The Portland Trail Blazers netted their 20th win of the season on Saturday night, out-shooting a peppy but fractured Philadelphia 76'ers squad in a 139-105 laugher.
Both teams were laughing in the first half of this game. The Blazers took advantage of the Philly's reluctance to guard the three-point arc, draining triple after triple as if they were shooting in practice. Damian Lillard started the trend but everybody under 6'10" on the Portland side followed suit. It was a classic example of an opponent playing their set defense even when it made less than zero sense against Portland's attack. Not that Philadelphia defends that well anyway, but you'd think they'd know by now that leaving the Blazers wide open from the arc is a good way to get a record night hung on you. More on that later.
Despite the blizzard-like conditions from beyond the arc on Portland's end, the Sixers kept the game close through the first two quarters, alternating the lead back and forth until the very end of the second when a final Portland flurry put the Blazers up 5. They accomplished this by blowing past Portland's guards just as easily as Portland's guards were sinking threes on them. Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes used his deep range to draw Robin Lopez out of the middle, then it was open season on layups with no limit on how many you could bag. The Sixers got fat and happy at the rim, storing up plenty of points for winter.
The entire half ended up like a tennis match in which neither player could return the other's serve. Whoever started the possession with ball in hand racked up points. Then it was the other guy's turn. The score at intermission ended up 71-64 in Portland's favor.
Seven points for Portland in the final minute before the break plus the Blazers' usual habit of halftime adjustments gave everybody a clue as to how the game would end up. Not since Frodo and company heard the drums rolling out "Doom...Doom...Doom" in the depths of Moria has the sense of foreboding been so strong or the outcome so certain. As it turned out, Portland opted to go all Legolas in the second half. They couldn't miss from long range, racking up a 21-37 (57%) kill score on threes. The 21 makes from distance established a new franchise record and fell just 2 short of the all-time NBA record. Meanwhile the Sixers channeled Gandalf, first with "You shall not pass" followed quickly by, "I've fallen and I can't get up." Their one-on-one ways looked ridiculous as soon as the Blazers started committing more people to the lane. Plus they cut out their best first-half scorer, Hawes. The Blazers shifted men on Spencer when he went outside in an effort to slow him down and keep Lopez near the lane, but that shouldn't have been enough to hurt Philly like it did. For the most part the Sixers never got a clean shot within 10 feet of the rim again and their shots off the dribble from beyond that distance turned putrid quickly. The immediate result was a 40-15 third quarter for Portland and the end result was the crushing 139-105 final score.
Three-pointers were the stat of the night but shooting percentages were also indicative. Portland shot 56% from the field, the Sixers 45%. The latter was a great number for Portland considering that Philly started the game at double that percentage and held well above 50% at the end of the first half. The Blazers also grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to only 9 from the Sixers, pushing an advantage nicely. But the best number of the evening, perhaps excluding the 21 three-point makes, was 41 assists on 52 made shots for the Blazers. The Sixers over-committed on the majority of their plays and the Blazers knew just how to make them pay.
The offense stayed mostly in motion and on the perimeter tonight, making LaMarcus Aldridge slightly more marginal than usual. He attempted only 15 shots but scored 20 points off of them. He also threw in another all-world night on the glass with 6 offensive rebounds and 16 overall. His 10 defensive boards were a godsend on a night when Lopez was out chasing Hawes instead of boards. Aldridge also dished 5 assists.
Damian Lillard shot even less than Aldridge did, attempting only 9 from the field and scoring 16. 6 of those attempts came from distance, though, of which Lillard made 4...a great rate. He had 6 assists. Still, Damian's in a little bit of a rut at this point, more so when you factor in the defense.
Nicolas Batum passed up all kinds of shots tonight to up his assist total. He succeeded, leading the team with 9. He also did well in the scoring department, netting 17 on 6-10 shooting. Add in 5 rebounds and some of the only effective perimeter defense of the night and this was a great game for Batum on his 25th birthday.
Wesley Matthews was the only scoring starter who registered a sub-par night, scoring 14 on 5-14 shooting. On the other hand he attempted 10 threes and hit 4, still a great percentage.
Robin Lopez had a really rough first half thanks to Hawes. He had no business being out at the three-point arc where Spencer often forced him. Hawes also hit some tough fades in the lane against Lopez's statue-of-liberty defense. Once the Blazers got him back home in the lane in the second half he perked right up. His best achievement was 4 blocked shots but he also hit 5-8 shots for 12 points, eliciting the usual "That's not fair" reaction from Philly's defense.
With Philadelphia playing a wide-open, devil-may-care style you knew this was going to be a nice game for Mo Williams, and it was. He got so free he usually had a choice between open shot and open pass. He mixed it up with 5-9 shooting, 14 points, and 7 assists. See the description of the backcourt defense above.
Dorell Wright was another beneficiary of Philly's defensive style, though in his case the offense was less creation and more devastation. Wright connected on 5 of 5 three-point attempts, his entire offense for the evening. That added up to 15 points in 11 minutes. I think the Blazers will take that rate of scoring from their bench.
You'd have thought that the same wide-open style that spurred Williams to a good night would have done the same for Thomas Robinson, but it mostly resulted in goofiness. T-Rob hit a couple shots but finished the night 3-9 with 10 points and 5 rebounds in 19 minutes. It wasn't a bad night but he was just kind of scattered.
Speaking of scattered, Meyers Leonard took advantage of the ultra-rare opportunity for extended playing time by throwing down Sixers center Daniel Orton in a bush-league, unnecessary wrestling move which resulted in a nasty elbow to Leonard's chin as the two completed their roll on the floor, plus a Flagrant-2 ejection for Meyers. Orton was ejected as well but it's not like he's a key cog for Philly and it's not like the point spread was under 30 when the incident occurred. I'm all for toughness but that's not standing up for yourself or your team. It's just weird. Leonard is a third-string center at this point in his career. Does he actually want to play, get better, demonstrate progress in his focus and technique or is he just kind of doing stuff out there?
Joel Freeland's jumper looked great tonight. He hit 4-6 from the field for 8 points in 15 minutes of play.
Allen Crabbe showed once again that he's comfortable stroking the three, hitting 2-3.
Will Barton showed once again that he's committed to doing more than just 1-on-1 scoring, attempting only 3 shots in 11 minutes but grabbing 3 rebounds, dishing 2 assists, and swiping 2 steals. On the minus side, the offense still looks a little janky when he has the ball plus he tallied 2 turnovers and 2 personal fouls. You can see where his mindset is, though. He wants to progress and that's good.
Earl Watson committed 3 turnovers in 9 minutes. But he's Earl Watson. It's kind of like visiting Big Ben in London. It's been around for a long time so you don't really care if it's off by a minute or two. You're just glad to say you saw it before it stops ticking.
The Blazers fly to Detroit for an early game tomorrow with a 3:00 p.m. Pacific start.
Timmay's Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review, complete with plenty of Jim Ross impersonators making the call on Leonard-Orton.
Liberty Ballers might want to change the first lowercase "L" into a "W" after tonight. That's the only "W" they're walking away with.
You can see your Jersey Contest scores HERE. Because of the early start tomorrow and because it's a weekend, we're not going to run a form for the Detroit game. 60-70% of people would miss it. A form will be up for Tuesday's game.