To get a quarter-by-quarter sketch of this game, click here.
Whenever I talk about the Blazers being a (relatively) young team one of the questions I get asked is, "What does experience matter, anyway?" Tonight's contest against the Pacers gave us several exhibits.
The Blazers got off to a great start in this game. They ran, created turnovers, hit their jumpers enough to open the interior for marvelous passes. On defense they kept the Pacers shooting threes, definitely not an Indiana staple. Before you could say, "Lillard for MVP!" the Blazers were up 13-4.
Then Indiana did what experienced teams do. They adjusted. First they cut off the fountain of turnovers. Then they started to press one of their natural advantages: rebounding. Controlling the ball better allowed them to control the pace. As the Blazers slowed down so did their offense. Portland's good looks evaporated faster than a reality star stripped of makeup.
Then the Pacers started picking apart Portland's lineup. They looked at the young guard duo of Nolan Smith and Will Barton and called for traps and pressure. Suddenly Portland was struggling to get the ball up the floor, shooting against the clock. They looked at Portland's small-ish reserve bigs and went to town on the offensive glass. For all the good play in the first half the Blazers entered the break up only 2.
That wasn't near enough as the Pacers made more adjustments at halftime. Not only did they take care of the ball, rebound hard, and hound Blazer guards, they all of a sudden remembered that they had two serviceable bigs to throw into the lane against the weak-defending Blazers. The third period belonged to David West and Roy Hibbert. Their inside dominance kept the Blazers from extending their defense. All of a sudden the Pacers started hitting outside shots too. A 31-14 Indiana coup in the third put the Blazers down 15 entering the fourth.
The lead would reach 18 before Wesley Matthews led yet another fourth-quarter comeback attempt. The Blazers hit enough jumpers and free throws to pull them back within 5 but with that kind of lead the Pacers only had to hit a few shots to hold off Portland. Cleveland couldn't. Charlotte couldn't. Indiana did, mostly by not panicking.
End result: the Blazers played about 12 minutes of this game really well and another 24 decently but that last 12 cost them dearly. That wasn't all their fault. They didn't have much more to throw at this game. Indiana just caught everything they tossed and calmly returned the favor with interest.
If Damian Lillard had been any more on fire in the first half of this game they would have had to evacuate the building. He hit his jumpers, drove the lane...a one-man wrecking ball. His hot hand cooled in the second half, partly regression to the mean and partly Indiana devoting extra attention to him, knowing that the Blazers weren't a threat to score inside. Still Lillard finished with 23 on 9-15 shooting on a night he was named Rookie of the Month for the Western Conference for November.
LaMarcus Aldridge provided the right hook follow-up to Lillard's incessant jabs in that first half. While he was hitting the Blazers commanded the floor. His offense eventually fell to the Pacer onslaught as well as he got knocked, chucked, slapped, and pushed into oblivion. He finished 5-14 from the field but 8-10 from the foul line for 18 points with 10 rebounds, 9 defensive. Those defensive rebounds were critical as the Pacers tried to sweep the board battle.
J.J. Hickson found his rebounding rhythm again tonight, grabbing 12 boards. He also found Indiana's starting bigs less than thrilled about their defensive assignments and capitalized for 7-12 shooting and 14 points. Having Hickson as a second-chance threat kept the Pacers honest.
Wesley Matthews had the drive working tonight, chiefly reflected in his 7 free throw attempts (6 hit). His fourth quarter offensive charge propelled the Blazers' comeback shot. Wes had 19 points tonight. Lance Stephenson managed only 2. Matthews was the only Blazer hitting from distance tonight.
The Batum-George story was opposite. Nicolas scored but 5 to George's 22. Batum went 2-8 overall, 1-5 from the arc, but did manage 4 assists.
Joel Freeland was a foul machine tonight and couldn't get the ball up clean, shooting 0-4 in 13 minutes. He had 2 assists as well. Indiana's physical play appeared to be frustrating him.
Luke Babbitt, on the other hand, managed 5 rebounds and 5 points on 2-3 shooting in 15 minutes. It was another nice outing for him, though a tad more understated than his last game.
Meyers Leonard did one thing really well tonight. He made himself available under the rim when his guards were getting pressured, catching and converting a couple times. But he couldn't do anything with Indy's physicality either and looked fairly bad on defense.
Indiana's defense (plus a little of his own) took Nolan Smith out of the game after only 5 minutes. Will Barton played 14 minutes but didn't connect from the field. His most distinctive stat: 2 turnovers.
Jared Jeffries returned to this game, providing a fairly neutral effect as always. Still, 8 minutes of neutral from him is 8 minutes of rest for somebody else.
Indy Cornrows will talk about the win.