propelled it to a brief lead, making up the 9-point deficit the Blazers conceded in the slow-moving first quarter. After settling for jumpers early LaMarcus Aldridge started to take this game personally and destroyed the Pistons to the tune of 32 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, and the toughest interior defense Portland played all night. Aldridge and J.J. Hickson combined for 11 of Portland's 17 offensive rebounds on the night, an incredible number. But those advances were countered by Damian Lillard missing a dozen shots before hitting one, by Nicolas Batum staying out of the offense all night long, and ultimately by the Blazers allowing the Pistons to shoot 52.5% from the field and 60% from the three-point arc. Detroit averages 44% and 36% in those categories respectively.
All those fine individual efforts were like guys rowing fast when the rowboat was already 3/4 full and half the crew was overboard and floating. They were nice to see but ultimately ineffective.
Hopefully that ineffective style was just a blip for the often-energetic Blazers. The big-picture worry is that fatigue or low morale could prevail as the season wears on, leading to more efforts like we saw in the first quarter tonight. Energy and perseverance will be keys to Blazer victories, perhaps the only factors they'll be able to control some nights. It's something to keep an eye on.
LaMarcus Aldridge played an amazing game tonight. His stats are mentioned above. He got in the lane more often on both ends of the floor than we've seen all year. This was a big night for him in every way.
Wesley Matthews also offered consistent energy all night, one of the few Blazers to do so. He scored 19 with his most impressive stat being 9 trips to the foul line.
Will Barton was the other positive player of note. His offense looked remarkably different tonight than it did in earlier games. He was under control, in the flow of the offense instead of flooding the floor with BartonMania. He scored on a pull-up jumper and a sweet catch-and-shoot along with the usual drives. He played some defense as well. If the light has turned on for him he could be plenty effective. I assume he'll vacillate going forward but this is the first real sign that his game will work in more than a theoretical sense. Nice to see. 5-8 shooting, 12 points, 2 steals.
Nicolas Batum had 10 rebounds. Give him credit for that. But if it's possible for 10 rebounds to be quiet, they were tonight. Plus he hit only 2 of his 9 shots, scored 7 points, and seemed to fade in front of Tayshaun Prince...the third veteran small forward he's bowed before in the last week.
J.J. Hickson had 8 rebounds, 5 offensive, and 9 points but he couldn't begin to stop Detroit's bigs, all of whom had their way with him at one time or another.
The brightest part of Damian Lillard's game was 7 assists. He shot 4-18 for 12 points, but that wasn't the main story. Brandon Knight's 26 points tells all you need to know. Plus Lillard blew coverage in the last-gasp late-game defensive stand, Portland's only prayer of getting back in the game.
Meyers Leonard had his second good game in a row. He was one of the guys who helped bring energy off the bench. He played 21 minutes, scored 8 on 3-4 shooting, and blocked 3 shots. Only 4 rebounds though. Nevertheless when he becomes a better defender we're going to like this guy.
Ronnie Price's amazing 6 assists in 11 minutes also contributed to that bench run. Well done. Sometimes when things are going crazy you just need a guy who's been there before even if that guy is, in theory, less talented than the youngster he's filling in for.
Jared Jeffries played 7 minutes, drew a charge, didn't do much worse than most of his teammates. Didn't do much better either.
The Blazers play the utterly winless Washington Wizards on Wednesday. We spoke the other day about momentum being critical to teams like Portland. They have none right now. We're going to see whether that trend steers them into disaster or whether it's really not possible to lose to the Wizards under any circumstances whatsoever. Let's hope Portland comes to play. Unless, of course, you're rooting for lottery odds already.
Your boxscore for this game.
Detroit Bad Boys will talk about a rare win and how nifty their point guard and center are...as usual for a post-Portland opponent.
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