Wow...I expected a lot of things but a win wasn't among them! Big props to the Blazers for playing all 48 minutes and gutting this one out.
Blazers 88, Pistons 85
--The Blazers made a shift in philosophy tonight. Gone were most of the pretty offensive plays, along with the pretty offensive players. In their place game a lot of defense and rebounding. Nate had a very short leash tonight and didn't care who he used it on (more on that later). You blow a defensive assignment (maybe two if you're a veteran) and you're yanked. He wasn't putting up with crap tonight, and it worked.
--The funny thing is our individual defense was as porous as ever. Any time we defended one-on-one the Pistons just took their pick from the Ripe-to-Abuse Smorgasbord that is the Blazer lineup. They had a balanced meal too...a little Travis, some Zach, a piece or two of Webster, and a whole plateful of Dixon. Most of that occurred in the first half. But our help defense was pretty darn good in the second half. For the most part people were watching out for each other and managed to get their feet in the right places. Of course there were a couple of slip ups, but it was better than I've seen it all year. If you didn't notice, well, that's actually good. You're not really supposed to notice good help defense except on those occasions when it yields a block or a 24-second violation. Mostly it looks like "Pistons tried that, didn't work. Now they're trying the other. Still didn't work." There were relatively few open layups tonight and the open jumpers they got were long and they were missing them (29.3% from three-point land, 42.7% overall). That opened the door for us.
--A second big component of the win was rebounding. Apparently not taking crap rolls downhill, as Nate wasn't taking it from our players and our players weren't taking it from the Pistons. What they were taking from the Pistons were rebounds. Zach was his usual vacuum-cleaner self on the boards and Lamarcus added 11 boards, five offensive, en route to his first double-double. Ime also had 8, and when our forwards rebound that's good news for us. We ended up winning the battle 46-35. It should be noted that we had more opportunities for rebounds tonight as we actually made them miss some shots.
--The final leg of the triangle was free throw shooting, and when we add that we're hard to handle. The Pistons actually made the refs annoyed with them tonight, which is always a big mistake. But we also drove a fair bit, got some of their guys in foul trouble, and ended up going 21-27 while they only attempted 18 and hit 14. When you're sinking more free throws than the opponent even attempts you're doing something right.
--As I said in the opening paragraph, we played 48 minutes, for the most part smart ones. All 12 guys got in and nearly everybody contributed something while sticking with the game plan. Part of our problem in past games has been giving up at least 4-5 really stupid buckets. It doesn't seem like much but at the end of the day that's 8-10 points we're granting the opponent for free. Tonight it was more like 1 or 2 embarrassing gaffes. That's significant in a game decided by 3 points.
--During the early and middle parts of the game the Pistons were playing scrappier than we were. We have a disturbing habit of playing "nice ball". We just go out there and run our plays like it was practice. We don't get mean and we don't go that extra step. When the Pistons gave us a chance to smell a possible win, we kicked it into another gear and started diving on the floor and flying around for blocks, steals, and saves. Here's an idea...we need to play that way more often.
--For all of that, our offense basically sucked tonight. There was a lot of one-on-one stuff going on and we only shot 41% and scored 88 points. Fortunately the free throw line saved our bacon.
--Tonight was an amazing saga for Zach Randolph. For those who didn't see the game, I'll summarize:
Zach came out in the opening minutes firing from deep with basically no passes having occurred prior to his shot. He also missed those shots. Only a couple possessions into the game, Nate took the semi-radical step of waiting until the Pistons had completed their possession, then calling a 20-second timeout. Before Zach could even get to the bench Nate was in his face, all but grabbing his jersey. You couldn't see the words exchanged but it was pretty obvious by facial expression that Zach was having none of it. He came out of that timeout totally passive. He didn't fight for position. He didn't call for the ball. He basically just stood there in the offensive sets with his hands at his side. It was as if he was saying, "You don't want me to shoot? Fine, I won't shoot." Neither, of course, was he playing defense. So guess what? Nate benched him. Down he sat and immediately wrapped an ice pack around his knee. I'm fairly certain that official sources will credit this incident to "knee problems" but he was totally, completely unaffected the rest of the game so I'll believe that when I hear about X-rays or MRI's.
Zach sat on the bench the rest of the first quarter. He started the second (ending virtually all possibility that this was a knee issue). He immediately was aggressive and started taking it inside. We scored and Nate smiled. He played a pretty good second quarter and ended up shooting 4-of-8 for the half.
Now anyone who has watched Zach play will immediately be able to identify where this story is going next. If Zach only has 8 shot attempts in the whole first half, it's a cinch that he will double, if not triple, that total by the time the 3rd quarter buzzer has sounded. And indeed he did. He went into Super-Tunnel-Vision Zach Mode and assaulted the bucket with a barrage of moves. It was like his hands had super glue on them that only the rim could dissolve. Fortunately he made many of those shots and it helped keep us in the game.
Early in the 4th either Nate had seen enough or he wanted to give Zach a rest. Either way Zach was reaming him out on the way to the bench, presumably for pulling him. However when Zach had cooled (or rested) and re-entered, for the rest of the game he mostly took shots in the flow of the offense, after designed plays and passes instead of before them. And he did plenty well too. At one point it looked like he was going to shoot maybe 40% tops for the evening, but because of the late-game rally he ended up at 48% on 12-of-25 shooting. And after the final buzzer sounded the very first thing Nate did was hug Zach and say something into his ear, likely along the lines of, "You really won this one for us." Because of his post-enforced-time-out play (and probably because Nate had the courage to send that message as well as Zach having the discipline to hear it) he carried us to a victory.
--Jarrett Jack was among the best complementary players of the game. He only shot 4-for-10 but he kept continual pressure on the opposing guards by driving it deep. He ended up shooting 9-of-11 at the free throw line, with not a one of those being a late game intentional foul (cheap free throw) situation. He also got five assists and four boards.
--The other big-time complementary player was Lamarcus. As I said above he got a double-double with 11 rebounds and 11 points, a few of the latter off of putbacks. He was also one of those really nice help defense guys.
--Ime Udoka was the hustle king out there. Often he's the only one who will go on the floor, and I think it shames or inspires others enough to emulate him.
--Nobody else really had a game to crow about, but who cares? We won!
--Sorry about the absent Gameday thread. I usually put it up just after noon because I want it to be the top post at the site during the game. I was called away today though and never got the chance to do it. We'll get it up early for the Milwaukee game.
--Anyone remember that Atlanta loss now? Way to shake it off!
If anyone was at the Palace and wants to send in a report from the game, just e-mail it along.