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Nicolas Batum keeps the Trail Blazers afloat through three shaky quarters and then sets up the decisive run in the fourth as the Blazers beat the Heat, 92-90.
For the first three quarters of this game you'd have sworn the Miami Heat were going to walk away with it. They put on a clinic that well could have been titled, "How to Cripple the Blazers and Win Games". Elements of their success included:
- Dominating the boards, allowing the Blazers few offensive rebounds and swarming anybody who did catch off the offensive glass.
- Using that rebounding dominance to leak out for easy buckets against single, overmatched defenders on Portland's end.
- Getting hands in the faces of shooters, forcing the Blazers to miss almost all their outside shots.
- Bullying J.J. Hickson every time he tried to score inside.
- Forcing turnovers, taking away critical Portland possessions and generating even more easy shots.
- Scoring in the paint repeatedly in the halfcourt, particularly with their Big Three.
Adding to the misery, the Blazers were abetting the Heat in their quest for victory. In a big game, the Blazers' offense came up pretty small. They looked nervous in scenarios where they usually prosper. Even when their threes were wide open they missed them. When LaMarcus Aldridge got attempts in the paint he shuffled, twisted weirdly, and rushed the release. Almost every pass that had any chance to lead to an open scoring opportunity arrived too high, too low, left or right, allowing Miami to catch up to the ball and scuttling otherwise good looks. Almost everyone looked hesitant to shoot.
The Blazers actually had a decent offensive plan in the first quarter, trying to use Hickson inside as a mismatch. His looks were all covered well and he missed every one of them. Plus having him be the primary scorer kept him away from the offensive glass, so those misses were one-and-done. On the other end Chris Bosh was making like Superman, using the attention paid to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James as a license to score free and easy. The Blazers alternated between 0 and 1 defender on him, depending on the situation. He scored either way.
Only a few Portland bright spots interrupted Miami's control of this game. Damian Lillard hit a couple threes early on...the only Blazer to connect from outside. Nicolas Batum turned in an efficient and productive first half on the offensive end while handling Wade or LeBron every trip down the court defensively. But those weren't near enough as Miami led 52-39 at the break.
The third period was more of the same, especially in the rebounding and passing departments. The Blazers were just off their game. They did stage a mini-comeback behind forced turnovers, credited mostly to the defense of Batum. Those turnovers, the layups they generated, a couple nice drives by Ronnie Price, and the inability of Miami's bench players to score late in the period brought the Blazers back to within 5 as the fourth quarter commenced.
Bosh, Ray Allen, and Mike Miller poured in 9 points in the first 2:30 of the fourth, leaving the Heat up 11 again and it looked like that was going to be it for the Blazers. But a funny thing happened on the way to Miami's win. All of a sudden the Blazers started rebounding like normal...meaning cleaning up the defensive class impeccably and generating enough offensive rebounds to keep the Heat near the ball and not streaking away. Then the Blazers started getting the ball inside and getting fouled instead of bricking outside shots off the dribble. Then Batum hit a three, Batum and Matthews started making life hell for the Heat with their defense, the Blazers started passing effectively, Matthews hit a jumper in the key, Batum hit a brilliant and-one layup...lo and behold, the ballgame was tied and it was a dogfight.
Despite some potentially costly errors--missed opportunities close to the rim and missed free throws--which kept the Blazers from zooming ahead, their defense and rebounding stayed solid enough to keep the game close. Ray Allen returned the "costly mistake" favor with 1:05 remaining, hitting only 1 of 2 free throw attempts and leaving the Blazers down by 3. After the ensuing timeout Batum got in the lane, drew the weak-side defense, and floated a silky pass to Matthews in the corner for a three that anybody who has watched the Blazers this year KNEW was going. Tie ballgame. When Matthews hit a step-back three on Allen on the next possession to counter a Bosh dunk, the Blazers led and momentum was on their side. Portland's defense was good enough to hold the Heat to consecutive three-point attempts in their final two possessions. Both were open, both missed. The Blazer walked away with a 92-90 win and the biggest confidence boost they've had this season.
Impressive stats of the night:
- LeBron James held to 15 points on 6-16 shooting. He looked like a deity when his shot went in. He also had 10 rebounds and 9 assists, so it wasn't a bad game for him. But the Blazers made him work.
- Ditto for Dwyane Wade at 6-18 for 18 points. Add these two bullet points into the column of "Batum and Matthews are pretty good defenders".
- Though Bosh shot 13-18 and scored 29 he had but 4 rebounds. Aldridge had 15 and Hickson 10. Recovering in this department set the stage for the Portland comeback. After getting bullied early the Blazers ended up tying the Heat in total rebounds, 45-45.
- The Blazers won on a night when they shot only 9-27 (33%) from the arc. They held the Heat to 6-19 shooting from distance (32%). Miami is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league. (Confidentially I'm not sure how much the Blazers had to do with some of those misses. Miami blew some pretty open threes tonight.)
- The Blazers also held the high-percentage Heat offense to 45.5% shooting from the field, more than 3 percentage points under their normal average. THAT was a defensive accomplishment.
- The Heat had 38 points in the paint at the half (30 of those scored by the Big 3). Miami finished with only 44 total points in the paint. After getting obliterated in the early quarters the Blazers closed the gap to finish only -6 in this department.
- Portland forced 17 turnovers and scored 15 fast break points, beating the Heat in both departments.