Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers played one of their highlight games of the season so far, stifling the Brooklyn Nets after a nightmarish first quarter then cruising to a 108-98 win, their 9th of the season against only 2 losses and their 7th straight. This win ensures Portland a minimum 3-1 record on their first semi-extended road trip of the year and opens up the possibility of a 4-0 swing.
The first period of this game was an economy-sized slobberknocker. Both teams crated home points in Costco-like quantities. The game started with a Kevin Garnett vs. The World display in which KG played "Around the World" with LaMarcus Aldridge's defense, hitting from all sides of the court for 12 of Brooklyn's first 14 points, accumulated in less that 4 minutes of playing time. This set the tone for a stanza in which the Nets would score 40. All of Brooklyn's wings took turns feasting from the perimeter while point guard Shaun Livingston used his height advantage over Damian Lillard to score 10 all by himself. The Nets didn't score buckets off of penetration but they got plenty of free throws, 11 in the quarter compared to 0 for the Blazers. Brooklyn also feasted and ran after 5 Portland turnovers. Except for Brooklyn having no low post paint presence it was a litany of everything that could go wrong with Portland's game, all stuffed into 12 minutes of disaster.
The Blazers averted total domination thanks to...you guessed it...the three-pointer. Wesley Matthews splashed 4 triples in 3.5 minutes, scoring 12 of Portland's 31 points in the period. When you look closer, the Nets weren't really stopping Portland either. Aldridge and Mo Williams scored fairly easily, supplementing the heroics of Wes Money. 31 points is a great quarter, but not when you cede 40 to the opponent.
The second period saw Brooklyn bring only half of their A+ first-quarter game. They still did a few things right, forcing more turnovers early in the period and disallowing all of Portland's offensive rebounding attempts. But Brooklyn's bench couldn't hold up their scoring attack, devolving into one-on-on offense. Sometimes the ball-handler would attack. Other times they'd just dump it to an aging star and everybody watched as he tried to score with the clock running down. Either way, they stopped moving Portland's defenders. When you don't move the Blazers they will contest every shot. They're long. They've got busy hands. They stay home. Brooklyn's field goal shooting started slipping. And by "slipping" we mean "started free-falling like a busted elevator whose only remaining grace is that it began the trip on the 80th floor". Portland didn't exactly explode in the second, scoring only 25 points themselves, but they held the Nets to 23. Brooklyn took a 7-point lead into the half, still feeling good about themselves.
They shouldn't have.
Everything that ailed the Brooklyn attack in the second period got magnified in the third and fourth. Not only were they going 1-on-1, they were doing it without any kind of screens, any motion, any disguising of motive at all. It seemed like every shot was a contested pull-up from 16-20 feet off the dribble. If the league allowed a pity rule where hitting the back bracket on the rim scored you a point the Nets would have been up by a thousand. As it was they ended up shooting below 20% for the entire half. As soon as Portland stopped committing turnovers Brooklyn's running game disappeared. And they still had no low post paint scoring presence. The only thing they had going for them for a while was Reggie Evans disrupting the boards on both ends. But Robin Lopez took an early seat and Thomas Robinson subbed for him, putting a stop to that. Brooklyn put up a dismal 15 points in the third period and an anemic 20 in the fourth, all but curling in the fetal position as the Blazers pulled ahead and stayed ahead for the rest of the night.
The Nets were injured tonight, no Brook Lopez and no Deron Williams. That led, in part, to their jumper-based attack...a mistake against the Trail Blazers who can outclass nearly every opponent in that department and who hope to force you into nothing but. The Nets also need to look in the mirror, though. Even with the jumpers they had success until they forgot what brought them there. I don't know if it's personnel, coaching, or just their players having seen too much and not reacting urgently enough, but you can't see that kind of stylistic shift (collapse) without shaking your head.
Credit the Blazers for several things. They didn't panic when they got down. In fact they didn't even get down by that much, considering. They sealed up that turnover leak and kept the Nets in the halfcourt. They made the right substitutions at the right time to keep the Nets on their heels. And they appeared to have learned a lesson from last night's Toronto comeback, managing the lead smartly when they got it, running down clock and taking good percentage shots. Maybe the nicest adjustment considering the circumstances: after attempting 6 three-pointers in the first period (hitting 5) they only shot 12 for the rest of the game. Why is that nice? Because they didn't have to. They did to Brooklyn what Brooklyn should have done to them...one of a handful of times so far that the Blazers have won by successfully shifting their attack to take advantage of the opponent.
The Nets ended up shooting 37% for the game while the Blazers fired at a 54% clip, 44% from the arc. In the rarest of rarities, the Blazers actually won the battle of the paint tonight, outscoring the Nets 40-30 in that department. After a shaky, turnover-plagued first period Portland clamped down on Brooklyn fast break points, allowing only 4 for the night. The Nets either bombed away or shot late in their halfcourt sets...nothing easy. In fact the only easy points Brooklyn saw all night beyond Garnett's opening flurry came from the foul line where they shot 33-35, well above Portland's 18-21 mark. But no Trail Blazers got in foul trouble and Portland was well-served by hacking the Nets rather than letting them score easily inside.
You could see the sparks flying at the beginning of the game when Garnett took it to LaMarcus Aldridge. Garnett drew first blood but Aldridge had the last laugh. KG hit his first 6 shots and then went 2-13 for the rest of the game. Aldridge scored only once during the Garnett onslaught but finished the evening with a 9-16 mark for 27 points and 8 rebounds plus 2 blocks. Noisy dogs don't always win the fight.
Damian Lillard went up and down like a yo-yo in this one, alternating between brilliant shots, fruitless attempts at defense, magical drives, missed threes, and nifty passes. It all worked out to 19 points on 6-13 shooting with 9 dimes. Livingston finished with 23 but only 2 assists. It's nice to see Shaun Livingston do well though. He was always an interesting player and that knee thing was really unfortunate.
Nicolas Batum did his part keeping Nets on the outside but they didn't tax him that hard either. Paul Pierce looked slow by comparison. Batum took only 5 shots for 7 points total with 6 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 35 minutes.
Wesley Matthews was far less neutral, hitting 9-13, draining 5 of 8 three-pointers, and scoring 24 points with 6 boards. He was an assassin tonight. His counterpart, Joe Johnson, barely showed up for this game. He looked disinterested, if not stymied, on offense. Johnson shot 4-12 for 13 points. This was a huge advantage for Portland.
Robin Lopez had a nice night on the boards, grabbing 7 in 25 minutes. He wasn't that effective overall against a small, relatively center-free lineup. He did make a nice defensive stand in the third period when the Nets tried to penetrate a little. Their lack of ball and player movement allowed him to stay home and he blocked their way to the rim as they came straight at him.
The revelation off the bench tonight was Thomas Robinson, who combined two good qualities for the first time this season: impacting the game while looking like a normal, serviceable player instead of a nonesuch. Robinson's main contribution was wagging a symbolic, Mutumbo-like finger at Reggie Evans and the Nets when they tried to get back in the game with rebounding, ripping away boards even from Lopez. Little Timmy may be able to say, "Lassie, go to town and get mom and dad! They're at the dress shop by the railroad station! Tell them we need help!" That doesn't work with T-Rob. But sending Robinson in to rebound is more like turning to a Doberman and saying, "Killer! Go eat meat!" Gotcha. Butcher truck destroyed. Plus Robinson scored 9 points in 13 minutes on 4-6 shooting...not a one of them on dipsy-doodle spins. He stared down the other bigs, cleaned up the boards, and put garbage balls back in for two without disrupting anything for his own team on either end of the floor. Again, Brooklyn made the defense part fairly basic, but still...props to T-Rob tonight.
Mo Williams also provided his usual bench support, shooting 6-14 for 12 points in 31 minutes with 6 assists. Williams also said to the Nets, "Hey, if you're going to make it easy, I know enough about defense to put my feet in the right place." He snagged 3 steals, blocked 2 shots (!), and grabbed 5 rebounds, though he also committed 5 personal fouls.
Joel Freeland did OK tonight. His most noticeable contributions came from general thuggery with Brooklyn bigs who put a body on him. He's getting more like a tavern brawler every game...not necessarily a bad thing for the Blazers. 4 points, 4 rebounds in 18 minutes.
Dorell Wright got an offensive rebound in 11 minutes but, as usual, did his part for the second unit defense.
Don't look now, folks, but this road trip concludes on Wednesday night against the currently 2-7 Milwaukee Bucks. Winning three has already been a confidence boost to the Blazers, I'm sure, but going 4-0 would be a really nice moment.
Timmay's Instant Recap and GameDay Thread Follies. That GameDay thread might be worth a read tonight just to see the difference between the first quarter and the second half.
NetsDaily will not like how this game turned out.