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The Trail Blazers are called upon to play three different styles of offense and manage to pull off each one while simultaneously camouflaging their own defensive weaknesses and turnovers.
The Blazers won yet another nail-biter tonight, defeating the Phoenix Suns 96-93. For the quarter-by-quarter instant recap, check out Timmay's work here.
The most interesting thing about this game was the ebb and flow. Both teams punched and counter-punched throughout. The Blazers started out destroying the Suns inside courtesy of the work of J.J. Hickson plus some really nifty entry passing. During that same stretch the Blazers couldn't hit a jumper to save their lives. The Suns moved to cut off the steady flow of shots to Hickson so the Blazers switched over to screens and reverses setting up jumpers, which they finally began to hit. When the Suns rotated to stop that Damian Lillard started penetrating against the now-spread defense. You would not have recognized this as the same team quarter to quarter but the Blazers found a way to adapt each time the Suns threw out a new challenge.
The defense was hit and miss, particularly where Jermaine O'Neal was involved. O'Neal opened up the floodgates for the Suns in the second half and Marcin Gortat followed through. Trying to rotate down to stop the big guys then back out to watch shooters seemed to fatigue the Blazers and for a while it looked like the Suns would win by attrition. But smelling the win, the Blazers knuckled down in the closing minutes, playing a particularly fantastic final possession to keep Phoenix from a clear look at a game-tying three. Again, the Blazers were hardly perfect but they did enough to win.
Rebounding and foul shooting also proved strong points for the Blazers in this game. Portland hit 23 free throws while the Suns attempted only 11. Offensive rebounding buoyed the Blazers when their shots weren't falling and helped break the back of Phoenix's defensive effort.
The roughest development of the night was Portland's 21 turnovers. Wesley Matthews played but 10 minutes in this game and looked slow doing it. LaMarcus Aldridge also looked hobbled and Nicolas Batum wasn't himself either. All three of those guys move around in Portland's offense. With each a half-step slow passes routinely went off-target.
Overall, though, you have to applaud Portland's ability to win this game. Adaptability is not supposed to be a strength of a young and thin team.
J.J. Hickson continues to find ways to cover for the lack of interior defense. Tonight it was first-half cuts to the rim and game-long rebounding pressure. Hickson had 19 and 15 on the night and was Portland's steadiest player.
Nicolas Batum's shot looked awful tonight and he committed 7 turnovers. Still he neared a triple-double with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. He also performed admirably in late-game defense.
Damian Lillard once again started the game slowly on offense then tried to make up for it by forcing shots. This led to even more bricks and a couple of chagrined-looking teammates. Superstar Lillard came through late, however. Once he got a taste of success driving he employed the step-back jumper to keep defenders off-balance. At that point the Suns didn't have a chance. 7-13 shooting, 2-5 from the arc, 9-10 from the foul line, 7 assists and 25 points.
LaMarcus Aldridge played gamely but ran lamely and got no lift on his jumper. He shot 5-15 from the floor, 7-8 from the line for 17 points. He made up for the poor shooting with 9 rebounds.
Wesley Matthews played 10 minutes then had to exit with his continuing hip issues. One wonders if they shouldn't just leave him out until this gets better.
Victor Claver and Ronnie Price were the stars off the bench tonight. Claver continued his active defense but actually found some touch on his interior and exterior shooting both, giving a glimpse of what he could become. He shot 3-4 for 7 points with 4 rebounds in 15 minutes. Price attacked the rim and forced Phoenix to move with him, giving Lillard the cue that penetration was a viable option.
The Suns obviously wanted to stop Luke Babbitt and he only got to attempt 3 shots in his 15 minutes. He hit one for 3 points and added 3 rebounds.
Meyers Leonard got a dunk and a chip shot but couldn't stop the Suns bigs on defense any better than Hickson.
Sasha Pavlovic hit a three and had a couple good defensive possessions but looked rather wishy-washy out there in 21 minutes. Terry Stotts has shown that he knows who to play. I wonder if he's seeing something in Pavlovic or simply trusting the veteran when injuries pare down the roster.
Will Barton played 3 minutes.
With a Media Row Report coming up for you to read tonight and this being a busy weekend for me, plus Portland already having played Sacramento twice, there will be no preview for tomorrow's game. DeMarcus Cousins has been suspended for insubordination, giving the Blazers a more-than-passing chance to win. Enjoy it and see if the winning streak can reach a half-dozen!
Bright Side Of The Sun might be able to find a bright side to this game, but maybe not.