Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The Trail Blazers take the Nuggets to the wire and beyond but critical mistakes catch up to them, scuttling an otherwise fine effort.
You have to hand it to the Trail Blazers. 111-115 in overtime was not how that final score was supposed to read. The Blazers put in a fine effort, which you can read more about in Timmay's instant recap.
The Blazers benefited from bucking the trend in a couple of important categories. First, they refused to bow entirely to Denver's dominance inside. Don't worry, the Nuggets still scored an obnoxious 68 points in the paint...a game and a half's worth for most opponents. But the Blazers scored 48 in the paint themselves, also a game and a half by their standards. They relied on LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, J.J. Hickson on the offensive glass and both delivered. Portland also kept up with Denver on the boards, with Hickson outrebounding his counterpart, Kenneth Faried, 13 to 11. Portland shot in the high 47% range, just about the same as Denver did. The Blazers attempted 23 free throws to the Nuggets' 19, ending up +7 in points from the foul line. Every time the Nuggets threatened to go ahead for good the Blazers came back. They finished quarters like Pac Man tonight, showing poise and maturity beyond their years. In most ways this was a great game for Portland.
Ultimately 3-4 ugly developments cost the Blazers the victory despite their shockingly good play.
1. Portland's trend of moving the ball was a key to their high shooting percentage. It also created many turnovers in the hands of the Nuggets, who roamed the passing lanes all night long. Denver had 12 outright steals, forced 18 total turnovers, and scored many of their 22 fast break points after those picks.
1a. The Blazers had trouble getting back in transition. Often when they did they'd come up with a weak foul allowing the Nuggets an and-one instead of stopping the play. (We're looking at you, Damian Lillard.)
2. Portland went 5-5 on three-pointers to start the game then fired at a 3-22 pace from distance the rest of the night. Open or in desperation, the result was the same: miss. Since 27 of Portland's 88 shots came from beyond the arc, this turned out to be significant. Ironically Denver won the game by hitting their own three-pointers late when they had missed all night long. Momentum is a fickle mistress.
3. The Blazers got next to nothing from their bench again. Will Barton had a good offensive outing in the first half. Other than that it was missed shots, no rebounds, and bad defense. Every time the starters thought about building a cushion the bench gave it right back again. This required the starters to play huge minutes yet again, resulting in...
4. The ultimate deciding factor: fatigue. As the third and fourth periods wound on the Blazers kept turning over the ball, dribbling in place, missing open jumpers, and completely blowing defensive rotations. That last effect was most pronounced. At times four Portland defenders stood rooted in place while the fifth got burned. Those starters didn't have the energy for sustained runs. They'd make a move then get reeled in again. They timed their last moves impeccably, sailing forward at the end of regulation and overtime, but the Nuggets hit their shots and it didn't work out. In reality, though, those well-timed moves should have put the Blazers up 10 and sealed the game, not brought them back from 5 down to make it a contest. Had the Blazers been able to execute consistently tonight they would have stolen this game. Those lulls ultimately doomed them.
This game was probably a moral victory. Unfortunately those don't count on the record sheet, where the Blazers are now staring down three straight losses. What's more the long starter's minutes may make life more difficult versus Cleveland tomorrow. If the Blazers can muster this kind of game at home against the Cavs they'll walk away with an easy win. If the sloppy play and lulls carry over, though due to even more fatigue? Ouch.
LaMarcus Aldridge had yet another team-saving game. He was masterful on the offensive end, working the block, drawing fouls, making great interior passes...he did it all. 10-21 shooting, 28 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists. He even got hung out to dry defending smaller players on the perimeter late in the game and showed well. These nights aren't registering in the consciousness like they should because of the losses, but Aldridge has been great lately.
Nicolas Batum also had a really solid game...complete and effective. He played both ends, provided some lightning scoring when needed, and kept active on the court. He shot only 2-9 from beyond the arc, the one flaw in his evening. (3 turnovers might be another but everybody committed them tonight.) He went 8-17 overall for 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. This was another professional-grade game from him.
J.J. Hickson wasn't great on defense but you already knew that. He gave everything he could, netting 13 rebounds, 19 points on 7-8 shooting, and even added 2 assists and 2 blocks. Do you love J.J. for what he is or criticize him for what he isn't? This was more a night for the former.
At this point the lineup gets shaky. Damian Lillard had 8 rebounds and 5 assists plus 2 blocks and only 2 turnovers. He also shot 3-5 from three. He went 3-10 on shots inside the arc, though, and drew only 2 free throws. His shot selection was poor, at least in terms of timing. He had one flashy run of scoring and the rest was groan city.
Wesley Matthews looked worse. 6-13 isn't a horrible percentage from the field but 2-7 from the arc is not good when you need threes to fall. His were often open too. 5 rebounds and 2 steals with his 14 points is an acceptable line but his defense left something to be desired. He looked like either the biggest victim of fatigue or like he's still half injured. And this was before he got hung out on Ty Lawson three times down the stretch and got blown by. (Again, though, nobody rotated to help him.) You expect defensive lapses from Lillard but this is one of Matthews' calling cards.
Will Barton led the bench with 17 minutes, shooting 3-7 for 7 of the 12 points the reserves scored. The most impressive thing about his game tonight was that he worked for good shots instead of taking the first one available. Mostly that meant pump faking and getting closer to the basket. It was a good night for him.
Ronnie Price had 2 assists but 3 turnovers in 11 minutes. It's like he wanted to make something happen, as he's done in recent games, but nothing was there. He tried anyway and it didn't work. On the one hand I give him credit for trying to be that guy and even more credit for having succeeded a couple times. On the other hand I wonder if that's Price's role, as opposed to managing the game until the starters get back in full force. Check in after a couple more months and we'll have a better answer.
Jared Jeffries and Joel Freeland were non-factors in limited minutes.
Luke Babbitt, on the other hand, got destroyed on defense. My lasting impression of him from this game is Denver going to whoever he guarded on a given possession and that person scoring. Even when he was out of the play the rebound seemed to get in his guy's hands and that guy scored anyway. It was not his night. Nightmare, maybe.
Memo to self: for about 120 seconds of any given game, JaVale McGee looks like the world's most amazing player. Outside of that he looks like a one-man comedy routine.
Cleveland tomorrow. Wish the Blazers a little luck and a lot of energy.
Denver Stiffs will celebrate the win.