The Portland Trail Blazers emerged victorious from an offensive tussle in which each team landed solid punches but Portland's ended up counting more. For the quarter-by-quarter description of the game flow make sure to check out Timmay's Post-Game Summary and Gameday Thread Recap.
The story of this victory was part personnel, part style.
Portland's new guys proved their worth and then some. Mo Williams hit a half-dozen shots in a row early en route to a 7-9, 17 point outing off the bench. This offset Detroit shooting guard Brandon Jennings' attack which accounted for 28 points on 11-24 from the floor. On another night Jennings' points might have told, but Mo's high production on low shots tipped the scale tonight. Dorell Wright performed a similar trick on a smaller scale, hitting 4-7 for 11 points in 19 minutes. Finally Robin Lopez poured in a much needed 17 points on 7-10 shooting, much of the damage coming from point-blank range as the Pistons tried to stop the bleeding caused by Portland's penetration and marksmanship.
The Blazers' attack was deadly almost all night, save for the last few minutes of the fourth period. Three-pointers told the tale as usual. Portland drained 11 of 23, a 48% clip. The vast majority of these came on open catch-and-shoots, a shot that the Blazers have boundless confidence in right now. Detroit did well as long as they didn't have to double team anybody. As soon as they left a man, that guy got free and splashed a three. LaMarcus Aldridge drew attention. Damian Lillard did too. But the best passer of the evening was Nicolas Batum. He didn't benefit from his own attack but he became the captain as soon as the defense shifted. When the stars drew heat Batum got the ball and made surgical passes to open shooters. Time after time Detroit shrugged as the Blazers sliced through another triple. Or Lopez dunk. Either one worked.
The Blazers needed pretty much every one of those shots too. Greg Monroe dueled LaMarcus Aldridge to a standstill...no mean feat. Andre Drummond sucked up offensive rebounds like a vacuum and hammered home dunks. Josh Smith got free in the mid-range. Detroit's bigs combined for 46 points and 27 rebounds, and this was on top of Jennings' 28 point effort. Points in the paint went 60-36 for Detroit. Fast break points were even but points after turnovers ended up 21-9 for the visitors. Without the well-timed passes and sharply-hit threes The Blazers would have found themselves underwater and sinking beneath the weight of some very big frontcourt players.
That's the main take-away point from this evening. One team's attack wasn't inherently superior to the other's. In fact in a theoretical matchup you might take Detroit's inside game over Portland's perimeter attack, the former being more reliable in most cases. But the Blazers--while far from perfect--played like they were in the driver's seat. They knew how they wanted to go at the Pistons. They stuck to their guns offensively and made relatively few bad defensive plays, especially as the clock ran down in the fourth. The Blazers executed. The Pistons, meanwhile, started out over-relying on their guards when their big guys were sporting matchup advantages. Detroit broke down on defense in the same way multiple times. And when the chips were down, their guards settled for less efficient shots off the dribble and didn't get their guys into their optimal offense. The Blazers knew what time it was. The Pistons played hard but with less focus. The two teams are close enough--and Portland's shooting hot enough--to turn that into a win for the Blazers.
Praise the shooting, the effort, the perseverance, the passing, the overall commitment to defense, the screens, and the ability to follow a gameplan tonight. Contrast all of that with the prolific but self-centered Jennings and Stuckey who left their bigs hanging and the lack of discipline in Detroit's defense. That'll tell you what you need to know about the Blazers right now.
LaMarcus Aldridge had another big rebounding night with 12, 11 defensive. The Blazers needed that against a big Detroit lineup that ended up with 18 offensive rebounds as it was. If LMA wasn't committed to winning this game on both ends of the floor the Blazers wouldn't have won it. 18 points and 8-19 shooting are both slightly below his average this year, but that hardly matters.
Damian Lillard led the team with 25 points, his 5-8 three-point shooting doing most of the damage as per usual. Credit Lillard with driving on Detroit's bulkier guards though. He wasn't content with the step-back three alone. That's a good thing even if his drives didn't yield the same fruit as his long bombs. 6-6 free throw shooting was great. Lillard's defense really suffered tonight though. He was one of the lone defensive problem spots for the Blazers.
Nicolas Batum had 12 points on 5-11 shooting plus 8 assists. Credit him with a big part of the defensive pressure late that kept the Pistons from coming all the way back into the game. Also credit him with keeping Detroit off-balance defensively via the pass. He wasn't a main scorer but he made the main scoring possible by being that glue guy in the middle of the offense.
Robin Lopez played a fairly heady game tonight, especially on the offensive end. His story is the same night to night. He's overmatched and gets dominated individually but he does enough good things to make everybody else's efforts count. Tonight he actually provided serious numbers as well. He had a couple classic, "Everybody left me!" moments down low as Detroit scrambled to cover a broken defense. He scored 17 on 7-10 shooting with 10 rebounds.
Wesley Matthews got overshadowed by Williams and barely touched the ball on offense, hitting only a single three for 3 points. He had 2 steals.
Mo Williams was the Wizard of Mid-Range off the bench, splashing 7 of 9 shots and hitting his only 3 for 17 points and 4 assists. Mo being "on" creates serious problems for the opposing defenders, especially with Portland's ball distribution in full swing. It's like, "OK, we have to watch everybody because the Blazers will pass it to any open man...DANG! Mo just took it himself again!" It's easy to bag on Mo when his shot isn't falling. "Productive" turns to "selfish" all too quickly. Everybody knows Williams will shoot Portland out of as many games as he shoots them into. But this is his job and he's doing it. Nights like this it looks fine too.
Joel Freeland did some nice work again, blessing the Blazers instead of making them pay for having to put in the bench. His defense was as solid as Lopez's. He got 6 rebounds, 4 offensive, in 19 minutes and tipped more caroms yet. He also scored 6 points on 3-5 shooting.
We mentioned Dorell Wright was great in his 19 minutes with 11 points, 3 triples hit, 4 rebounds, and a general continuation of the "you can't leave anyone open" theme.
Thomas Robinson played more sad trombone in his 5 minute stretch.
The Blazers get one more nice home game, Wednesday night against Phoenix, before heading out for a 7 of 9 on the road odyssey.
Jersey Contest beta testing is almost complete. Watch this space soon.