Could have used a little more of this in the second half.
The Short Version
With memories of the previous Los Angeles Laker blowout still fresh in their minds, the Portland Trail Blazers overcame their own weaknesses to stay close all night. However, the Lakers did what contenders do, make plays late to hold on for a victory. While the usual Blazer frustrations appeared, it was still a close, entertaining game.
The Long Version
The game started ominously with a Gasol-to-Bynum alley-oop for a dunk, combined with a Raymond Felton airball. Soon, the Lakers realized the Blazers left the paint wide open, and they invaded. When outside of the paint, the newly-promoted Ramon Sessions ran the offense nicely, and Kobe Bryant found his range. At the other end, the Blazers shot jumpers exclusively to varying success. In a familiar sight, most of the Blazer offense was one-on-one, while the balanced LA passing attack kept Portland off balance. And transition defense? Let’s just say Dave wouldn’t be impressed. With 3 minutes left in the first, Aldridge left for his second foul, and the Lakers took immediate advantage. They led 30-19 after the first quarter.
JJ Hickson scored a few buckets at the start of the second quarter, but that non-existent Blazer defense led to repeated points in the paint for the Lakers. At one point, Metta just spun right around Crawford for an easy dunk. However, just as the Lakers gained confidence, the game changed. The Lakers’ efficient offense wavered, and they reduced their inside presence. Their shooting percentage plummeted. Meanwhile, the Blazers picked up their defense (including some effective zone D) as Nolan Smith and a crazy-hot LaMarcus Aldridge went one-on-one, and just couldn’t miss. The Blazers tied the game late, but the Lakers scored the last 5 points heading into halftime. While the score was close thanks to some hot shooting, some other numbers painted a different picture. Most glaringly, the Lakers dominated both assists and rebounding.
Both teams wasted no time going back inside to start the second half, as the increasingly-chippy defense led to more fouls. The Lakers did just enough to stay in front of the Blazers for most of the quarter, hitting a few shots from outside, then pounding it back inside. Following a recent pattern, the Blazers abandoned the red-hot Aldridge for more guard jumpers. They hit enough of them to stay close, but more importantly, the Blazer defense kept the Lakers from free dunks and easy buckets. In fact, Luke Babbitt blocked a last-second shot to keep the Blazers within 1 at the third quarter buzzer.
The Lakers tried to play keepaway in the fourth, as they kept the lead just out of the Blazers' reach. With Kobe uncharacteristically quiet since the first quarter, Sessions and Bynum (and the overwhelming rebounding advantage) kept tight control. Meanwhile, somewhere Dave was growling, as the Blazer guards continued to control the Blazer offense while Aldridge enjoyed a nice view. Despite that, the feisty Blazers just wouldn't go away, as Matthews hit a three to pull within 1 with 5 minutes left, then a Felton did the same a minute later. But the Blazer defensive effort waned a bit, cracking the door open a jar, and the Lakers burst through it with second chance points and free throws to put the game away.
If you point to one stat to say "this was the game", it was rebounding. The Lakers owned the boards, 53-29, including a game-changing 17 offensive rebounds. Every time the Blazers thought they had an opening in the fourth, a Laker offensive rebound knocked their collective wind out. Pau Gasol only scored 10 points, but his 16 rebounds were back-breaking.
It's been a long time since the Blazers finished a game with just 5 assists. Ok, it was a couple weeks. But they had 18 tonight on 36 FG's. That's a respectable ratio for the team this year. Until you look at the Lakers, with newly-starting Ramon Sessions: 33 assists on 40 FG's. Yow. Steve Blake's seat won't get very cold for the rest of the season.
If the Lakers hadn't shot 65% on Free Throws, the "just out of reach" fourth quarter could have become the "solidly out of reach" fourth quarter. But a close Blazer game is usually entertaining, so I'll take it.
LaMarcus Aldridge had an amazing first half. If this were NBA Jam, his ball would be on fire. Then he got a close view of jumpers in the second half. 21 points at halftime, 29 overall. As Ann kindly reminded me in the gameday thread, Aldridge did hurt his finger yesterday. So if that slowed him down, no problem. Otherwise? Get him the dang ball. He wasn't covered that well.
JJ Hickson gets an early mention tonight. The Blazers brought him in for an audition, and apparently he's a really good interviewer. He brought instant energy off the bench, and an infusion of height. He scored 14 points in 22 minutes in his first game, and deserves some praise. As billed, he didn't do much on the boards, but he kept in front of his man well enough inside.
And now, the guards. You know that animated GIF where the person keeps pounding his head into the desk? It was that kind of night. The Big Three (Matthews, Felton, Crawford), shot a combined 10-37 for 32 points. Without Wesley's 4-8 from three, this would have been much worse. Raymond found a way to shoot an airball from 5 feet away. Watching the guards take over the game, without recognizing their hottest player was standing there, was infuriating.
The last guard standing, Nolan Smith, actually did ok. He had a nice second quarter run to spur the comeback, and didn't stand out in a negative way. He was 3-3 for 6 points and 3 assists in an upgraded 17 minutes. And only one really cringe-worthy turnover.
Nicolas Batum is still working on the consistency. 9 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in 33 minutes. Kobe Bryant struggled after a hot first quarter, so credit where it's due.
Kurt Thomas did Kurt Thomas type stuff in 12 minutes, in a good way. Grabbed boards, kept things physical, he did his job.
Give the Laker fans some nice congrats over at Silver Screen and Roll.
No jersey contest tonight, and Dave will post the next game's contest soon.
The next Blazer game is Sunday, at home against the Golden State Warriors. -- Tim