I enjoyed watching this game. It was a little bit different. It was all about great individual performances by players exploiting opponent weaknesses...for both sides. It was offensive basketball all the way (meaning "the offenses were shining" as opposed to basketball which offends). As it turned out the Blazers had a couple guys step up bigger than the Nets did. That, of course, made it even sweeter.
The Blazers were outshot and outscored from the field and the three-point line tonight. Our defense couldn't hamper the Nets any more than theirs hampered us. Less, in fact. The difference was that Portland was more aggressive more often. We drove the lane. We picked up fouls. The Nets finished the game 12-17 from the free throw line and the Blazers finished 26-33. That 14-point cushion came in handy. (This is also a good lesson for people who complain that the officiating was bad every time another team shoots a lot more free throws than the Blazers do. Sometimes the disparity is warranted. If that's not true, then this should have been a win for the Nets.) The Blazers were also helped along by a couple of their strengths. They collected 12 offensive rebounds and held the Nets to 6. Portland only committed 8 turnovers for the game. Plus the Blazers did a great job of getting back in transition all night. Fast break points would have made up that free-throw cushion quickly but the Nets couldn't generate any. Though the rest of the defense was fairly weak that area was great. Hats off to the team effort there.
There were a couple of trouble spots tonight, however. First of all, this game featured some of the worst pick and roll defense ever. The point guards and even Rudy were just brutal defending screens. They exposed the big men something fierce. When that big man was Oden he didn't know how to handle it and picked up fouls. That's one of the reasons you didn't see Greg play more in this game. Joel Przybilla and Lamarcus Aldridge had a better chance of picking up and sticking with those dribblers off of the pick. I'm pretty sure that at least half of the reason you saw a lot of zone out there was to protect our guards from getting exploited repeatedly. Second, we had a really hard time scoring when the outside jumper wasn't falling. This is exactly where we miss Steve Blake. New Jersey would just pack it in and the Blazers had a harder time scoring than Andrew Dice Clay at a NOW convention. Fortunately the outside shots started falling in the second half and the lanes opened up. New Jersey isn't that adept at rotating or shutting down penetration and there we were.
The Blazers' bench factored in hugely tonight. They had more than half of our total rebounds and 48 of our 105 points.
Thank goodness we had Brandon Roy at least semi-healthy tonight. He started the game strong, set the tone for penetration, and kept the scoring going through most of the dry spells. The Nets were so preoccupied with him that they couldn't cover everyone else well enough. Plus Roy got to the line 16 times, almost half of Portland's enormous total. Roy actually ended up filling the point guard role during the critical final stretches of the game, allowing Jerryd Bayless to play, in effect, off guard. This helped Bayless' scoring opportunities, not only with his position and lanes to drive in, but because he was free to just score instead of set up the offense. Roy finished the night 8-16, 13-16 from the foul line, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and oh yeah...29 points too.
Lamarcus Aldridge was the iron man for the game along with Roy. He mostly stayed out on the perimeter but had a nice dunk and managed 20 points on 10-19 shooting. He was an important outlet in the fourth quarter when the Blazers were experimenting with their guard positions. If nothing else works, pass to Lamarcus. Jumper...boom.
Jerryd Bayless was the hot story of the night for Portland. He started driving aggressively almost as soon as he entered the game and he didn't stop. He drew a ton of fouls and converted most of his shots. (He had only missed one until late in the fourth.) He didn't defend screens that much better than his compatriots but he did the best job staying in front of his man on non-screen plays. He ended up shooting 6-9 from the field, 11-11 from the line, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, only 1 turnover, scoring 23 points in 25 minutes. However there's reason for caution here. Jerryd did little to alleviate the perception that he's looking to drive and score every time he touches the ball. At one point late in the game he drove and attempted a pass fake to his right before trying to finish at the hoop. That was his 1 turnover. Nobody in the building, the state of New Jersey, or anywhere this side of Jupiter's moons bought the idea that he'd pass off. He took New Jersey somewhat by surprise but that doesn't last long in this league. In addition to all of the glorious plays we saw a couple where three Nets just swarmed him and he shot it anyway. That will happen with more frequency. Don't expect a ton of 20-point nights (or maybe even 10-point nights) until his vision and game become more complete. That said, somebody (I have no idea who, but I hear he's darn good looking) has been saying repeatedly since before the season that the Blazers would be better served by bringing Jerryd along as an off-guard on offense, point guard on defense to allow him to play to his strengths. This instead of shoehorning him into that point guard role exclusively on offense. I think we saw tonight that there are possibilities in that approach.
Travis Outlaw was the guy who opened up the floor and the driving lanes with his shooting when the rest of the Blazers were running dry outside and coming up against solid brick inside. His 13 points look quiet compared to all of the players just mentioned but his 3-4 three-point shooting was important. He also had 7 rebounds.
I was glad to see Nicolas Batum take 4 shots tonight. Sadly 3 of them were threes and he missed them all, drifting on each. He doesn't look comfortable spotting up out there right now and frankly I wish he'd just put the ball on the floor more and either pull up for a shorter jumper or take it deep inside. This isn't the best Nicolas we're seeing here. He did pull a variety of defensive assignments and was credible. You don't have to worry too much about Nic on that end.
Sergio Rodriguez had 4 assists and had a couple nice drives. He was one of the main guys exploited on defense. No matter what our point guard does on offense he has to play defense on opposing point guards. Sergio has to learn how to handle a pick before he can expect to play more, let alone be a starter.
Speaking of handling picks, Greg Oden played 13 minutes and had 1 very nice score and 1 very nice block but only 1 rebound to go with them. He continues to fail in his recognition of what is a good foul and when it's just time to let the bucket go. He's also getting left guarding small men out up top because of those picks. That's not going to be his game ever. That's why he didn't play.
Joel Przybilla stepped in admirably and provided a little stiffer challenge for the Nets' drivers. Plus he was an active rebounder, finishing with 11 in 22 minutes.
Like Travis, Rudy hit a couple of important threes in limited minutes. He also had a couple of nice feeds. His defense needed some work too. It's hard to know how far he was back from the injury but it seemed like the coaches played him just about the right amount of time and in the right situations tonight. He finished with 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Channing Frye got 5 minutes and hit a shot. He's the best player I've ever seen at smiling and looking happy for his teammates when stuck in the midst of what must be a really challenging situation.
Did anyone else cringe every time Brandon grabbed a knee or any other part of his body? When's the next time we get more than two days off between games? Great. The All-Star break. Oh wait...Brandon's getting appointed to the team by the coaches, isn't he? Even greater. Oh...and we only get two days off between games twice in that period? Besides that it's a game every other day? Please...please...please let him hold up!
Check out the Jersey Contest scores for this game and enter Saturday's form here