Wow! It's impossible to describe to you how much fun that was. Whoo boy! What a game!
This was a classic "tale of two halves" game. I doubt we played uglier yet this season than we did in the first half. The offense was putrid. We shot contested jumpers, contested turn-around jumpers, contested three pointers, triply-contested layups. You had to give Memphis credit because they knew where we wanted to get the ball and didn't let us get there. But we made it way too easy on them too soon. The result was a ton of missed shots, many of which were converted into instant and easy rebounds. There was also a lot of flat-footed defense. We got back down the court OK but once we got there we looked like limp fish. The point-of-attack defense was greatly lacking among the smaller players. When the bigs rotated over to help nobody rotated to help them in turn. The Grizzlies just picked us apart methodically. We ended up with something like a 32-12 deficit in points in the paint as the end of the second quarter neared. I thought we were fortunate to be as close as we were at the half. It looked for all the world like Blazersedge night was going to end up depressing.
Then...dang. We saw the most inspired half of basketball we've seen in Portland for years. It's like the guys decided they were not going down like that. Numerous things changed immediately upon resumption of play. First we stopped settling for jumpers. We drove and started collecting layups and fouls, exposing a Memphis defense that was really as exploitable as ours is. Second we just started going at it on defense. We continued to play zone but it was a far more aggressive zone. Our smalls hounded the passing lanes, our bigs moved their feet, and our wings stayed in front of their men. We generally limited Memphis to one shot and then gang-tackled the rebound. We went with our speed lineups and started beating them down the floor. When we didn't have a clear scoring opportunity early we moved the ball. The contested mid-range jumpers of the first half became dishes to Lamarcus for jams or passes to the perimeter for open shots in the second half. Our shooting percentage rocketed skyward, Memphis' scoring stalled, and nearly the entire deficit was erased by the end of the third.
The turning point came early in the third but the critical stage of the game really came at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth. Nate had been riding his starters all quarter and had to get some subs in. Also we had managed to creep close but had never gotten over the hump. It would have been perfectly possible--indeed somewhat common--for momentum to stall and for the Grizzlies to pull away again. But our bench prosecuted the same kind of game as the starters did. Jack and Outlaw atoned for first half sins by bringing energy and poise. You know the result. The rise never stopped and we ended up winning by 12, a 24 point turn-around since the half.
Two numbers tell the whole story: Memphis scored 35 in the second quarter, but only 15 in the third. Most of the other stats are semi-misleading, as the horrible first half and stellar second half averaged out to decent numbers. Add or subtract 30% or so to any give stat depending on what part of the game you're looking at and you'll have the right idea. The Blazers' 13 total turnovers, 9 blocks, and 24 assists on 42 made buckets deserve mention, as does holding Memphis to 41.6% total shooting. That ain't easy.
A young team such as this didn't have to turn it around like that. It shows a lot about the mindset of our guys that they did so. With this team being so young it's almost like having a new baby. You celebrate things like the first word and the first steps. Tonight was our baby's first come-from-behind win and that's a nice marker in our evolution.
--Lamarcus had a fancier stat line but this game really belonged to Brandon Roy. He was the steely-eyed catalyst for the turnaround with his steals, his passing, and his deadly drives. 8 assists and no turnovers from your shooting guard? Wow. His play opened up the floor for Lamarcus to get most of his easy shots. You can't say enough about what he did in the second half. We also need some of that in the first quarter of games too though. Maybe he can reserve the second quarter for letting other people score and just go out and drive through the opposition from the get go?
--Lamarcus had an amazing all-around game. You don't really appreciate until you see him in person how smooth he is out there on the floor. He looks like he glides on ball-bearings. I love him being aggressive shooting. I love even more how he went away from the one-on-one game in the second half and started diving to the hoop and making himself available for passes. Oh...and he truly is one of the quickest big men in the league up and down the floor. He got really nasty-aggressive on the defensive boards and grabbed NINE! That's the kind of game we need from him! And hear this, rest of the NBA: NOBODY gets by Lamarcus off the dribble when he's guarding them face up. He stopped guards, forwards, and centers tonight. If he ever develops matching post defense they may have to ban him from the league. He managed to block three shots and steal the ball three times too. I believe I also saw him serving drinks to the club section, sautéing crepes at the buffet before the game, and testing the bobble in every single Greg Oden Bobblehead Doll.
--Martell played well all night. I love it every time he shoots the ball. He shot fiddy-percent tonight and also drew foul foul shots. He moved his feet on defense too! There is such a difference in the way Martell plays this year. In previous years every move was long and slow. This year he's sliding and jabbing with the best of them. Every move is more compact and economical. I don't think I've ever seen such a startling transformation. I loves me some new Martell.
--Steve Blake rounded out the guys who played 36 minutes or more. Nate really rode with the people he trusted tonight. Blake was part of the defensive night of horrors in the first half but he played well in the second. His 8 assists tied for team high. He helped spark the running game.
--Jarrett Jack was our fourth double-digit scorer, ending with 21 points, 7-11 shooting, 2-3 three-pointers made, 5-6 free throws made, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and only 1 turnover. I'd say this was a fine game for him. Like Blake he was making life easy for the Grizzlies in the first half but really became part of the driving brigade that wore them down in the second.
--Joel and Channing combined for 10 rebounds and 4 blocks between them. This was really a small-person's game so they didn't really shine. I will bet you my long-lost uncle's mythical fortune that Nate starts employing a lot of small-ball in the near future.
--Travis Outlaw had a nightmare start to the game. It was one of those nights where he got a mercy yanking. He was one reason I was nervous about the second unit coming back in. But like Jack he really fed off the game's momentum and adopted that nasty-aggressiveness. It helped his defensive game immensely. It still wasn't the greatest game for him but it was sure better than it looked at first.
--Hats off to Nate and whoever lit a fire under the boys at halftime.
One Sentence Game Summary:
You just got a foretaste of what life is going to be like all the time in a couple of years.
Also we should take a moment to thank Zack from 3shadesofblue.com He joined in the Gameday chat, a very classy move. I have really enjoyed getting together with the guys from that blog and you may expect more exchanges in the future.