This game was hard to quantify. It was like two kids on a teeter-totter with springs on the seats and a sinkhole the size of Missouri underneath each side. One kid went way up, the other way down. Then momentum shifted. Did both teams show resilience or did both teams go through lifeless, mistake-filled stretches? The answer is probably "yes" all the way around.
The Blazers started off with the best of it, building an 11-0 lead which they would eventually stretch to 21-4 behind torrid scoring from LaMarcus Aldridge. Like a kindergartener taking a Cosmo quiz, the Lakers had no answer. Pau Gasol began what would become a horrific evening by missing multiple shots. The Blazers forced the Lakers into mid-range jumpers the entire quarter. Portland would have happily ceded the points just to get L.A. in the habit of taking those shots but as it turned out they didn't have to. The Lakers clanked every attempt off the rim. L.A.'s bench hit a couple of long jumpers towards the end of the period, parlaying those into open lanes to attack the rim against their Blazer counterparts. That began a comeback which would see them crawl to within 8, 32-24, at the end of the first.
Portland's bench continued laying eggs at the start of the second and Coach Stotts brought back the starters before two minutes had elapsed. By that time the Lakers had a head of steam and the move didn't help. They discovered that they could attack Portland's interior with the pass as well as the dribble, hit some chip shots, and then reversed those into open threes against a sagging and disoriented Portland defense. They kept this up through most of the period--layups and treys--coming all the way back and even taking a 1-point lead before Portland discovered their own inside attack and stopped the bleeding. The Blazers led 53-50 at the half.
Robin Lopez put on a rebounding and inside scoring clinic to start the third quarter. In a mirror image of what the Lakers had done earlier, Portland forced them to commit inside on defense and then tossed out the ball for three-point splashes. This started a 12-minute circus in which the Lakers made like clowns, scrambling everywhere only to have the Blazers throw pails of cold water in their faces. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews scored freely. Both they and Nicolas Batum found open targets inside and out with passes. The Blazers opened up a 20-point lead by the end of the third and this game was on ice.
Then the Lakers started pressing the Blazers, forcing Portland's offense out of their comfort zone, and rebounding like demons. Robin Lopez picked up fouls and had to sit, worsening the situation. The Lakers ran, sliced, attacked the rim, got offensive rebounds, and Portland's lead shrank like George Costanza in a frigid pool. The Blazers made plenty of technical errors and ceded the energy advantage to L.A. almost without complaint. The Lakers trimmed that 20-point lead to just 1 with 3:14 remaining.
In the end, Lillard and Matthews gave the Lakers a 1-2 punch from which they couldn't recover. Lillard drained a three with 2:49 remaining and Matthews another with 1:20 left to keep go-ahead chances just out of the L.A.'s reach. L.A. came close but never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes. They peeked their heads over the top of the hill but couldn't crest it.
This wasn't Portland's best win but it was certainly a welcome one considering they thought they had the game in the bag...twice. When things went well the ball barely touched the floor on Portland's end. The offense was pass...pass...pass...open man cans the shot. Either that or Aldridge made the Lakers pay for daring to be on the same floor as he was. When things went poorly the offense fell into the same trap that the Lakers did: shooting contested jumpers without exploring the options and giving up the rebound without a fight. L.A. also made swiss cheese out of Portland's interior defense during their runs but ultimately couldn't sustain that attack long enough nor back it up with enough distance shooting once the Blazers compensated. When the Blazers rebounded well, played with energy, and attacked on offense they cruised ahead. When any of those departments lacked--or more accurately tonight, when all of them fell apart at once--L.A. prospered. The Blazers weren't interested in losing this one, however, and they righted the ship in time to save it. That's what matters.
If you smash up "steady" and "excellence" into "stexellence" and then look it up in the dictionary, you're going to see LaMarcus Aldridge's face right there on the page. Aldridge boosted his team in the first quarter, kept them strong when everything else fell apart, and scored 27 on 11-19 shooting, mostly on longer shots. He had 9 rebounds and, in a callback to Thanksgiving, made mincemeat out of Pau Gasol.
Damian Lillard started the night rough but shifted focus to the drive when his outside shot wasn't falling. He got himself rolling with free throws and assists, then finished off the night with the Big Three. He scored 26 on 7-19 shooting with 8-9 free throws made and 9 assists.
Wesley Matthews had a quiet night with the jumper, shooting 4-8 but hitting 3-5 threes en route to 17 points. He drew foul shots (6-7) which in this game might have been better than getting those extra jumpers. He also did the little things well, with busy hands on defense and some hustle play in transition as well.
Nicolas Batum missed most of his threes but played the Jack-of-All-Trades role to the hilt, dishing 9 assists, grabbing 9 rebounds, scoring 9 points.
Robin Lopez had a couple of great moments and a couple of silly ones (mostly fouls). He had plenty of nice rebounds (12) and scored via the hook and offensive boards for 12 points but also got overmatched by opposing drivers. It was a positive, but mixed, night from him.
The only bench player of note was Joel Freeland. He had a good night subbing in for Lopez, scoring 6 with 5 rebounds in 16 minutes. Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson, and Dorell Wright didn't have nights to remember, especially when L.A. scorers came calling. Williams hit the free throws to put away the game at least.
The Blazers get no rest, traveling home to face the similarly-hot Indiana Pacers tomorrow night. THAT will be an interesting contest.
Silver Screen and Roll covers the Lakers for you.
Stay tuned for Chris Lucia's preview of tomorrow's big game! The Moda Center better be rocking when this baby tips off.