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March 15. Blazers 107, Timberwolves 96

Nate McMillan got career win number 300. Brandon Roy got career technical foul number 1. But, most importantly, the Blazers got win number 35 on the year in a relatively dominant 107 - 96 win at the Rose Garden Saturday night.  It was an historic, jubilant night for a proud McMillan, who seemed extremely pleased after the game with how the Blazers were able to control the flow, spread the ball around and play solid defense down the stretch.  While the headlines will reflect Nate's milestone victory and Roy's uncharacteristic technical foul (for arguing a dubious foul call in transition, just 2 minutes into the first quarter), the balanced contributions from all 10 Blazers that saw the court were also worthy of above-the-fold treatment.  

The ease of tonight's victory can mostly be attributed to incredibly efficient play from both Roy (25 points on 10 of 19 from the field, 4 of 5 from distance) and LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points on 11 of 19 from the field) who benefitted from clear mismatches against their Minnesota counterparts.  Aside from the big games from our big two, just about everyone contributed meaningfully: Blake ran the show extremely well, Outlaw barely grazed the rim as he hit 8 of 13, Jack had one of his best games in recent memory (10 points, 8 assists, only 1 (!) turnover), Martell had a monstrous blocked shot, and even Sergio managed 4 dimes in his six minutes of playing time.  

Other than a routine 18 points and 11 boards from Al Jefferson and 12 points worth of jumpers from Corey Brewer, the Timberwolves did not have the performances needed to prevent the Blazers from sweeping the season series 4-0.

For the Blazers, there were moments on both ends of the court when the team played with unusual confidence.  Perhaps most notably, one fast break sequence in which Roy passed ahead to Jack who dumped it off to LaMarcus for a pretty finger roll finish was breathtaking, arguably the best executed fast break of the year.  On defense, Joel Przybilla continued his recent streak of solid play, managing double-figure rebounds and impressively committing only 2 fouls in 35 minutes of banging with Al Jefferson.  Joel Przybilla, your swag is phenomenal.  

In the end, this game went down exactly the way it was supposed to: we stepped on their throats when we needed to and then smiled about it in the locker room afterwards. Congratulations, Coach McMillan, if the next 300 are anything like this one, sign me up.

Postgame Reaction

Coach Nate McMillan on his 300th victory as an NBA coach: "It feels great, as I told the team I hope the next 300 are here... My purpose coming here was to help build an organization that could win, a team that could win. I thought about Coach Sloan who has been in Utah for a number of years. He had the opportunity to get in there and start Utah with Malone and Stockton and hopefully I can have a career like that here. Where we build a winner.  I know I've got to win to stay here."

Nate on tonight's performance:  "This is what we are talking about... we go from being a team that last game only had 2 guys with assists, I think tonight just about everybody had an assist... 32 assists, 9 turnovers... that's more like what we are looking for.... When we do that we have better ball movement, we shot a higher percentage from the floor, just a better game all around."

Nate on Brandon's bounce back: "One thing I was really impressed with was Brandon had a comment in the paper about how he played [in Sacramento] and how [he wanted] to come out and play a much better game tonight. That is the focus, the mentality we want from these guys. They know they played a bad game, they are going to put the responsibility on themselves to come out the next game and get it going. Tonight both he and LaMarcus had it going."

Nate on defending Al Jefferson: "I respect his game in the post. I have seen guys try to cover him with single coverage. We just decided the last two games to double team him as quick as possible and not allow him to get.  We were a little late in the first half, in the second half we did a better job of getting to him."

Nate on cruising to the victory like a hovercraft: "It feels good to have that kind of control late in the ball game, it's just about getting stops when you have a 10 point lead, 15 point lead with 3 minutes to go.  That was a challenge for this team too, not just to win this game but to play a solid game, we wanted to really come in here and be better.  I thought we came out and won convincingly."

Nate on what he said during the timeout that keyed the big 3rd quarter run:  "[The Timberwolves] were scoring too easy, they put up a 40 point 3rd quarter last night, I reminded them of that, we want to be solid, we don't want to have breakdowns or go through second halves like we've done, be solid, put this team away, and I thought [we] did, [we] responded."

Nate on Brandon and LaMarcus both having big nights on the same night: "They have to recognize the matchup and take advantage of it.  Tonight both of them had matchups, LaMarcus was doing a good job for us in the post and Brandon deferred.  And then when his opportunity came, he took advantage of that. Sometimes guys will give in to that and take the night off, or just say, `I'm not needed.' They have to learn to take advantage of the set, the matchups, the situation and I thought Brandon did a nice job of that.  He has to do that more than LaMarcus because he's handling the ball. When LaMarcus is in the post and its working, give it to him."

Nate on balancing the scoring load next season: "It's going to take our guys sacrificing.  That's why it's really difficult to have a number of those guys that score in the lineup at the same time.  And I know I'm jumping way ahead, but Greg next year, [creates a situation where] does somebody get upset or bothered if they're not getting touches?   The bottom line is we want to win the game and take advantage of what the defense gives us."

Nate's response when asked if he thinks there is a better young tandem than Brandon and LaMarcus:  "No.  I really don't.  I think LaMarcus is very capable. He has a ways to go because he just has so much potential, I think he can dominate a game, I really do, right now he's focusing on the offensive end of the floor, as I told him at halftime he had one rebound, he can do it both ends of the floor, he ended up with five, he's a guy who should be able to dominate, like a Garnett on both ends of the floor."

Lamarcus Aldridge on building off of this result: "We gonna try to win every game, our goal is to try to fight for the playoffs, if not to try to finish above .500."

LaMarcus on the key to the win: "We had a real good rhythm tonight.  Guys were passing up shots for other [better] shots. Guys were knocking down shots."  

LaMarcus on Nate's coaching during the timeout that led to the big run in the third quarter: "We've been in this position a lot. Let's not be on the bad end of it. Buckle down and play defense.  And take good shots.  And we did that."

Brandon Roy on what he said to the official to earn his technical: "I said "boooooo."

Brandon on technicals: "This is my first one in the NBA.  I got one in college.  In high school I only got one for hanging on the rim."  

Brandon on the referee: "He was a little fed up. I think I was talking a little too much, so when I said boooo to his call that was his last straw.  I usually say nothing to the officials. He thought the booo was trying to show him up."

Brandon on the bounce back: "We played poorly against Sacramento, [but] we didn't put our heads down we just focused on coming back home and get a big win. It was sloppy early, we weren't defending.  But in the second half we did a much better job of keeping guys in front of us."

Brandon on his personal feelings about the carryover from his struggles in Sacramento: "I couldn't sleep the last 2 nights, 5 turnovers, especially 2 late in the fourth quarter, I was really upset about that... I was very disappointed in my last game."

Brandon on Al Jefferson: "He's a load. He's a tough cover, he makes some of the toughest shots, he reminds us of Zach [Randolph].  We tried to put 2 guys on him, in the second half we did a better job of adjusting."  

Brandon on his relationship with LaMarcus:  "I was the main option for awhile, we tried to bring him back into the system, and it was just a struggle.  This season is showing we are finally getting on the same page. I think it's a good thing because we take pressure off of each other."

Random Game Notes

-- Martell chose the pregame music: Kanye West's paradigmatic "Barry Bonds."    
-- Despite the drizzly weather that produced a number of afternoon rainbows over the Columbia, the Jam Squad bravely broke out their spring white uniforms.
-- As mentioned above, Martell had a huge block in the first quarter on a broken play.  It drew appreciative cheers from the Rose Garden fans as he seemed to fly out of nowhere to swat the ball emphatically.  As the team emerged from the next time out, Martell peaked up at the scoreboard and enjoyed the replay.
--  One of the giveaways tonight was the Black Magic Soundtrack. I'd rock that.
-- Travis was very deliberate in holding onto his follow-through on jumpers tonight.  I'm not sure that's the reason he shot 8 of 13 but it was the reason he looked so smooth in doing so.
-- How sweet was Jack's behind-the-back pass to Pryzbilla?  That was one for the season-end highlight reel if Joel could have thrown it down.
-- Corey Brewer needs to get on some Met-Rx or something, he looks unhealthy.  Get your weight up!  Brewer's jumper is really nice.
-- The Blazers were asked their favorite TV shows on the big screen.  Good news: both Jarrett Jack and Martell Webster said "The Wire."  A tear rolled down my cheek.  James Jones said "Dragontales," as he watches that constantly with his children.  Dave, are you watching that one with your newborn, yet?
-- Randy Foye, despite not really affecting the game in any meaningful way, nearly had a triple double: 9 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists.
-- Clever sign in the crowd: "Timberwolves are an endangered species."
-- A father and son both had their faces painted.  The NBA: where generational bonding happens.
-- Ryan Gomes should win the sportsman of the year award for raising his hand so honestly in acknowledging to the scorekeeper that he was the one who committed an illegal defense 3 second infraction.  You don't see that everyday.  
-- Jack capped a nice game with two layups down the stretch, one of which came after he broke Randy Foye's ankles something fierce.
-- Greg Oden, whose Mohawk was shaved off, played hide-and-go-seek behind Josh McRoberts as the scoreboard camera kept cutting to him near the end of the game.  He drew a big smile from McRoberts and laughs from the crows; it was great to see the whole team smiling so openly after tonight's game.  
-- Congratulations to the Jefferson Democrats who won the Oregon 5A state tournament over Corvallis High, 55-52. Check out Oregonlive.com's Tim Brown's thorough game blog here.