USA TODAY Sports
Ok, it wasn't a gimme, but the Blazers won a big one before their last East Coast road trip.
The Detroit Pistons gave the Portland Trail Blazers everything they could handle tonight, taking advantage of poor defense inside and out. But the Blazers turned it on when they needed to, outhustling and outshooting the Pistons down the stretch to grab a game they should win.
The First Quarter got off to a rough start. The Blazer jumpers just weren't falling, and worse yet, Aldridge picked up two fouls in the first 5 minutes. Joel Freeland replaced him. And in a pleasant surprise, Joel's arrival immediately paid dividends, with nice passing, scoring and rebounding. However, the Pistons points were coming in three's: Open three-pointers, and three-point plays in the paint. The usual Blazer defense led to 63% Detroit shooting, including 75% from three. They maintained a slim lead through most of the quarter, eventually leading by 6 at the horn.
Detroit continued their aggressive play into the second quarter, with Rodney Stuckey demolishing the minimal Blazer D. You could feel the breeze on the court from the collective crowd facepalm. I'd like to provide more detail of this quarter, but it was basically repeated open lanes, and Detroit layups. Often with a whistle attached. However, the Detroit D wasn't exactly shutting anyone down. Their lead reached double-digits for mere seconds before the Blazers showed some energy. Despite both teams attempting their keystone cops impression, the Blazers closed to within 5 at the half. Will Bynum and Stuckey combined for 27 points in the first half against the Swiss Cheesesque Blazer D.
One minute, 50 seconds. That's how long it took for the Blazers to grab the lead in the third quarter. Detroit wouldn't go away, nailing consecutive open three-pointers to stay close. The Blazers played "keepaway" with the lead, for much of their quarter, using some solid offense to cover for their defense. However, when the shots stopped falling, the Pistons regained the lead. The Blazer bench arrived late in the quarter, doing just enough to cling to a 2 point lead headed into the fourth.
Three straight Aldridge jumpers got the fourth quarter off to a good start. But Detroit scored inside on every possession to prevent any run. Unfortunately, this was the same point where Aldridge needed a breather, so he headed to the bench. But that didn't slow the Blazers down, as Matthews and Batum combined for 5 quick points to give the Blazers their largest lead, 9 points. They had chances to increase it, but helped by a few fumbles, Detroit stayed in the rear view mirror. However, Nicolas Batum took over. First, another blocked shot, followed by assists to Matthews (for three) and Hickson (for an alley-oop dunk). Down by 12, Detroit took a timeout to regroup. And regroup is an understatement. They switched to zone defense, and immediately went on a run, scoring 10 quick points to cut the lead to 2 with three minutes left. A Batum three-pointer finally gave the fans a chance to exhale. After trading buckets, Detroit finally ran out of steam. The Blazer starters all contributed to a 10-2 run to leave Detroit frustrated and exhausted after giving it their best shot.
LaMarcus Aldridge was his usual All-Star self, finishing with 31 points on 62% shooting, plus 12 rebounds and 3 assists. He apparently heard the debate over the best offensive Blazer player in tonight's Gameday Thread. Nine Blazers played a role in tonight's game, but Aldridge was the key. His late-game demolishing of Maxiell would be on SportsCenter, if they still showed highlights.
Damian Lillard had a quiet game, ending his 20-point game streak with 14 points and 7 assists. I'm sure he'll be happy not to see the Pistons again this season. But they didn't need his best night, just a solid one. And at this point, Lillard's solid nights are still good.
JJ Hickson enjoyed another "ho hum, just another day" double-double with 18 points and 15 rebounds, plus 2 assists and 2 steals. Good night for JJ, he was a difference maker, especially thanks to 5 offensive rebounds.
Nicolas Batum played a big role down the stretch to help keep the Blazers ahead, and he had pretty solid numbers in the post-wrist-injury era: 17 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds.
Wesley Matthews had one of those nights where it felt quiet, but suddenly he's in double digits and shooting daggers. So basically, his specialty. He added 17 points.
Joel Freeland's first quarter helped keep the Blazers close. Honestly, at this point you need to see promise from the Blazers bench, and Joel showed it. He had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 1 (really nice) assist in just 10 minutes.
While every player scored tonight, Will Barton, Eric Maynor and Meyers Leonard didn't provide much. However, Maynor gets automatic credit for keeping the Blazers stable while Lillard rested.
- Yet another Blazer opponent shot over 50%: The Pistons shot 40-76 for 52.6%.
- Thanks to Aldridge and Hickson, the Blazers dominated the rebound battle, 45-33.
- The Blazers gave up 62 points in the paint tonight, but thankfully Detroit gave up 54.
- After all the nights where they totaled 2 or 4, Portland's 19 fast break points felt like 1992 reborn.
- Both teams finished with 24 free throws, but Detroit made 16 (67%) to Portland's 23 (96%).
Even though it wasn't the most fun night, enjoy this win, it's going to get bumpy from here.
Stay tuned for Ben's Media Row Report! -- Tim