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March 21, 2008 -- Blazers 107, Clippers 102

This game seemed over before it started given that Clippers' Brevin Knight, Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Paul Davis and Shaun Livingston were listed as either inactive or injured for tonight's game.  So much for that thought: the Clippers quickly built a 3 point lead in the first quarter.

Well, then, the game was over when the Clippers were further depleted when Tim Thomas left after the first quarter with a stomach illness.  Wait, no it wasn't ... the game remained tied at halftime.

The game was certainly over when Martell Webster hit a 3 pointer in the third quarter to cap a Blazers run and put the team up 83 to 67, causing the lone standing ovation on an otherwise listless night.  Wait, no it wasn't quite over yet, as the Blazers, who are so skilled at winning close games, decided they'd rather let the Clippers back into it than rest their starters.

Back and forth the Blazers and Clippers went, seemingly making every shot they took (thanks in large part to some matador defense from both teams).  The Blazers entered the 4th quarter having hit 63% of their field goal attempts; the Clippers were not far behind at 56%.

The game was finally over when Martell hit another big 3 to push the lead back up to 102 to 93 with just 90 seconds to play.  The more fair-weather fans sprinted for the exits, but it wasn't over yet, not exactly.  Coach Mike Dunleavy, no doubt in the March Madness spirit, decided to foul, timeout, foul, timeout, foul, timeout all the way to the bitter, bitter end.  

After 10 minutes (which felt like 2 hours) of the foul, timeout, foul, timeout cycle of life, the game was finally and forever over when Jarrett Jack hit 2 final three throws to ice the game's final score: 107 to 102.  As confetti fell on what remained of the crowd, thousands of other fans were on the highways heading home, confident that their Blazers had managed to pull out a game that had seemed wrapped up on at least 4 occasions.  

Postgame Reaction  (Download Nate's Postgame Audio Here)

Nate McMillan on LaMarcus Aldridge's 22 point, 12 rebound, 7 assist performance: "He was just really good in the post, he keeps showing improvement, doing some good things and learning how to play in the post position. When to look to score, he's kicking the ball out, he's seeing the double team a little better, he still has some work and he can improve, seeing these double teams the last week or two you can see he's already shown some improvement as far as getting the ball out timely and getting the ball out to the right guy."

Nate on Aldridge's recent stretch of great play: "It becomes a simple game when you have a guy who can score in the low post.  What he needs to understand is where it's important for him to catch it. if he can get it deep, we were talking about this back in January, he was shooting like 60% whenever he had a food in the paint, and if you're shooting that type of percentage with a foot in the paint the defense has got to double team you, it's just a matter of spreading the floor and shooting the ball.  That's a weapon and an option we hoped that we could develop this year with him. And he's starting to show that he can do that."

Nate on whether he was surprised that the Clippers hung in until the bitter end: "No. because it happens. That's a very dangerous game in a sense that they are missing a lot of players everything that we went over this morning, none of that they used, basically we going into this game blind.  Because none of their players are playing.  Knight didn't play, Mobley didn't start, Corey didn't play at all, Tim played the first. Everything that you went over [in the team's morning strategy talks] they didn't use it.  Basically, they were playing their younger guys and those guys were hot.  Smush Parker as well as he played, I'm sure Miami was saying "hey...."

[ed. note: Nate trailed off here, catching himself before he went any further.  But the thought he was suppressing was Miami asking of Smush, "hey, where was this for us?" This sequence drew chuckles.]

Nate on defending the Clippers: "You gotta get a hand up. Our whole game plan was, they weren't shooting the ball well [coming into this game], so we zoned them a lot last time.  They're not a 3 point shooting team, but tonight Smush knocks down 2, Tim knocks down 1, Powell was knocking down his jump shots.  You want to contain those guys, keep in front of them, and keep them off the free throw line and that was the game plan."

Nate on pulling out the win: "Yea you got this game, it was a tough game to get. No game is easy and no game is a gimme... in the third quarter we came out and took control of the game... I thought Steve played a real solid game, he had 9 assists in the first half, he wasn't making any shots but he stayed with it and came out in the second half and started knocking down his shots.  He did a great job of taking care of the ball."

Nate on the team's ball movement: "28 assists is good... that's some good ball movement. Especially when teams are double-teaming us. Teams are double-teaming Brandon and LaMarcus.  It's just a matter of those guys getting the ball out of the double team quickly and guys being ready to play off of them."

Nate on LaMarcus passing out of the post: "He's just learning.  He will have to because teams will double-team him.  Then you will have to make the decision, do you live with him scoring, trying to score with one, or do you [double team him].  What he needs to do right now is make his pass a threat.  Once you do that, it will open up even more for you in the post.  A guy who can score if you threaten that you will pass the ball, if you show teams that you will be unselfish, then they've got to make a decision.  Then our guys have to make shots.  Blake and those guys made shots tonight.  So what do you do? It's very similar to what we faced last night with Phoenix?  We had to guard Shaquille straight up as opposed to giving Barbosa and Nash and those guys 3 point looks.  That's what it will come down to."  

Brandon Roy on playing the hodge-podge Clippers roster: "We can't play faces, we gotta play jerseys.  We started out relaxed, but as the game picked up we did a good job of getting a lead in the second half."

Brandon on the result: "It's a long season, man."

[ed. note: this was said with a smile on his face, huge ice packs on his knees and both of his feet dunked in a rather large bucket of ice.]

Brandon on whether he checks the standing every day still, given the team's position: "No. I never really looked at it everyday.  I did pay some attention to it.  The west is really tough. Denver is 3 games out of it and they have a really good team. That just says how well the teams in the Western Conference and for me its tough we win the game tonight it's kind of like no matter what we're not going to make the playoffs."

Brandon on whether they can make the playoffs still and knowing when the team will be mathematically eliminated: "I don't know when that comes... we're going to have to win a lot of games in April against a lot of good teams... We just want to win every game we play in.  If we win them all and make the playoffs, then great, if not, it's important that we continue to improve."

Brandon on LaMarcus's passing: "It keeps defenses off balance.  If they double then you kick it.  If not, don't wait for the double team, just keep playing.  And I think he's getting better at that and he opens up the court for other people to get easy shots."

Random Game Notes

-- You may have read the LA Weekly story about Donald Sterling that made the rounds this week (via TrueHoop via Fanhouse). Well, Sterling's 2008 Media Guide biography has the following quoted in it, "This past year, he acquired a downtown building for the purpose of creating a $50 million Center for the Homeless, to provide comprehensive support service for those in need."
-- Since moving to LA for the 1984-1985, the Clippers have only enjoyed 2 winning seasons. Amazing.
-- Think the Blazers looked sluggish in the first half?  They weren't alone: the in-game public address system had audio difficulties during the first half, leading to some malfunctions, confusion from the audience and apologies from the PA announcer.
-- Smush Parker was balling out of control tonight.  He had 14 points in 26 minutes.  He really should be starting.  During warm ups, he hit roughly 85 percent of the jumpers I saw him take.  He was smiling broadly at everyone who was watching.
-- Tim Thomas left the game with a stomach virus after the first quarter.  How does that work? Is it like middle school where you need a note to excuse the absence and/or one of your parents has to come claim you from the nurse's room?
-- Al Thornton had a mega-dunk that drew oohs and ahhs from everyone at the press table.  The rest of the night he struggled something fierce.  Keep playing hard, I'm sure you'll be rewarded financially by someone (even if it's not Sterling).
-- On the big screen, they asked the Blazers who they had picked in the NCAA brackets.  James Jones said his alma mater Miami, LaMarcus said his alma mater Texas, Coach Nate said Georgetown (this did not surprise me at all), and Steve Blake smirked through his pick of Winthrop.
-- Brandon was called for carrying the ball! I didn't think I'd see that again this season.
--  Best sign of the night: "LaMarcus: My Mom Loves You!"
-- Give credit to Mike Dunleavy, who never stopped coaching.  He called timeouts all the way to the end despite being down by a sizeable margin and was up on his feet encouraging the straggling members of his roster the entire way.  The man is underrated.
-- Let's do it again tomorrow.
-- PS... has anyone read this this book about Greg Oden and Mike Conley's High School team yet? If so, leave a thumbs up or thumbs down review in the comments.  Looks pretty awesome judging by the cover.

--Ben (Benjamin.Golliver@gmail.com)