In a Nutshell
The Portland Trail Blazers messed around with the Washington Wizards for the better part of three quarters but stepped on the gas in the fourth, overcoming John Wall's quickness with team-wide determination on offense and some brilliant free-throw shooting.
The opening possession of this game showed that the evening would turn out differently tonight than it did in Boston 24 hours ago. The Blazers actually moved on offense. All of them in the same set. I was so shocked I had to rewind the DVR just to count. 1...2...3...4...5...yup! All five players moved during a halfcourt play. They scored off of it too, taking a 2-0 lead and never looking back. Oh, the Wizards would tie the game a few times, but Portland never relinquished the lead. Raymond Felton picked up a couple of early fouls, leading to an early entrance for Jamal Crawford. Turnovers went up (Felton committing zero on the evening) but so did Crawford's scoring. He kept the Blazers punching when the Wizards clogged the middle. Washington took advantage of the turnovers, poor Portland defense in transition, and John Wall's raw speed, punching back just as hard. The game was tied at 27 after one.
The second period began with the Jamal Crawford Show in full swing. He drove, he shot, he made julienne fries. When his flow slowed Gerald Wallace picked up with some tough rebounding and strong drives. Unfortunately at this point Wallace wasn't connecting on layups, but at least he banged around Washington's defenders. The banging got personal with 1:45 left in the period as Marcus Camby, treated to a Kevin Seraphin forearm in the neck while getting blocked out, got ejected for shoving Seraphin to the floor. It wasn't the smartest move from Portland's starting (and only full-time) center but at least it showed the team had fire. On top of Wallace's display it made the Blazers seem almost...hard. Portland took a 55-52 lead into the break.
The third period started slowly for Portland, Wallace's tough guy act the only positive carry-over from the first half. He extended the muscle moves to defensive rebounding and Portland threatened to pull away. They were stopped by even more Wall heroics plus their own propensity to settle for jumpers. Then Raymond Felton and LaMarcus Aldridge decided they were going to take over the game. Aldridge threw down a mighty dunk to start the proceedings, then he and Felton converted from the foul line, then Felton's jumper started to fall. At that point the Blazers, still forcing the Wizards to score outside the lane except when they let Wall sneak by, reached escape velocity. Portland ended the period up by 6, 82-76.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, with Wallace playing tough defense, the Blazers scoring inside behind Felton and Aldridge, and Crawford reprising his jump-shooting from the first half. Portland pulled away further and finished the game up 11, 110-99.
These were just the Wizards, so maybe the game shouldn't have been as close as it was for so long. BUT the Blazers showed some (though not full) effort, decent (though not excellent) execution, and made good on their talent and experience advantage. More important was the list of players who stepped up: Felton, Crawford, and Wallace in addition to Aldridge. Since those three have been playing "Where's Waldo?" for the bulk of the season it was nice to see their contributions obvious.
LaMarcus Aldridge was unstoppable with his turn-around and had a couple nice cuts to the basket too. He shot an amazing 12-15 for 30 points plus 10 rebounds. No big men rotated in the first half but they fixed it in the second. Great game.
Gerald Wallace went 5-12 for 15 points and 8 rebounds. He was 5-5 from the line, showing he at least was getting in dangerous position. Plus his intensity really lit up that second half.
Raymond Felton went 6-14 from the field but 9-10 from the free throw line. Even if you discount a couple of technical foul free throws, that's impressive. He had 5 assists but he also had no turnovers. The Blazers will take that, methinks. 21 points. Nice rebound from a season nadir too.
Nicolas Batum just did what Nicolas Batum do, 5-10 from the field, 11 points. His game was a little muted but he showed well enough defensively even if he wasn't exactly a Wall-stopper. Who was?
Marcus Camby had 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists when he got tossed. Why do I get the feeling he didn't mind the extra half of vacation?
Jamal Crawford had 23 points off the bench on 7-13 shooting, several of those shots predictably improbable. He also got to the line 6 times, making all 6. 5 assists and 2 turnovers topped off his good evening.
Joel Przybilla got 16 minutes and registered 9 rebounds but he also picked up 4 personal fouls. He's not quite ready for prime time but he's proving a good stopgap.
Kurt Thomas 4 rebounds in 16 minutes filling in for Camby.
This being the Blazers, somebody has to get the dreaded Bad Review of Doom. Tonight it's Wesley Matthews. He couldn't find the range at 1-5 shooting, 0-3 from distance. I'm going to say this one more time. If you're wide, wide open SQUARE UP. If he was missing those shots honestly, fine. But it's really hard to see him shoot with messy form, knowing that shot isn't going in before it leaves his hands. 3 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers 26-27 from the foul line. Way to make the lead comfortable! Also that's a gob of free throws.
- Blazers only 23.5% from the arc but they tamed themselves down to 17 attempts instead of, like, 30.
- Blazers 51% shooting.
- Blazers only 7 turnovers.
Once more the Blazers have looked over the edge of a precipice and pulled back. But this still wasn't a good enough performance to prosper against teams much better than the Wizards. They'll need to show more before we can exhale.
Bullets Forever has your Washington hook up. Their name describes about how long this season must seem for the Wizards.