The stereotypical rap on the NBA is that you don't really have to watch anything except the last two minutes of the game. It wasn't exactly the last two minutes tonight but the last five would have sufficed. It wasn't exactly a work of art, but we pulled it out in fine style with an 11th-hour flurry. That means we'll all sleep better tonight.
Technically there were several flaws in this game. I thought our energy was decent through most of the evening but our execution left something to be desired.
With a few beautiful exceptions on individual plays (most thanks to Joel Przybilla) our defense looked stale for the first 3.5 quarters. It didn't look like we were talking or helping all that consistently. We were a step late inside and out. Granted Milwaukee doesn't need much room when they're on but we made them look a little better than they needed to. Maybe the best way to describe it is "fractured". At times we rotated brilliantly, especially on Redd. At times we let Charlie Villanueva beat us all on his lonesome. Sometimes we'd get 4-5 men back in transition. Other times there were none. Other than saying the starters did a better job than the bench (a theme that would carry the night) there wasn't a ton to hang your hat on.
We turned the ball over more than usual. Our guards were the main offenders.
Offense was also a mixture. At times we looked inspired with our passing and driving. Other times you couldn't see anybody move except the guy with the ball. Sometimes they took your breath away, other times they made your stomach churn.
We were not efficient at drawing fouls. Milwaukee getting 8 more foul shots than we did should have never happened.
On the other hand we did quite well in other areas:
We shot extremely well overall thanks to playing unselfishly when we needed to. We had some divinely-inspired individual offensive efforts tonight.
We rebounded very well, especially at the critical junctures at the end.
We shot confidently from the perimeter when Milwaukee didn't cover. Hitting the open three was a hallmark of our winning streak and it was back in spades tonight.
Most of all, we bore down when the game was in doubt. Milwaukee was carrying a 5-8 point lead through the middle stages of the fourth quarter. All of a sudden we put them in a defensive vise, held them to one shot, and shoved it down their throat on offense. Boom...lead gone. It probably took us too long to salt them away considering they were short-handed, but we did it, and that's to our credit.
It was wholly apropos that they had one more run left in them. It was also appropriate that this game came down to the team with the last legitimate offensive possession winning. That's just the kind of contest it was. And what a great final play we ran. You saw exactly the problem Brandon poses for defenses and why he makes everyone better. They didn't have a soul who could keep him away from the bucket. He broke them down and drew the defensive crowd, then calmly flipped to Lamarcus for that sweet baseline jumper to win it. There was nothing Milwaukee could have done. I guarantee you that Aldridge was the LAST person on the court they wanted to leave wide open for the game-winning shot, but they simply had no choice. Brandon made them expend all of their options just stopping him. His combination of multi-directional dribbling, scoring, and passing makes him stand out among all of his teammates and among most of the league as well.
The sum total of this game is a lot of good stuff plus a lot of things to work on. The problem is that this game came in March, not December. Most of the good teams in the league are past their "stuff to work on" phase and are bringing all of their guns to bear. We still aren't all aiming in the same direction. This gives you what's going to be the likely summary of the season as a whole: very good for the Blazers when graded against themselves, still a ways to go when graded against the better, more experienced teams.
--Holy hoppin' crudbuckets Lamarcus! Whatever you ate for breakfast this morning, make that your regular diet! I would say Milwaukee didn't really have anybody to stop him, but we've seen teams with weak defensive frontcourts before and LMA hasn't done this! 29 points on 14-20 shooting, 6 rebounds (5 defensive), 4 assists, 1 block. The most impressive thing was that all of his back-to-the-basket arsenal was on display. Hooks, turn-arounds, spins...everything worked. When that's happening there's no way to guard him. Normally when he hits a face-up jumper the opposition is going, "That's OK...let's keep him out there." When he's on like this and then hits a face-up jumper they have to wave the white flag. The game-winner was just frosting on the cake. This was an enormous game. The Blazers are hoping that as soon as he gains a little more weight, strength, and experience he can do this on a semi-regular basis.
--Visually speaking Brandon Roy had a middling game judged by his usual standards. He was having trouble defending and he turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 5 times. It looked like his head left the floor for a while. He was also hobbling at one point. And it didn't help that Milwaukee threw the kitchen sink at him defensively-speaking. Nevertheless his driving wizardry was superb, his deep shot was confident and pure, and "middling" for him nowadays amounts to 20 points, 10 assists, and 3 steals. I wonder what would have happened had he been ABOVE average? This is exactly the thing about Brandon...he sneaks up on you. The great ones often do. You say, "Well, he's playing OK..." and then you look up and he's got 20 and 10. Have I mentioned I love this guy?
--Joel Przybilla is a big reason we didn't get down by more early. When the outside defense broke down he punished the Bucks for coming in the middle. He's had a great 10-day stretch but this may have been his best effort of all and one of his best of the year. You can almost tell in the body language for Joel what kind of a game it's going to be. Sometimes he comes out tight, almost like he's frustrated from the opening tip. That edginess works into his game and he never gets off the launch pad. You usually see him going to the bench shaking his head. Other times, like tonight, he just plays loose and free. He's fluid, relaxed, and in charge of himself and the game. At that point he becomes a real force for us. 15 rebounds and 3 blocks don't encapsulate what he meant for us tonight.
--Speaking of going above and beyond, Steve Blake continued his recent surge, notching one of his best efforts of the season as well. He hit open threes, opened up the court, shot 8-15, and ended up with 6 assists and 21 points. It looked like he was on a mission. When he scores--nothing fancy, just hitting the open shot and converting drives when they're there--it makes everybody else twice as hard to stop.
--Speaking of hard to stop, Martell also came through with a very nice effort. He shot 6-10, scored 17, and got 7 rebounds and 2 steals. This looked more like the November Martell than the winter version. He was also loose and aggressive.
This, however, is where the individual accolades end. All five starters had fantastic games. The bench was limited in minutes and for the most part uninspiring. You can tell that Nate has the idea that we're not giving up on the season early just looking at the minutes played in this game. The entire bench combined totaled about 1.5 starters.
--James Jones did fine. He hit a couple of threes that opened up the floor. His 7 points and 4 rebounds outstripped everyone else off the pines. Wait...outstripped isn't strong enough. The rest of the bench all put together didn't equal his output.
--Travis Outlaw shot 1-8 and goose-egged the rest of the stat line save for 1 block and 1 turnover. Nate wasn't having it tonight. He only played 16 minutes.
--Jarrett Jack might have been better off goose-egging the stat line. He hit 1 bucket off of a nice drive and got 2 rebounds, which didn't balance out his 4 turnovers. It was ugly like a pop princess singing her own songs without a back-track or makeup. He got 16 minutes too.
--Channing Frye got himself 5 minutes and committed a prodigious 4 fouls in that time. This wasn't a hack-a-Shaq game plan either. Bogart the Bogut?
One-Sentence Game Summary:
This game was like a date you suspect flopped, but then she invites you in for coffee anyway.