What the Trail Blazers did well: Even after Miami jumped out ahead early, the Trail Blazers never gave in. Throughout the game, they kept trying to come back from a double-digit deficit, and before their successful comeback at the end, they had mini-surges throughout that kept just a little bit of hope alive.
Nicolas Batum was the clear standout for Portland, playing well in all areas tonight. He scored 28 points and added seven rebounds, five assists, and three three-pointers. His defense on both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, particularly on the fast break, was a huge part of a defensive effort that limited the pair to a combined 33 points on 12-of-34 shooting. Wesley Matthews was also key in the comeback effort, drilling two huge threes at the end to tie the game and then to take the lead for good.
What the Heat did well: From the start, two things were obvious. Miami wanted to get out and run, and they wanted to attack the paint. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade pushed the tempo on the fast break, and Chris Bosh attacked the rim and established himself inside. Given the lack of depth for the Blazers and also their lack of dominant interior defenders, it was a good plan. Later on, after they had established themselves inside, Miami expanded their game to the mid-range and beyond, finding open shooters constantly. As a matter of fact, Miami had two chances to win the game at the end, both open threes from Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers that simply weren't able to find the inside of the rim.
Chris Bosh had a great game for Miami. In a game where both LeBron and D-Wade struggled, he was what kept them in front for most of the game. He scored 29 points on 13-of-18 shooting, and throughout the game, he was attacking the rim with dunks or spotting up in the mid-range for open jumpers. The rebounding issue for Bosh continues as he only had 4 tonight (averaging 5.2 over the past six games), but this was a great game for him nonetheless.
Why the Trail Blazers won: You have to start with the defensive effort from Nic Batum, and to a lesser extent, Wes Matthews, on LeBron and Wade. LeBron's streak of 33 straight games scoring 20 or more points was snapped, and Dwyane Wade wasn't able to hit that number either. The game was only won by two points, and the fact that neither LeBron or Wade couldn't take over late-game has to be partly due to the fact that they couldn't establish a rhythm.
At the very end, it was Wesley Matthews that won the game. Praise the Blazers for retaining a pulse throughout and making a great push at the end, but without Matthews' two threes in the final minute, the Blazers wouldn't have won. Give coach Terry Stotts credit for running a great play to hit Matthews for the first trey, and credit the team for getting the ball to Matthews for high-percentage shots the whole game, but the second one off the stepback that gave the Blazers the lead was all Wes.
Going forward for both teams: Miami, once again, has some looking in the mirror to do. They've lost five of their past eight and have looked disinterested far too many times over those games. The Heat were able to solve their recent rebounding woes and match the Blazers in rebounding tonight with 45 and you know LeBron will come back with a vengeance in his next game, but there's still a lot to be worried about for Miami. In spite of their solid rebounding tonight, the team gave up a handful of offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter that allowed the Blazers to make their comeback, and probably even more worrysome is the Heat's inability to win on the road, as they are now 7-8 in away games. They get the Sacramento Kings in Sleep Train Arena next, and they hope they can get through that one without a slip up.
Meanwhile, Portland now has a surprising 20-15 record and are tied for the seventh seed with the Denver Nuggets in a Western Conference that's been pretty surprising overall. The closest team behind them is the Utah Jazz, and they stand two games back. Damian Lillard didn't play particularly well tonight, but he's coming off of a December in which he won his second consecutive Rookie of the Month award, and should bounce back in his next outing against the Golden State Warriors. Incidentally, the Los Angeles Lakers are five games back of the Blazers, which many Blazers fans will be happy to hear.