As soon as they announced that Jamaal Crawford and Eddy Curry would be out of the game along with our old friend Zach Randolph I knew one of my game preview bullet points was going to be dead wrong. The final assertion I made was that it was guaranteed we'd want the game more than the Knicks. That's very much true of their normal roster. That's not true of anybody's bench unit when they get the chance to start. All of those guys have chips on their shoulders. All of them want to play. Having Zach out was one thing...I was fine with that. But the full pre-game injury announcement caused me to let out a quick, "Uh oh...this may not go as planned."
However my second thought right after, "Uh oh" was, "If there's ever a night to make it all about the offense, this is it. Even with the energy the Knicks are going to have to come up with an extraordinary effort to score enough points."
It was an "Uh oh", they did get extraordinary effort, and they had no problem scoring. This is the reason the NBA can be great to watch even when neither team playing is at the top of the standings. You never know exactly what you're going to see and sometimes you see the spectacular. (Witness a couple of those Nate Robinson drives tonight.)
As a quick aside, I am curious to know if New York Knicks fans would prefer to field this lineup for the short term rather than the bloated, overpaid, selfish, directionless mess they started the season with. Consider that Stephon Marbury was out along with Crawford, Randolph, and Curry and you had the top four players from the season's advent missing tonight. And this is one of their better efforts of the year. I know they would not win with consistency with this squad, but how many are they winning now? Would you prefer to see this kind of effort with a few more guaranteed losses rather than the usual Knick output and a slot-jockey's chance of maybe picking up a few extra wins? If so, welcome to Step One of the Portland Trail Blazers Rejuvenation Plan. Win or lose, the whole league might be better off if you take it, bite the bullet through steps 2-4, and then enjoy your upswing in a few years.
As far as the game goes, our offense--to borrow a phrase from the immortal Paris Hilton--was HOT at the beginning of each half. We were stroking it like we had never missed in our lives. We did an excellent job finding the open man. We did not do an excellent job driving the ball at any time during regulation though. The Knicks had NOBODY inside to stop us and yet the vast majority of our paint attempts came from Lamarcus in the post, isolated. Yes, the jumpers were successful for at least half of the game but this contest was just begging to be taken and we could never get our hands on it. Our failure to penetrate was one of the main reasons.
The other main reason also had to do with our wing players, and it was defense. Nobody stuck to a man out there. We exposed our interior defenders like they were politicians in a public restroom. We were VERY fortunate Joel and Lamarcus did not foul out. Props to those two for keeping their heads in the game while still being able to defend. The Knick guards had no qualms about driving in addition to hoisting long ones and they made mincemeat out of us. Had New York had even a skosh more scoring in the frontcourt we would have lost this game.
The overtime turned everything around, basically thanks to Brandon Roy. It looked like he said, "Enough of this crap." He drove it into the teeth of the New York defense and converted time after time. The Knick guards still scored, but they missed also. Brandon didn't. Big-time players always make O.T. their own and Brandon did it tonight. In the end they had no star to match.
Other commendable mentions:
--We destroyed them on the boards, particularly at the offensive end. We got up 95 possessions to their 89 and had 52 rebounds to their 41. 17 of those rebounds were at our end. Bravo to all our big men.
--We did not turn the ball over much, which was a very good idea. New York was getting enough cheap points as it was.
--We got our all-important "extra" points by shooting well from the three-point line and the foul line both. This makes us much more of a threat. As it turned out we needed every single one of those bonuses tonight.
--Did I mention that we lose this game without Brandon in overtime? I did? Oh good. That more or less makes up for a little bit of coasting from him in regulation. But honestly, that probably had as much to do with everyone else running so well as it did with any desire of his. Tonight was a night he probably should have saved up a little. 27 points and 6 rebounds were his final totals.
--Lamarcus had it working up until the end of the game, when he faded a little. It was another strong effort with a couple of good signs though. First he worked hard defensively. Had he not coupled with Joel to watch the interior we would have been posted, toasted, roasted, broasted, and most-host-boast-`til-you-get-ghosted into oblivion. Second he got some rebounds again. 5 of his 10 were offensive, which ended up being necessary. 5 defensive rebounds is not bad. Third he shot 9 free throws, which shows his offensive game bothered some people. Fourth he shot 50% and scored 22. And finally he frosted the cake with 4 assists (second on the team) and 2 blocks. Good work.
--Martell was a naughty, naughty boy early on. His three-point shooting was making the Knicks cry. Even when he stopped firing he still worked pretty hard...though he was among the defenders who got used like a casino ATM. He had 7 rebounds though. Nice.
--What has gotten into Steve Blake? He's been really aggressive on offense the last couple of weeks! He only shot 5-13 tonight but he scored 15 and dished 10 assists. He will also be the third-most-watched figure on YouTube tomorrow, courtesy of guarding Nate Robinson for much of his 45-point outburst. Darn that Jessica Simpson and those flatulent elephants anyway!
--Joel had 11 rebounds. For the third time in six column inches we'll mention how much his defense meant to us tonight. He's been a bright star in our constellation the last 10 days.
--Jarrett Jack shot 4-8 and scored 13, which was not bad. He also hit some clutch free-throws for us late. He turned the ball over twice, which probably should have been marked three times really. His final one on a wounded-duck post pass to Roy got him yanked and had him quite literally kicking his chair as he went to the bench. Fortunately they got the camera off of him and it wasn't on his lips as he did so. Also fortunately he got a chance to redeem himself with those charity tosses. That and the win will go a long way towards restoring confidence.
--Channing Frye punished his old team a little, even hitting a turn-around move in the post! He looked driven tonight. I like it better when he walks with a chip on his shoulder, as his game, like his personality, is a little easy-going. 8 points and 7 rebounds in 19 minutes ain't bad. He collected 4 fouls again though. I will say this...he is taking some hard fouls on opposing drivers that the rest of our team shies away from taking. He seems to be of the mindset that if you drive he's going to knock you down. I kind of like the sentiment. Unfortunately he can't really intimidate anyone out of the paint. Also I don't want him to develop a reputation as a hack artist. I'd rather have him defend a little better. (Again our guards also need to keep people out of the middle more. Stay in front of somebody!)
--James Jones hit a couple of threes and missed a potentially game-deciding free-throw. So-so night for him. I still love that he's back. He's an instant floor-opener.
--Travis had another sub-par night, shooting 2-10 for 6 points and making a ripple in the stat line comparable to that last eighth of a potato chip at the bottom of the bag. You've heard how the league catches up with you quickly? Every time Travis catches now the opponent knows an isolation set is coming and they're 75% sure he's going to shoot it. Hello alert (and probably collapsing) defense. Bye-bye dribble-jumper opportunities. Back to the drawing board.
One-Sentence Game Summary:
Hey Blazers: you're all in your early twenties so why are you driving like you're 83...a.k.a. slow and scared?