Wow. That was maybe the most amazing thing I've seen since the 2000 playoffs. Dang. We just took the Jazz out behind the woodshed and tanned them twice for every single thing they've ever done wrong. Gyp Cleveland out of a contract, will you? WHAP! WHAP! Take somebody else's spot on the All-Star Roster, will you? WHAP! WHAP! Sit there and smile while everybody says how much you deserved to be taken in front of Martell Webster, will you?
WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!
(That's 24 if you're counting. And Jazz fans, I know one game doesn't change that Deron Williams deserved to be taken in front of Martell, but let us have our fun. Oh...and WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! That's for Karl Malone's elbows to Brian Grant back in the day.)
Whether or not this game showed that we are going to be better overall than the Jazz this year (and it just might) I think it showed why in the long run we're going to be better than they are overall. One of the main storylines of the game was Brandon Roy's back injury. It held him to only 9 minutes of play before he stiffened up and had to leave, never to return. That wasn't just one of our cogs out. That was the whole motor. Throughout this streak, whether it's been remarked or not, Brandon Roy has been the guy who has held us together. This has been even truer in the last few games when we haven't been playing up to par. We've had a couple patterns lately. One has been a sloppy start...muddling first half...but then late in the second quarter and especially in the third Brandon takes over and drives us back on track, setting up remarkable finishes to the game. The second has been hot start with Brandon looking all-world from the get-go, never letting us get too far down. He's carried us on his back for multiple quarters until we could stand on our own. Tonight he was down. And worse, tonight was the sloppy-start pattern. We turned the ball over like we were allergic to it. Outside of Lamarcus we couldn't get any scoring opportunities worth speaking of. We weren't getting toasted on defense but the edges were turning brown a little. We needed a second-half run and the catalyst wasn't there to do it. Most betting people would have said we were going down. That's probably what should have happened. What did happen? Nate changed our offense from the Brandon/PG dribble moves and Lamarcus post-ups to double screens and motion for Martell. And make no mistake, this was a radical change. It's not like we haven't ever done it, but nobody's seen that offense on a consistent basis since November. Martell taking advantage and crippling the Jazz single-handedly was the most obvious, and probably the biggest, factor in the comeback and win. But along with that the Blazers shut off the turnover faucet until it was barely a trickle. They kicked the rebounding into ultra-high gear. They invited the Jazz to get into a shooting contest with us, which they did, to their detriment and eventual demise. And the Blazers got physical. We got knocked around like sparring partners in the first half. The second half we started chucking, bumping, and laying people out. We even got some easy buckets off of forced turnovers! In short, we transformed ourselves and the game and refused to lose. In fact we refused to win by less than double-digits.
Now we get to the claim about being better overall down the road. As I said, we did this without Brandon Roy. One of the common factors in all of our victories over the Jazz this year was one of their Big Three playing like something to be wiped off of your shoe. The culprit the first couple of games was Mehmet Okur. Tonight it was Carlos Boozer. His 9 rebounds were 2.5 under his season average. That's just the icing on the crapulence cake though. The man--their main man--shot 3-16 and scored 6 points. 7 Blazers scored as much or more than he did, 2 of them off of their free throws alone. And what happened when one of their big three didn't come through? They lost. What happens when one of our big guys can't play? We find a way to win anyway. Utah ain't getting any more talent either. We have at least one more main guy coming. Whatever happens in the short term (and it wouldn't be fair to omit mentioning that they've been better than we have for a number of years now and it hasn't even been close) in the long run we have a much wider base from which to operate and probably will need far fewer things to go right in order to be successful. The best teams are always those who need the fewest good bounces in order to win. I think we're showing night by night that not too long from now that's going to be us in spades.
Going into stats for this game hardly seems fair...other than to point out that we really struggled in the first half in most areas. We had such an amazingly dominant second half that we ended up with 12 more rebounds, 10 more free throw attempts, fewer turnovers, a tie in points off turnovers, 50.7% shooting, 54.5% three-point shooting...heck, we ran the table in every statistical category.
--You have to start with Martell Webster's amazing, phenomenal, stunning, transcendent third quarter. After a mediocre start the Web Slinger started hitting everything in sight. Threes, twos, free throws, off screens, off the dribble...it was All You Can Eat Night and he had two forks and a tapeworm. He also hustled back on defense and rebounded well once his engine started. He even passed a little! He was the inspiration tonight...the rallying point. Without that performance we might have had the desire, but maybe not as much belief. And the ENTIRE BENCH was up on their feet applauding, jumping up and down, and shaking their heads in disbelief. In one particularly memorable shot Sergio Rodriguez, then on the bench, saw Martell hit a three and looked as if he had seen somebody in the streets of Pamplona turn around, throw a right jab at a bull, and drop it. It was the perfect mixture of "Santa Maria!" and "How did you DO that?" and "I am a little bit scared of you!" Worthy of note: Martell's overall stat line is not that jaw-dropping. He hit 8-15, he did get 7-7 free throws (somewhat unusual for him to get that many attempts), 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. I'm not saying he could score 24 in a quarter every night but he should probably be getting more than he is. I don't see why he couldn't shoot 6-9 out of 15 every night.
--Lamarcus, as he often does, kept us in the game in the early going when nobody else could. He drew 12 foul shots which is excellent. He scored 20 and got 8 rebounds. Those are significant in that 7 of them were in the first half when we needed them badly. His second-half rebounds were absorbed by teammates. He also had 4 blocks, mostly off of good help defense. This was also sorely needed as Deron Williams played most of the game like he was Bobby Brady and wanted to make us his personal slave.
--Martell may have owned the third quarter but the fourth belonged to a couple of other heroes. The first was a familiar sight: Super Trout was back. It's like he saw Martell hitting shots and said, "Oh yeah...we can do that, right?" Nearly every shot from Travis involves a little bit of cheek clenching for anyone who is watching him but tonight he was dead on. I don't even need to describe it to you if you've seen any decent fourth quarters from him in the last month. He also got 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.
--The second hero was less likely...one Sergio Rodriguez. You may recall a few times in the last couple of weeks I have mentioned that his play has improved somewhat, that he is fitting better into the team concept even in short minutes, and that as soon as a hole opened up he was going to be the first one to get his minutes increased. Brandon's tailbone opened up a spot for him. He came through admirably too. First of all he hit some shots and drew some fouls, to the tune of 12 points total. Scoring is going to be critical to him...not volume shooting like Roy but being a threat. Right now when he drives the opposition mostly feels free to single-cover him because they know he's not likely to shoot or attempt a layup. That means the four people he's passing to each have a man on them, making his job harder. He needs guys to collapse on him after he has a half step on his initial man to be deadly. That means scoring points. He wasn't ultra-aggressive but he did look as if he had seen that circular orange metal ring before. He also had a couple of fantastic steals leading to breaks. That was incredibly nice to see. If he can make that a regular facet of his game he's going to be in like Flynn. (I don't know how much playing time Flynn actually gets, but it'll be more than Sergio gets now.) Sergio didn't get burned on defense either...a trait he's been exhibiting more lately. The 3 turnovers in 21 minutes isn't going to float anyone's boat but these were correctable (again, more scoring respect frees the court) rather than ridiculous. No harm there. This was one of Sergio's best games as a Blazer.
--Joel Przybilla grabbed 8 rebounds in 23 minutes and was like a tourniquet on the rebounding problem in the first half. He picked up four fouls but there wasn't as much reason to play him once we started gang rebounding in the second half anyway. This was another game where the defensive choices--Boozer and Okur--weren't apt.
--Jarrett Jack played a decent, not a great, game. He made a couple of nice passes and got a couple of steals but he didn't score when we needed it badly and his defense was so-so. It wasn't a bad effort, just not his best.
--I don't care about Channing Frye's 1-4 shooting. I like his 7 boards in 14 minutes. This guy is turning out to be pretty darn good for us. And there was some nice defense in there too. He's better on the perimeter than Joel is able to be.
--James Jones did what he needed to do. No complaints. It was more Martell's night. I'm not sure Jones could explode for 24 in a quarter but I haven't seen Martell hit night in and night out like clockwork either.
One Sentence Game Summary
If you didn't love this game you don't have a pulse.