The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Indiana Pacers, 100-80, at the Rose Garden on Wednesday night, improving their record to 21-21.
This was such a thorough jump to buzzer victory for the Blazers that it left little room for criticism. A cataloging of superlatives would be more appropriate. Most commanding performance against a quality opponent of the season. Best shooting performance (56.4 percent) of the season. Biggest positive energy differential of the season. Most effective play from J.J. Hickson against a tough match-up in weeks. Best dribble penetration and defense-reading of the season from Damian Lillard. Prettiest shooting stretch in as long as one can remember from LaMarcus Aldridge. Most positive collective impact from the bench in a long time. Least dramatic ending to a home game in more than five weeks. And, according to Lillard, the best start-to-finish team defensive effort this year.
"We've probably had better defensive stretches but I think we put together our best full game tonight," he said.
"The way we played defense was great," Nicolas Batum said. "We played as a team. It wasn't one-on-one, it was five-on-five."
The Pacers, ranked second to last in offensive efficiency and first in the league in defensive efficiency, played to their ranking on offense and fell far short on defense.
"I think we were a little flat," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "We didn't just lay an egg, but we weren't as sharp as we've been."
Coach-speak translation: We just laid an egg.
Smarting after a pride bruising home loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday night, Portland succeeded in areas where they have struggled regularly in recent weeks. They dominated the paint, winning the rebounding margin by eight (42-34) and winning the points in the paint by 16 (50-34). They started strong in the first quarter and extended the lead in the second. Their bench out-scored the Pacers' bench 19-15 and every reserve finished with a positive +/-. They avoided mental lapses and didn't concede any major runs.
"That was a good one," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "Arguably one of our more solid wins of the season. It was a good defensive effort. We were efficient offensively against the best defensive team in the league. We did a lot of good things. We almost won every quarter. From start to finish, it was an effort that we needed."
Indiana's massive center, Roy Hibbert, finished with just nine points and was a non-factor after the first quarter. Paul George, a budding All-Star caliber talent, was bottled up by Portland's wings all night, scoring 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter with the game already in the Blazers' grasp. David West was the Pacers' most consistent offensive weapon, but he was forced to work hard for most of his 21 points.
"Coach Stotts and the coaching staff did a great job at our defensive scheme," Hickson, who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds, said. "I don't think their bigs really did too much damage in the paint. All of our bigs did a great job at fronting the post and making their shots tough."
Lillard gave Indiana's guards fits off the dribble, finishing with 20 points, eight assists and zero turnovers in 38 minutes. He played essentially the entire second half but had the stamina to up his aggressiveness when it mattered, knifing to the hoop and contorting his body past large defenders without compromising his ability to release an on-balance attempt.
"It's just reading the defense," he explained. "To start the game I was coming off of ball screens, the bigs were playing back, I had the pull-up jumper and I made a few and then they started coming up higher. Once they came up higher I was able to use my speed to get around them."
Going into the teeth of Indiana's defense can be a recipe for turnovers but Lillard showed a good understanding of spacing around the basket and he seemed to ride a confidence high as he burst past his perimeter defenders.
"It's tough because [the bigs] cover so much ground," he said. "You've got to get past them and then beat them to the rim. they're seven feet tall, they take one step and they're already at the rim. It's something you've got to work on."
Aldridge's shooting helped create some of the operating space. He finished with 27 points and six rebounds and shot 10-for-12 during the second and third quarters.
"I made one or two and my teammates said to keep shooting it," Aldridge said. "Coach started drawing up plays for me to take jump shots and I just kept making them."
Stotts added: "LaMarcus was in a groove. His shot was going. He had a few good post-ups. His mid-range was on."
For the second game in a row, Lillard played the entire first and third quarters and the stabilizing presence that you might expect to have with that substitution pattern revealed itself more thoroughly than it did against the Wizards. He played much better at the outset than he did on Monday, for one, and Ronnie Price did very well in his second quarter stretch to help open up the Blazers' lead. In his shift, Price took a charge, registered a steal and had two assists, including one to Will Barton in a rare transition opportunity. Portland opened up a double-digit lead and never looked back.
"I wouldn't say relief," Lillard explained, when asked to judge the takeaway feeling after snapping a six-game losing streak. "It's about time. It's more a feeling of, we got a win, let's try to get a winning streak."
That said, they sure looked and sounded relieved, and who could blame them?
Random Game Notes
- The crowd was announced at 18,934. They had plenty to cheer for here, including Chalupas, and did so.
- LaMarcus Aldridge said that he doesn't believe he will make the All-Star team as a reserve. "I don't think so. I don't think so, but anything's possible. I thought last year our record was better and this year it's not as good. It doesn't bother me. That first one was hard. If I don't get in, I'm not going to worry about it."
- Jason Quick of The Oregonian has a longer piece on Aldridge's less intense approach to the selection process this year.
- Damian Lillard's "it's about time" line above showed through in one of his second half drives to the hoop, when he capped an and-one finish with a fist pump. A little celebratory frustration release there.
- Will Barton played 20 minutes, no small accomplishment for a Blazers reserve. His first half was better than his second half but he wound up doing more good than harm. As Kobe Bryant said recently regarding his 81-point night, Barton wouldn't pass a kidney stone at points during this game. When playing alongside Price, that's not necessarily the worst thing in the world.
- Speaking of Barton, great catch by ZiggyTheBeagle regarding his 11 trillion against the Wizards.
- The Blazers took advantage of the Pacers' tight defense numerous times, beating them backdoor for a lob to Hickson and on an inbounds play to Wesley Matthews. Portland looked very prepared.
- The final box score didn't do justice to Nicolas Batum's performance (10 points, eight assists, five rebounds, one block, one steal) relative to Paul George's (22 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals). I've been on the George bandwagon hard this year but there wasn't much separating them in this one and through three quarters, when the game was decided, they were basically even.
- Were you nervous when Nolan Smith entered the game with a 14-point lead and more than a minute remaining?
- Lillard on finally winning a game with some breathing room after so many close games: "I don't think you really ever have breathing room unless it's 25 points. We've come back from 18 with four minutes left."
- Lillard seemed happy to register zero turnovers in 38+ minutes, saying, "Every game that's the first thing I look at, how many turnovers did I have? That's something I have to continue to improve on. Hopefully I will."
- Lillard sat out Tuesday's practice with a sore hamstring. It was a non-factor. "It felt fine. It didn't bother me at all."
- One final superlative: More hustle plays -- diving for loose balls, etc. -- than I can remember from this team in awhile. They played throughout like this was a must-win. They passed this particular mental test with flying colors.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
That was a good one. Arguably one of our more solid wins of the season. It was a good defensive effort. We were efficient offensively against the best defensive team in the league. We did a lot of good things. We almost won every quarter. From start to finish it was an effort that we needed.
Defense an emphasis?
Defensive is always an emphasis, believe it or not. It is always emphasized.
Solid defensive effort
It was a solid defensive effort. Indiana wins their games with their defense. We did a solid defensive job but shooting as well as we did and executing as well as we did offensively against them was every bit as important as our defense.
Pace pushed like you wanted it to?
I didn't see the final numbers on the pace, we tried to push it. We did have opportunities in the open court and I thought we made a concerted effort to do that. Fast break points probably doesn't say what the pace was but we made a concerted effort to do it.
Damian Lillard driving more
Damian reads the game. We knew with some of their pick and rolls coverages we would be able to set good screens on them in pick and rolls and he'd be able to attack. He's very explosive getting to the basket.
Not a close game for the first time in awhile
It was refreshing since we were on the good side of it. That 10 game streak of last minute games, that was fun basketball but it was tough. To be honest, when you're up 15 with three minutes to go, you still don't think you quite have it. We needed a win like that. We haven't had a lot of wins like that. To have it at this stage was pretty refreshing.
LaMarcus Aldridge's hot shooting
LaMarcus was in a groove. His shot was going. He had a few good post-ups. His mid-range was on.
Attacking the rim against a good interior defense
It starts with the screen. When they drop, setting a good screen creates an opportunity for a ball-handler. After that, it's just making the right plays. I don't know if it's anything we did differently, but we took advantages of the gaps that were.
Damian Lillard using screens versus not using screens
We only did the one-four flat one time at the end of the third quarter, and really I didn't even want it then. There was miscommunication, I put Wes in and I had three three-point shooters and I wanted Jared to set a ball screen so he could attack the rim again. That was the only time we really isolated him up top.
LaMarcus Aldridge as All-Star
Your guess is as good as mine. I'm anxious to find out. He should make it and I hope that he does.
Damian Lillard and Nic Batum sitting longer in the second quarter
The group out there was playing well. I thought our bench was very good tonight. That allowed Damian to play the whole second half. That stretch, Ronnie did a terrific job of running the show, and those minutes were very valuable and very effective. When things are going well, guys deserve to stay on the floor.
Jared Jeffries playing early
I liked Jared's experience against a guy like David West. Indiana is a veteran team, strong, I liked his veteran leadership and presence, especially alongside Meyers.
Conversation with Meyers Leonard
I don't know. I was yelling at him most of the night. You would have to pick a time. You've got to be more specific.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter