Plenty of heroes, likely and unlikely, emerge as the Blazers stage an 18-point comeback in the last minutes of the fourth quarter and go on to cruise to an overtime victory.
For the quarter-by-quarter recap of this game, click here.
The Blazers played another thrilling overtime contest tonight, defeating the Charlotte Bobcats 118-112. Their mood swings were pronounced, the effects alternating between thrilling and devastating. The thrill won out in the end, thanks to a lineup shift from Coach Terry Stotts and an impressive performance from the unlikeliest of sources.
As expected the Bobcats started this game trading on athleticism, pressuring Damian Lillard and his cohorts into turnovers, poor passes, and poor shots. The Blazers responded by playing no defense. Failing to get back in transition, assert themselves on the glass, or do any of the little things that would signal their interest in this game, the Blazers fell behind 22-10 before 7 minutes were gone in the first. The Bobcats aren't the world's greatest shooters but they could hardly miss layups. Those easy buckets gave them confidence in their jumpers, a confidence bolstered by Portland defenders not getting within 10 feet of any shooter. The Blazers' only answer on offense was the three-point shot. They'd attempt 7 from beyond the arc in the first period and would finish the game with 35 attempts.
Once again, though, Portland's reserves brought the energy and drive to the floor that their starting counterparts lacked. Will Barton and Nolan Smith picked up the tempo. During the second unit bridge between the first and second periods the ball started moving and Portland's looks got easier. Wesley Matthews scored big in the second period and Damian Lillard, having reflected on his early sins, repented and drove to the hoop, finishing with style. The Blazers trailed by 3 at the half, a remarkable recovery.
This being the Blazers, they weren't satisfied with a single comeback run. They played even through most of the third but returned to their absentee defense on Charlotte's guards as the fourth approached. In this case Ben Gordon torched them for 10 points in less than 3 minutes, blistering the net from beyond the arc. The early fourth once again saw Portland's reserve guards playing like their heads were screwed loose...the second game straight they've had impressive first halves and then nearly lost the game in the initial minutes of the final period. Gordon hit more threes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dunked like he was auditioning for All-Star weekend, and the Blazers were down 18 with 7 minutes remaining in this game. Ball game over.
Except that Terry Stotts had already tried to stem the tide by going with a small lineup, inserting Sasha Pavlovic for mobility and shooting and eschewing a true center. Pavlovic hit a three and then headed to the bench in favor of Luke Babbitt, a move which was to pay huge dividends. The Bobcats relaxed being up so far, so Lillard and Nicolas Batum took advantage, driving, dunking, and hitting 3's. Meanwhile LaMarcus Aldridge and Babbitt started cleaning up the boards on Charlotte misses, which came aplenty in their panic. When Aldridge started cleaning up the offensive glass in the final 3 minutes of regulation the Blazers were in business. And business was good for Babbitt. He hit not 1, but 2 massive three-pointers in the final two minutes. He also showed and recovered on screens and rebounded the cover off of the ball. With 2 Aldridge put-backs off of rebounds in that same 2-minute span the Blazers finally crawled even with Charlotte. Overtime loomed again.
Babbitt played the entire overtime along with the starters. It wasn't even close. The Blazers scored inside and out. The Bobcats took advantage of a few Portland mistakes on defense but they couldn't stop the Babbalanche. Portland wins by a half-dozen.
1. Portland has HUGE trouble with backcourt scorers. If the Charlotte guards make mincemeat of you--and they did--you have issues. Charlotte scoring 30 points in transition didn't help. What the heck are Portland's guards doing out there? Right now they're the gift that keeps on giving...and giving...and giving.
2. Portland's forwards--Aldridge, Batum, and Babbitt--were MONSTERS on the boards tonight. It seems like every time the Blazers need rebounds somebody comes through.
3. Portland starts are becoming legendarily bad. Whether it's rope-a-dope with the other team easing out or Portland just not getting the right frame of mind until they're down, the Blazers are making these games plenty hard.
4. Turnovers are starting to become an issue. The Blazers only had 13 total tonight but man, the early first and early fourth quarters were brutal. These are the stretches in which the Blazers are digging those holes.
5. Portland's bench is starting to save their bacon. Three weeks ago the Blazer bench couldn't have saved soggy tofu. Progress?
Whether by design or just following the flow of the evening, the Blazers all but ignored LaMarcus Aldridge throughout most of the second half and overtime. How did he respond? Like a All-Star, that's how. His work on the boards was masterful, the foundation of Portland's victory. If he's not cleaning the glass all the other made shots don't matter. Plus he shot 12-17 on the night--many of them blue-collar attempts--and scored 25 to go with 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. Wowzers. What a game. Whatever people have said about Aldridge (and some of it might be merited) this game stands out. This is the way he should look. It may be my favorite Aldridge game in years.
Nicolas Batum had a quiet offensive night until crunch time when he began to douse the Bobcats with a rain of points and rebounds. He also had a critical offensive board and pass which set up one of Babbitt's amazing threes. He scored 17, dished 7 assists, and added 13 rebounds. This is also the kind of game you'd like to become archetypal for Batum. His shot wasn't falling and yet he played like a star.
Damian Lillard hit only 1-8 three-pointers tonight. That usually spells a rough evening for him. In some ways it was. But instead of abandoning his offense he went for the drive and/or drive and dish. He finished more layups and drew more foul shots (14) in this game than he does in a normal week. He had 24 points and 9 assists and, like Batum, came up huge in crunch time.
Wesley Matthews kept the team afloat when everyone else was sunk. He shot 6-15 on the evening but scored 17 with 7 rebounds and 2 steals. It wasn't as great of a game for him as for Aldridge and Batum but he kept his nose to the grindstone.
Something has gone out of J.J. Hickson. His defense was always suspect at the 5 but it was bad tonight. His usual rebounding work wasn't there. He was either sick, tired, or the switch has turned off for him. He played only 12 minutes, had 0 rebounds, and missed 4 of 5 shots. It was his worst game of the season by far. He's been ineffective before but never this limp.
Neither did Meyers Leonard look good off the bench. He got lost on defense, failed to rebound...he wasn't just a rookie, he was a lost rookie.
Joel Freeland was the only Portland (nominal) pivot to play a good game. He hit 3 of 4 shots, grabbed a couple of rebounds, and put himself in pretty good defensive positions. 6 points in 13 minutes.
Will Barton and Nolan Smith showed strong early. I'm intrigued by this combination. They play more freely together than they do with the vets in the backcourt. They both run fast and are looking to score. Barton handled that angle tonight, shooting 3-5 for 7 points in 12 minutes. Smith went for a couple assists and a bucket in 10 minutes, including a beautiful 2-on-1 with Barton. They're a nice late-first-quarter lift. Maybe the fourth quarter isn't their time yet?
Sasha Pavlovic hit a Brian Shaw-like three to turn the tide when the Blazers trailed by 18 midway through the fourth.
Which brings us to Luke Babbitt. If this were just a matter of a couple threes hit late I'd tell you that and we'd move on. But Babbitt not only hit those threes (3 of them, in fact, all in critical moments) he grabbed rebounds and he defended well. He was active, directed, and confident. This was Luke Babbitt's game. It was like Aldridge, Batum, and the rest were grannies and aunties winking at each other as they set the Thanksgiving table and then Babbitt walked out with a huge turkey on a tray, beaming all the while. 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3-4 from the arc, an assist, a steal, and a block in 15 minutes, every one of those minutes critical. Do I think Babbitt is more than he is? No. But tonight he sure was. That deserves a hearty ovation. Every veteran on the team plane should be taking turns walking back and patting him on the shoulder tonight, saying, "You won this game for us, Luke."
Rufus on Fire is probably happy that Ben Gordon was but probably angry that Luke Babbitt was too.