Hmmmmm...Damir described it best in the comments to the Gameday Thread when he said the best word to describe Portland tonight was bi-polar. Unfortunately our manic phase was a lot shorter than our dismal depression phase.
Nuggets 109, Blazers 93
--You can tell almost everything you need to know about the game from the boxscore. We let them score 109 points through sloppy defense and letting them run up and down. We didn't rebound as well as they did and they scored 32 points off of our turnovers. Anyone who read the game preview could have predicted disaster from that.
--Notice I said almost everything you need to know. Gather `round children and let me tell you the story of the wonderful, magical second quarter of bliss. The game had begun horribly, with the starters ineffective on both ends of the court and the Nuggets running us to the tune of 31 to 19 at the end of the first. So Nate decided to try something new. He put in Sergio (yay!), Juan (boo!), Martell (eh...), Raef (boo-ish?), and Jamaal (BOOOOO!). But wait, children! Hold your knee-jerk responses. For this team...this team did something wondrous to behold! They ran. And they ran and they ran and they ran. They rebounded Nugget misses and put the ball in Sergio's hands. Faster than you could say, "What the P-Diddy is going on here?" he had the ball down the court. And players moved. They cut, they dove, they ran off curls to three point land. And he found them. Oh how he found them! They shot from near, they shot from far, inside and outside like shooting stars! And even when Sergio didn't find them himself they found each other. They were smart, and quick, and decisive, and slick. There was no hesitation there were no delays, they made poor Denver pay and pay. By the end of the quarter they had scored 37 points to the Nuggets 18. In the process they hit 16 of 21 shots (that's 76%) and got offensive rebounds and putbacks on two of the shots they missed. Everybody scored, everybody had fun, and it ROCKED. Unfortunately we couldn't keep it up, but even for one quarter it was great to see.
--Unsurprisingly, given what I've just relayed, the bench scored 73 of our 93 points tonight. Bravo for them.
--Despite all the glee, the rest of the game was all long jumpers and contested shots. To match my prediction the other night I will go on record saying we won't win one game in eight from here on in until we learn to put effort into driving and not just settle for outside shots three trips out of every four. When we did drive tonight it worked, but we abandoned it.
--This was Sergio's game. 23 points on 11-14 shooting, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and only 4 turnovers, all of them trying to make good things happen. I'm not saying the refs didn't let him play a little, because they did, but they'll continue to ignore a little palming and a travel here and there if he keeps producing like that, because it's pretty. Let the calls for him to start for this team forevermore begin. (But at least temper them a little...you need to look at the Denver guards' stat lines before you anoint him the solution to everything.)
--The other guy that really stuck out was Martell. There was no hesitation in his shot tonight and he hit 50%, most from long range. But then again people got him the ball quickly when he was open. Most of his damage was done in that fantastic second quarter. He didn't even get another shot up until 9:00 left in the fourth quarter. This team needs to realize how much easier it is for everybody to score when Martell is hitting and they need to work to set him up more. He's the one guy on the team that's continually worth that effort.
--Juan Dixon also had a great night: 3 assists, 2 blocks(!), and a steal to go along with 15 points and 5-11 shooting. He's another guy we need to set up from range.
--Raef LaFrentz missed a lot of shots short and that's what most people will remember, but along with that we need to see that he knows where to put his body in those offensive sets, he knows how to move without the ball, and he also knows how to move the ball around. I was actually impressed with his game tonight.
--Jamaal did alright tonight. The Denver announcers commented on how he was outplaying Przybilla, for what that's worth.
--Lamarcus had a couple nice defensive shutdowns and a really nice block but those were high points in a generally poor night. Nate went to him early in the game and he got burned like heck by the Denver forwards off the drive. He picked up two quick fouls in the process. When he came back late in the game he also got burned on the pick and roll. He needs more work defensively for sure. He also needs to post more and shoot jumpers less. It's not that he can't hit the jumpers, but he needs to establish that go-to move and save the face-up bombs for advanced offense class.
--The less said about the starters' effort tonight the better, save I'll say that Zach Randolph's game was exactly as bad as it looks in the stat line (1-12, 4 points, 5 boards). He killed all of the ball movement we were praising earlier by taking the first shot that came to mind nearly every time he touched the ball. After that second quarter we needed to come out in the third and throw the hammer down. No such luck. He was a rally killer for sure.
--The Denver guards continued the predictable opponent assault on our backcourt defense. Iverson scored 32, which is understandable. Steve Blake scored 25, which is not. Still, it was hard to root against Steve even in an enemy uniform. It was nice to see him make good after such a hard year so far. I just wish it hadn't been against us.