The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Orlando Magic, 125-119, in overtime at the Rose Garden on Monday night, improving their record to 19-15 on the season.
Overtime is a strange brew and not one that I can remember tackling in too much detail over the years. There are so many ways to get there, and to not get there. You can leap into overtime and you can back into overtime. One more free throw, one fewer free throw, one clutch jumper, or one dumb turnover and it never has the chance to materialize.
Just as getting to overtime is subject to chance and fate, the extra period itself is just as unpredictable. The Blazers have won one overtime in a blowout (14-4 over the Houston Rockets on November 3), they've won two convincingly (17-11 against the Magic here and 16-10 against the Charlotte Bobcats on December 3), they've squeaked one out (8-6 against the Rockets on November 16) and they've tied one (against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 1, forcing a second overtime period that they won 15-14 on a walk-off three-pointer).
Add up those results and the Blazers are 5-0 in overtime on the season. The Blazers' public relations department noted that this marks the first 5-0 start in overtimes for Portland since the 1986-87 season. Rather than solidify this team's place among the most clutch in franchise history, that fact just reinforces how late-game success is a product of good fortune, confidence and assertiveness converging. The Blazers aren't 5-0 if Batum's game-winner against the Cavaliers rims off. For that matter, they aren't 5-0 if Damian Lillard's potential game-winner at the end of regulation goes in on Monday night.
With the roles played by luck and circumstance duly noted, the Blazers were impressive throughout the second half, and particularly in the extra period, forced by a gorgeously set up Jameer Nelson game-tying three-pointer on the Magic's final offensive possession of regulation.
"For whatever reason, this team is built for overtimes," Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, who finished with 24 points, four assists and three rebounds, told Blazersedge. "I'd rather not go into [overtime], I'd rather finish it in regulation but we dug deep, we had it, Jameer Nelson hit a tough three, a clutch three. We buckled down, we didn't hang our heads, and we came out with a victory."
The Blazers lack many of the values you would expect a team that is undefeated in overtime to possess. Portland isn't deep, leaving it more exposed to fatigue and foul trouble. Portland's chief ball-handler, Lillard, isn't experienced, making the team theoretically more likely to be susceptible to late-game miscues. Portland's No. 1 scoring option, LaMarcus Aldridge, doesn't shoot an overwhelming number of foul shots and, of those, his confidence and proficiency seems to wane late in games. Portland is a below-average team defensively, meaning there should be holes for other teams to exploit when possessions are most highly valued.
Like Matthews, the Blazers, riding high on a three-game winning streak, couldn't care less about those assumptions.
"We play confident now in overtime because we know we are going to win it," Nicolas Batum told Blazersedge, after scoring 16 points, dishing 10 assists and grabbing four rebounds. "I don't know why but we feel like if it's overtime, maybe the game is over. You can't fall too much into that, like the game is going to be easy, but in overtime we stay focused, we talk, we stay together, we play our game, stay calm and make the plays."
Lillard, who scored four points and made a key steal in overtime after missing a deep three at the regulation buzzer that would have won the game, attributed his team's extra time success to some unexpected factors: the intensity of training camp and the upbringings of its key players.
"How tough our training camp was, the type of team we have, that's what we thrive in," he explained to Blazersedge. "We have a lot of guys that come from tough situations, have tough stories. When the [other] team comes back like that, it makes it a tough game. We love those situations."
Batum and Stotts pointed to another factor: the fact that Portland relies so heavily on its starters primes them for the "five on five and few, if any, substitutions" life of overtime.
"We know each other," Batum told Blazersedge. "No more [pressure]. 5-0. Run the plays, do what we've got to do, play good defense, grab some rebounds and run."
Lillard, Batum, Aldridge (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Hickson (20 points and 15 rebounds) all finished with double-doubles. All five starters played 42 or more minutes. All five starters scored in the overtime period.
Stotts said: "Five-minute game -- anybody can win a five-minute game. I would venture to say the five starters have played every minute of every overtime. They've played well together. I think there's confidence involved. We've talked about our resiliency before, when you have a game you think you should have won in regulation. To bounce back, bounce out of the timeout, come out of the gate well, is something to be proud of in different ways over the season."
The Rose Garden crowd seemed genuinely surprised when Lillard's three at the end of regulation drew back iron. Lillard told Blazersedge that he opted for the deep three over Magic guard Arron Afflalo rather than attacking off of the dribble after reading Orlando's defensive approach and concluding that there wouldn't be sufficient space to operate.
"I knew that they would be on the elbows and boxes, suck it in, so I knew I wouldn't be able to get in there," he said. "I just wanted to get [Afflalo] off balance and get a good look at the rim. Once I was about to go, I saw them sending somebody my way, I got him off balance, I got the shot off."
Stotts credited Afflalo's defense and Magic coach Jacque Vaughn with a good adjustment in switching Afflalo onto Lillard during the sequence. He also provided a sliver of distance between himself and the hero ball three-point attempt. While Stotts didn't outright criticize Lillard's shot-selection, which generated a relatively low-percentage look, he didn't completely co-sign it either.
"I couldn't tell how far out it was," Stotts said. "The main thing, tie score, I want to make sure we get the last shot. He can make them, he's made them, he missed that one, it is what it is. The main thing is I want to control the clock and control the shot... It was a tougher shot than I would have liked."
Lillard's miss made him zero-for-six on the game from deep and a combined 12-for-43 (27.9 percent) over the last seven games on three-pointers. There are definitely better looks to be found -- some of which these same Blazers generated in late-game situations earlier this season -- but it's the kind of shot you live with if you're as welcoming of overtime as this bunch seems to be.
"I've never let a missed shot take me out of the game," Lillard said. "There's so many other things I can do to affect the game. After I missed the shot in regulation, in overtime it's kind of like a whole different game. We've won every overtime game we've been in. Once that came, I just wanted to make as many plays as I could on both ends, go all out to win the game."
That's exactly what happened. The defining sequence came when Lillard scooped up a loose ball with 1:09 remaining and the Blazers leading by four, scooping it to Hickson for an uncontested dunk in transition. The Magic, who didn't fold up when Portland made a hard push in the third quarter, couldn't match Portland's intensity and energy during the final five minutes.
"With the recent streak we've been on, our record as of late, we've got a confidence and a swagger about us," Matthews said. "We're accustomed to winning, we're used to winning, we turned it up on defense."
There remains a sense that the other shoe must drop for these guys. So many minutes from so few players. Such small contributions from so many bench players. Such good injury luck, all things considered. So many recent breaks, whether it was Zach Randolph and Kevin Love missing games last week, or Amar'e Stoudemire coming back just in time. (Kidding on the last part. Not really though.) Such a favorable early schedule compared to what's coming.
Lillard used the same words as Matthews to summarize the difference in this overtime, a difference that could just as easily stand for Portland's play in going 11-3 over the last month.
"I think we turned it up," he said. "There's been some games where teams have turned it up on us [and] we ended up on the wrong end. Tonight we ended up [turning] it up [to] win the game."
Random Game Notes
- The announced attendance was 19,560. Short of a sell out. I was expecting far worse due to the time conflict with the BCS National Championship game, the fact that tickets were going extraordinarily cheap on Stubhub, and the volume of people who let me know in recent days they had been offered free tickets to the game in one form or another.
- This was an excellent crowd. I joked on Twitter that the game turned when the arena played "Vengabus" in the second half but there was just an extra electrical element in this game that hasn't been there all that often this season, not even in the win-heavy stretch in December. Surely Portland's season-high 125 points helped the fun factor, but still. Quite engaged and loud in the late game situations.
- Best wishes to Abby Chin who leaves CSNNW to head to CSNNE. A very talented broadcaster and a very nice person. Good luck!
- During the second half, isolated sections of the 300 level began chanting "M-V-P" as Damian Lillard stood at the free throw line. He told me afterwards that he did hear the cheering. Here's his reaction: "I did hear that. That's just them being excited and them showing support. I know I'm not the MVP. It's great. I'm glad they would do something like that. I know I'm not the MVP. If I'm the MVP to them, that's a great thing to me. Just being here, I love that type of love from them. At the same time, I know I'm not the MVP."
- Asked for his MVP vote, Lillard went first to his teammate. "I'd probably vote for L.A. If it's other players [outside Portland], if not L.A., I'd probably say LeBron [James] because of everything he brings to the table. I think he's the most dominant player in the league."
- James and the Miami Heat come to town on Thursday for a nationally-televised showdown. Wesley Matthews excitedly said he was "hyped" while Lillard said it was a "big game" but one he would try to prepare for as normal, even though he's never faced James on a court in his life.
- Lillard will receive his second Rookie of the Month trophy on Thursday.
- Some boos for Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu. Still, all these years after the 2009 free agency boomerang.
- LaMarcus Aldridge was played well by Nikola Vucevic, who is looking like the hidden prize of the four-team Dwight Howard deal, at least from Orlando's perspective. Vucevic finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and one block and had a number of deflections on defense. He was fundamentally sound one-on-one and pest-like, a good combination against a versatile offensive player. Aldridge had somewhat generic praise: "He's a solid defender. He's good offensively too. I thought he was big for them offensively and defensively. He should be good."
- Batum's push-ahead bounce pass that found Ronnie Price for a dunk in transition was pretty nice, even if Price needed a second bounce to catch up to it.
- The Blazers are milking the weakside lob play to J.J. Hickson for all it's worth. The scouts will catch on soon enough.
- The jumbotron flashed the final seconds of the BCS National Championship game while playing "Sweet Home Alabama." That drew some boos.
- Sign of the night: "Oppa Lillard Style." Really didn't make any sense until the kid standing next to the sign did a modified version of the Gangnam Style dance that involved a step back shooting motion. Kids these days!
- Nicolas Batum said that two recent losses helped set the mental tone prior to this game: "The Toronto game was a good thing for us. It was a wake up call. We've done a good job since then, in Memphis and Minnesota. [The] Sacramento game [in Portland] was a good one for us too. Now we know what we can do tonight. Maybe [this could have been] a trap game, Orlando played good, give them credit for that, but we got a win."
- Matthews on chasing Magic guard J.J. Redick, who finished with a game-high 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting with six threes. "He's fast. Especially when he got it going. Whenever a guy in this league gets it going, especially a shooter, a scorer like that, it seems like they get an extra gear. I was trying to cool him down, make every touch difficult, make every shot difficult I feel like for the most part I did that in the second half."
- Redick was seven-for-nine in the first three quarters and four-for-eight in the fourth quarter and overtime. He cooled from scorching to sizzling. He was huge in keeping Orlando in this one and is cruising towards a nice pay day in free agency next summer.
- Stotts worked to avoid the "Lillard redeems himself after missed buzzer-beater to save the day" storyline by making sure his other four starters were not short-changed on their shares of the credit. See full quote below.
- Here's the box score from the Idaho Stampede's D-League game on Monday with Nolan Smith and Will Barton. The Stampede lost by 20. Smith finished with 28 points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals on 13-for-26 shooting. Barton had 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists on four-for-14 shooting. Smith made two three-pointers in the game, doubling his 2012-13 season total of one for the Blazers.
- Let's not forget the Blazers spent the 2012 D-League Showcase shopping Armon Johnson with no success.
- Jason Quick of The Oregonian reports that LaMarcus Aldridge got into another car crash on his way to the game. Memorable quote alert...
Judging from his last accident, the Benz might have seen it's last ride to the Rose Garden. Aldridge said once his 2009 black Ferrari got back from the body shop, he sold it.
"It's like your girlfriend cheating on you,'' Aldridge said of his decision to sell the Ferrari. "After she cheats, you don't want her anymore. So I got rid of it.''
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
I thought it was a great basketball game. Both teams played well. Orlando is a tough team. They've been very competitive their last few games despite their losses. Tonight they showed why. Their big guys compete. J.J. Redick had it going. Afflalo was tough. Nelson hit the three. For us, the first half was not what we wanted defensively. Second half and overtime was a fun game. I would like to have been a fan watching it.
Adjustment on Redick
There's no adjustment. We got loose with him in the first half. A lot of clean looks. He's a great shooter, always has been. He got a rhythm, we gave him too many clean looks. I thought Wes Matthews in particular but also Nic when he was on him, was really working him hard. He still made some shots, tough shots. He may have gotten a little fatigued at the end. There wasn't any adjustments besides playing harder and a little more attention to detail.
Damian Lillard's final shot
I couldn't tell how far out it was. The main thing, tie score, I want to make sure we get the last shot. He can make them, he's made them, he missed that one, it is what it is. The main thing is I want to control the clock and control the shot. It was tough, they put Afflalo on him. Affalo is a good defender. That was a good adjustment by Orlando. It was a tougher shot than I would have liked. Give them credit for playing good defense.
Damian Lillard in overtime
Everybody was good. Damian, defensively, I thought everybody was good. Damian did what he did. Wes did what he did. The starters played a lot of minutes. Nic made big shots, we rode L.A. in the post, J.J. did the boards. Go down the line, the five starters just carried us in the second half and overtime.
Why so good in overtimes
I don't know. In general terms, we've made shots and we've defended. We play with a lot of energy. Five-minute game -- anybody can win a five-minute game. I would venture to say the five starters have played every minute of every overtime. They've played well together. I think there's confidence involved. We've talked about our resiliency before, when you have a game you think you should have won in regulation. To bounce back, bounce out of the timeout, come out of the gate well, is something to be proud of in different ways over the season.
L.A. doing the little things
L.A. has been our most consistent player at both ends of the floor. Defensively, he doesn't make very many mistakes. He knows the coverages we're in, he helps defensively, he rebounds. He gets rebounds when he plays alongside a guy averaging double figure rebounding, he's still getting his rebounds. Offensively he's taking what the game gives him. We rode him early on the block. He's been a willing passer on the block.
That handback, we went to him on the block. For him to hand it back to Nic to nail a three, he's unselfish. I said this before the game, I think some people take for granted what he's done. He's been consistent throughout the years, he's been consistent this year, I would encourage everyone not to take that for granted because he works and he's a true pro.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter