Give me five, Three Bird. Photo: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
In a Nutshell
With Deron Williams out and the Nets ripe for the picking the Blazers play slop-ball with the Nets for roughly 38 minutes of this 48-minute contest but Portland's slop includes a ton of made threes, New Jersey's a ton of misses. Portland's advantage is pushed home by the triumphant 10 minutes in which they actually attacked the rim and blew away the Nets.
If the first half of this game were a textbook it would have been titled "How to Let a Not-So-Great Opponent Stay in the Game Without Really Trying". For most of the first two quarters the Blazers had it on cruise control with their feet up in the window. They played most of the half at a walking tempo, shooting outside. LaMarcus Aldridge looked brilliant hitting his jump shots. Portland's three-point bombers connected. But other than J.J. Hickson (occasionally) and some wild lob attempts (frequently) nobody went anywhere near the paint. New Jersey returned the favor on the other end. The result was a 46-44 lead for Portland at the half. How bad was it? The Nets allow 44.6 points in the paint per game. At halftime the Blazers had 6.
You'd have thought the beginning of the third period would provide occasion for perking up, but you'd have thought wrong. The only thing resembling basketball in the first 6 minutes of the third was the Spalding. Turnovers, horrible passes, blown bunnies, fumbled rebounds...the two teams invented new ways to look bad. Fortunately Portland's jump-shooting held true while New Jersey could only muster 4 points during the span. Portland led 62-48 when LaMarcus Aldridge hammered home a dunk with 6:11 remaining in the quarter. That turned on the light in the Blazers' collective heads. "Wait a minute. We can get anything we want inside...anything we want inside...anything we want inside." All of sudden they began to embarrass the Nets with streaks and dunks, halfcourt and on the break. All the blushing about their interior defense must have corrected New Jersey's eyesight, though, as the Nets all of a sudden began hitting their long shots. Even so, they need every one to keep within a dozen as the Blazers led 76-64 after three (courtesy of a drained buzzer-beating three by Luke Babbitt).
The Blazers were expected to cruise after that but the second unit came out fouling instead of defending. In the first 1:45 of the fourth New Jersey hit 5 free throws, a three, and a wide-open Kris Humphries jumper at the foul line. All of a sudden the Nets were back within 4. Portland's solution was a bunch of Jamal Crawford jumpers missed and a couple turnovers made. New Jersey tied the game with 8:30 left and went ahead at the 7:30 mark. That's when Nicolas Batum and Hickson stepped up, Hickson scoring at the rim in the halfcourt, Batum making a couple of threes. The regulars also tightened up the defense and rebounding, leaving the Nets cold again. When the smoke cleared Portland won by double-digits, 101-88.
One of the strengths of the post-McMillan Blazer clubs is having less concern in the offense. Portland's three-point percentage has gone up lately because that's a permissible shot now. Green lights have bred confidence. But Portland evidences a corresponding weakness, getting way too loosey-goosey on nights like this. The line between "not looking over your shoulder" and "just doing whatever" is thin. Most of the roster is on the correct side of that line still--or at least is making enough shots to fake it well--but as a team they're treading perilously close to the dark side. Then again, does it matter at this point? Next year's team will look quite different than this year's. In the macro-cosmic sense the Blazers are hanging in limbo. The grey haze seems to penetrate their microcosm as well.
LaMarcus Aldridge went 10-18 on an impressive array of jumpers. It was one of those nights where he just couldn't miss with the "J", in part because he was defended so poorly. When he feels comfortable he's as deadly as any superstar you care to name in the league. 24 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks.
Nicolas Batum had an on-again, off-again night until the Blazers needed a hero in the fourth, then he flipped the switch to "on" and kept it there. You got a reminder in that period how devastating he can be. 7-14 from the field, 4-8 from distance, 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals.
Raymond Felton had a great night overall, going 3-4 from distance, 5-8 overall, for 14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals. He even had a couple nice defensive plays in the second half. Great game.
Wesley Matthews went 1-9, packing in an assortment of awkward drives into those 8 misses. He had 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 35 minutes.
Joel Przybilla played 11 minutes and had a rebound.
J.J. Hickson continued to eat both big man minutes and opponents, blasting down the door to the lane, shooting 7-10 inside, collecting 6 foul shot attempts, scoring 18, adding 8 rebounds, and providing 3 blocks...the latter of which were about the only demonstrable defense Portland's second unit played during certain stretches of this game.
Luke Babbitt's 2-5 shooting night from the arc was good. Adding 3 rebounds and 2 assists to his 6 points in 18 minutes was better. Nice buzzer-beater too. Both Luke and the crowd are starting to expect the ball will go in when he releases. Measure the distance between that expectation and his early-year ennui and you can say this guy has been reborn.
Jonny Flynn has some nifty moves off the dribble and was looking for his shot in this game more than I've yet seen him in Portland's uniform. He went 2-6 for 5 points in 15 minutes with an assist. His defense is woeful though.
Nolan Smith had one of those "What the heck are you doing?" 7-minute stints.
Jamal Crawford had one of those "What the heck are you doing?" 3-10 shooting performances in 19 minutes. He did have 2 steals.
Hasheem Thabeet grabbed an offensive rebound in his 2 minutes of court time. Unfortunately he brought the ball down after securing it and promptly got it swatted away off of his leg for a turnover.
Kurt Thomas, once a bench stalwart, has not played in 4 of Portland's last 5 games.
Fun With Numbers
- The Blazers ended up with 36 points in the paint in this game after that half-dozen in the first half.
- Blazers 46% shooting, New Jersey 37%.
- Blazers 12-24 from the arc, an even 50%.
- Blazers allow 15 offensive rebounds to the Nets. But make up for it partially with 10 steals.
Gerald Wallace's performance tonight was typical of his nights for the Blazers this year. He had 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists but he played below the rim on offense, got his inside stuff swatted, and only shot 3-12 for 8 points in 32 minutes. Portland fans received him with genuine warmth, though, and appropriately so.
NetsDaily will talk about those green shoes with red unis...uhhhh...I mean the Nets' performance.