Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets: Young Bench Trumps Old Starters in Blowout

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers demolish the Brooklyn Nets on a night when the bench runs free and easy and the points pour like rain.

The Portland Trail Blazers fried, fricasseed, broiled, shish-kabobbed, and spanked the Brooklyn Nets tonight.  The final score of 124-80 tells you everything you need to know about how competitive this game was.  But make no mistake...the 124 part of that equation wasn't the real story.  The "80" impresses far more.

Granted, the Nets didn't make defense that hard on the Blazers tonight.  Brooklyn started the game with a fairly simple offensive plan.  They wanted a matchup advantage.  They figured Damian Lillard had to guard somebody.  Whomever Lillard guarded, attacked.  It was a decent plan in theory.  Since Brooklyn's starters qualify for AARP membership, the practical application of their matchup-based scheme turned out s...l...o...w.  Lillard more or less stood his ground as the Nets backed him down, then other Blazers came to bail him out.  Having left their tin ear horns at home, Brooklyn's shooters didn't hear the help coming.  Or maybe they didn't care.  Or sometimes they just missed anyway, one-on-one.  Either way the Blazer rebounded, ran, moved the ball, made the Nets chase, and scored.  Jason Kidd's squad kept trying to pound it inside, shuffling in the occasional dribble drive.  The Blazers kept sending them back.  Going 0-for-every distance shot they took until the game was out of reach didn't help Brooklyn's chances.  The Nets scored 34 points total in the first half.  The second half was Super Happy Fun Time for Portland's bench players.  They ran up the score like a pinball machine, keeping tempo and spirits high.

As in Denver last night, the anchor of Portland's interior defense was Robin Lopez.  It's no secret that after their horrific early season performances defending the paint Portland made adjustments.  They've been more willing to give up jumpers, collapsing extra men to watch the middle.  Even so, they've suffered from the well-chronicled "Let Robin Do It All" syndrome.  At late as last week we pointed out how Lopez's teammates weren't supporting him when he ventured outside the lane to help cut off drivers or extend coverage on screens.  Tonight Lopez had plenty of backup.  You seldom saw his foot outside the lane without a little buddy edging towards the rim on the other side.  This appeared to buoy his confidence, allowing him to take more risks, turning him from a serviceable defender into an aggressive one.  He didn't duplicated his septuple-block performance from the Mile High city but Brooklyn didn't get many clean looks at the rim--or even many chances to approach it--either.  Where Lopez wasn't Nicolas Batum was.  If Batum wasn't there one of the guards filled in.  All of a sudden the Blazers looked like a good defensive team.  We haven't said that much this year.

Again credit Brooklyn's lack of jump shooting and their bog-standard approach to the offense for helping out. You're not going to see the Blazers look that good against Golden State or Houston.  But when you've walked through the desert for so long every oasis looks like an ocean.  The water was sweet tonight and so was the victory.

Rehearsing statistics won't tell you more about the victory than that.  Plus it would just seem like we were rubbing it in.  Suffice it to say that the Blazers won almost everything it was possible to win tonight...handily.  What they didn't win (turnovers were more or less even) didn't end up mattering a bit.  124-80 is about what you need to know.

Oh...OK.  I'll quote one.  Brooklyn's starting five scored 35 points combined tonight.  We've seen obscure point guards career-high the Blazers for more than that this year.  Plus the Nets put only 3 players in double figures.  Their most prolific scorer was Deron Williams with...wait for it...12 points.

Individual Notes

Usually we go into detail about Portland's starters and confine the bench performers to a few words (for obvious reasons).   Since this was the Game of the Year for Portland's reserves, let's invert that.

Robin Lopez played all the defense he needed to, made Kevin Garnett look horribly ineffective, and scored 11 with 8 rebounds.  Nicolas Batum looked like he was having fun out there for once, notching 19 with a half dozen rebounds and assists.  The Nets tried to rough up Damian Lillard early but he just shook it off, got another tattoo, then shot 6-11 for 14 points.  He scored 14 because the Blazers didn't need him to score 30.  Wesley Matthews shot 3-7 but helped on defense.  Dorell Wright shot 1-4 and provided 6 rebounds with 5 assists.

Now for the bench.  It's amazing how much better the spacing and shots looked in the absence of semi-clueless young bigs.  The biggest guy off Portland's pines tonight was Victor Claver and he knows where to put his feet and how to clear out of the way when somebody else wants to score.  All of a sudden the bench guys were shooting in open space instead of traffic.  They dished some assists, didn't commit turnovers, and everybody looked good.

The best looking guy of all was Will Barton.  He got to throw down dunks, catch alley-oops, hit reverse layups, and make Brooklyn's broadcast team say, "That's not fair!"  He shot 8-13 for 20 points with 11 rebounds and 4 assists.  He handled the ball down the court and initiated a little offense for the team as well.

If it's a scoring party you know Mo Williams is coming.  He's probably the DJ.  Mo fired 8-13 for a game-high 21 points with 7 assists to happy, happy teammates and 6 rebounds.

Nobody benefited from the extra clear floor space more than C.J. McCollum.  He's been struggling in recent games, jammed up, trying to fire in a crowd with clock pressure.  Shooting looked easy again for him tonight.  He went 4-8 for 11 butter-smooth points.

If Blazer's Edge reader (and stalwart Spaniard) Amlmart1 pounded a shot every time his countryman Victor Claver scored this season he'd be a teetotaler.  But he can get plastered tonight.  Claver scored TWO seasons' worth of points in this game, going 5-7 for a baker's dozen.  It wasn't that hard.  He started at the rim and worked his way out, even managing to hit a triple before the night was done.  5 rebounds and some solid defense didn't hurt his cause.  A por ellos!

(Seriously...prior to tonight Claver had totaled 7 points this season.  He scored twice as much in this game as in the previous 57 combined.)

Earl Watson even hit a three to close the game.  That made Allen Crabbe stand alone.  Crabbe got 7 minutes but went 0-4, scoring 0.  That's a party foul, my friend.

For those counting, that was 68 points from Portland's bench...or about a week's worth.  Playing the Nets every night wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the young guys.

Boxscore

Timmay's Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review, now with 444% more Barton references.

NetsDaily will want to pretend that this game didn't happen, no doubt hoping their players will take extra Geritol tonight and bounce back against Denver tomorrow.

Your Jersey Contest scores are HERE.  Tonight's answers:  Brooklyn's bench scores 45 points, Williams scores 12, Pierce scores 6, and C.J. McCollum's points are greater than Jason Collins' minutes.

Congratulations to ThankYouForBlaze who won the February jersey with 601 total points and a 60.1 per-game average.  Honorable mention to Living who averaged 64.3 per game but came in second because he missed a form.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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