Sorry for the slight delay in the game review. I have family over which makes scheduling a little harder.
Ladies and gentlemen, this was the first real win of the season. I know we have five others tallied up also, but this was the first one when you can definitively say it was NOT the other team taking us lightly or handing this to us. In fact it was just the opposite. New Jersey came out guns a-blazin' with energy, purpose, and a game plan. They did everything an experienced team is supposed to do: got us down early, kept running their plays, held back run after run with poise, never letting us quite get on top. Vince scored 35, Krstic 18, Jefferson 16, and Kidd had 14 assists. They outrebounded us, outshot us, and out-assisted us. Except...except...except... tonight we were just a little bit better. Oh MAN, it feels good to say that! Do you know how long it's been?
--Their early game plan was obvious: go at Zach and either expose his defensive weakness or get him in foul trouble. They didn't get him in foul trouble because he played no defense and refused to go near a rebound. And get this...Nate yanked him. Flat out yanked him. And he sat his butt there for a good, long time too, letting Lamarcus, Jamaal, and Travis get some run. That was a heck of a gutsy move by Nate. It worked too. Those three guys came through in spades and when Zach came back in he was far more motivated. By the way, expect more teams to come out with the idea of getting Zach in foul trouble with 1-on-1 matchups.
--There was no defensive energy from the starting unit early. They were owning us in the paint and on the boards. About midway through the 2nd we were shooting 46% and were still down 11. That tells you all you need to know about how we were playing. The bench really made the difference tonight though...well, them and Lamarcus. Those guys came to play! They really turned the game around.
--Speaking of Lamarcus and the bench, we saw our first actual intentional full-court pressing defense tonight. It only lasted for a play, but I swear you're going to see that second unit emerge into more of a pressure team.
--By the 3rd quarter we were really pushing the ball up consistently. I love it when we do that. We're not breaking per se, rather starting our sets with energy and motion.
--Two things stood out in our comeback: the spacing is very, very good on offense, as it has been most of the year. And we have such good ball movement now. We are so unselfish (when we're at our best anyway). It's just marvelous to see.
--Look who got to play in the critical moments of the 4th quarter: Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, Juan Dixon. All made great plays too. Again, gutsy calls by Nate.
--This game was won on the free throw line as much as anywhere. We did a great job of consistently getting it to people in places they could score and draw fouls. After missing a bunch early, when it counted we sunk them.
--The other HUGE stat was that we only committed 4 turnovers. That's what allowed us to hang in there.
--That 24-second clock violation we forced them into late in the 4th when they so needed a hoop was the play of the season, hands down. Forget the dunks, the no-look passes, and the rainbow threes...that was IT, baby. Winning basketball.
--The stats say 10 points, 8 rebounds on 4 of 12 shooting, but this was really one of Lamarcus' best games from start to finish. The kid came to play. I can't even tell you all the little things I admire about his game already. He sets very nice picks. He rolls and is ready for the ball. You already know about his great hands but along with that he just makes himself available for so many good plays. He moves, he's ready to catch it, he's ready to score. There's an art to that that's lost on many players nowadays. He's also becoming a regular part of the defensive rotation.
--Another unexpected hero tonight was Sergio Rodriguez. His stat line is mediocre: 2 points on 25% shooting, 5 assists, 2 boards in 12 minutes. But when the energy was low and heads were down, the Spanish Wonder came in and started whipping around passes, getting guys like Aldridge, Magloire, and Udoka involved in the game, which picked up our offense, which picked up our defense, which sent us on the run that got us back in it after being down by 14. Sergio, when he's going good, is like espresso for this team.
--It was another nice, solid game for Magloire. 9 points, 7 boards, and some decent interior defense in 17 minutes of play.
--Ime Udoka is starting to get into regular foul trouble. He just doesn't have respect from the refs commensurate to the number of minutes he's playing (30 tonight) and the role he's assuming (defensive stopper on the other team's best scorer). Nothing moves quite as well on either end of the court when he's out of the game though.
--Stephen Graham was in for exactly one play. It was the very end of the game, we were up by 4, and his assignment was to watch Vince Carter. What did he do? Fouled Vince on the way to the hoop but not strong enough to prevent him from getting the shot up. The result was a 3-point play. Fortunately we defended so well on the very last play that Jersey couldn't hit a shot to send the game into overtime. How long do you think it'll be before Graham gets put in that kind of situation again?
Now for the guys everyone will be talking about...
--Travis Outlaw had a splendid little game (for him anyway). It wasn't so much his production as his timing. He took smart shots and hit them. He made smart passes and connected. Having outside shooters that spread the floor and a general sense of ball-sharing on the team really helps him.
--Martell Webster played 34 minutes despite a modest 9-point evening. That was because his mere presence was causing New Jersey defenders to work overtime, which cleared the lane big time in the second half. He also played passable defense (again, for him anyway) and drew a marvelous offensive foul against the streaking Nets in crunch time. It was a game-clincher. He got plenty of high fives and hands up from teammates for doing it also.
--This wasn't Jarrett Jack's best defensive night. His first half was also somewhat forgettable in terms of setting up the offense. But once again it appeared Sergio lit a fire under him and when he came back in after Rodriguez's stint he was a changed man. He directed traffic, passed the ball well, and oh, managed to hit 50% from the floor, 100% from the arc, and 100% from the foul line en route to 17 points and 5 assists. It's hard to argue with that.
--What to say about Zach? The bad was that he came out playing like total crap. When he's not getting enough shots he seems to just quit. This, as much as anything, remains a solid barrier between him and superstardom. When Clyde Drexler was having an off-night he'd fill up every other stat column until his shot returned. Granted that was a more mature Clyde than Zach currently is, but Z-Bo really needs to learn soon. In the "mixed bag" column, predictably when he started getting looks in the 2nd half Zach shot everything he put his hands on. I swear, there are certain times when I can call whether Zach will shoot or not before he even gets the ball, no matter what else is going on around him (defensively or otherwise). And if I can do it, you can bet his opponents can too. I say it's a mixed bag because right now at least he's hitting a fair amount of those shots. Even more, he's getting to the line which is his real saving grace. He shot 42% tonight, which is really bad for a post player, but his 9 of 9 from the foul line gave him 25 points and a gold star for the game. In the "good" category he had a couple of fantabulous cross-over moves that left his defender in the dust. He also was willing and able to pass the ball when it counted going down the stretch. His teammates really came through, which would not have happened without his help.
--Nate seemed WAY into it tonight. He brought energy too!
--The crowd seemed really loud even over the TV. They got a little "Rock and Roll Part 2" action going on! Nice!
--My dad watched this game with me. He hasn't been into the Blazers for years (for understandable reasons). He was kind of into it...
This was a real professional win. We looked like young professionals, but in the end we didn't let our youth beat us. Marvelous job. Marvelous night for a still-growing team. I love how much they're surprising me.
If you were there and are still reading over the Thanksgiving weekend, e-mail and share how it was!