As you can see by the final score, the summary of the game is pretty simple. They brought Noah. We brought the flood. End of story. It was a night where almost everything the Blazers did worked. The Bulls did a couple of things well too but almost everything beats a couple of things. By 24, to be exact.
The game started out in near-comedic fashion as both teams seemed committed to showing the other had no transition defense. Unfortunately neither team evidenced much transition offense either. Watching these squads run the floor early was like watching Lake Oswegans rap. I mean, maybe you can recognize some decent intentions in there but it's just not right. ("Yo, these gold chains are real, dawg. But I have to get them back before my moms goes to dinner. Finesse the bling, yo. If fur is murder then my mom's a serial killer. Don't judge. Those chinchillas had it coming! Peace out.") Then the Blazers came to their senses and started pounding it in to Greg Oden. We haven't mentioned this yet, though it's been going on for a couple weeks, but the re-post option for Greg is really good. It gives him time to get comfortable position, makes the defender move, and doesn't require him to make any moves before he's ready. Congrats to the staff for making the Phil Jackson-Shaq connection and kudos to our guards for sticking with it on those plays. The results speak for themselves. LaMarcus Aldridge came along for the ride inside and out. With the two biggest guys on the team connecting with haymakers the Bulls started to sweat. The added perspiration let the Roy-Miller trio (yes, they played together and yes, it worked) slip by for any kind of shot they wanted. Unfortunately the Bulls came to their senses as well and started doing the Deng-Salmons two-step on the guards (yes, they played defense together too and yes, it was shaky). The end result was a 31-28 quarter in favor of the Blazers.
One of the teams went for 30+ again in the second quarter and one definitely didn't. Bucking the season's trend, the team that poured it on was the Blazers. Once again they super-sized the offense with Oden and LMA doing damage. This time we saw a little bit of Miller-Bayless-Roy, which worked a little better defensively, and then Miller-Blake-Roy, which stalled a little offensively until Roy started driving. (Memo: The three-guard lineup isn't dead. It just switched time slots.) Chicago couldn't compensate and all of a sudden the Portland offense exploded. The Blazers scored 16 of their last 23 points of the quarter at the rim or from the foul line. Chicago was still hitting shots but they couldn't keep up, especially since they lacked the free throw side of the equation. Portland walked into the locker room up 15 and looking happy.
All year long the Blazers have come out loaded for bear in the third period. In this case the bear was Teddy, though. Oden was still pounding it inside but the Bulls were swarming and fouling him at every opportunity. He responded well but the tempo slowed overall and his teammates had a harder time finding and hitting good shots. Meanwhile Chicago exploited their matchup advantages at both backcourt positions and the small forward position. Luol Deng damaged anybody the Blazers threw against him and Chicago's screens dislodged Portland defenders with ease leading to awkward moments at the rim for the Blazers. With all of that, though, the Bulls only made up 5 points and entered the fourth down 10.
The script called for the Bulls to whittle the lead down to a toothpick before Portland responded. And when Kirk Hinrich converted a layup 16 seconds into the quarter it looked like that story might unfold yet again. Then Rudy happened. Playing once again with Miller and Roy, Fernandez started weaving and heaving. He got himself open from the arc and his shot was deadly. He hit 2 threes and a layup in a three-minute stretch. When Oden and Aldridge started scoring too, it just wasn't fair. Portland ends up winning by 24, having plenty of fun along the way and sending the crowd home happy.
The key to the game tonight was energy. From Oden's inside play to Brandon's drives to the commitment (and occasional pressing) of Bayless and Cunningham coming off the deep bench the Blazers demonstrated their desire for this game and their willingness to do what it took to get it. Even when they stopped flat-out breaking they still ran the ball up to set the offense. Multiple players were calling for the ball, including Oden and Webster who are usually among the less demonstrative players. They made opportunities for talent to shine through and plenty of it did. Portland shot 57.5%, eclipsing the Bulls by more than 10%. They hit their threes also (40%) but didn't over-rely on them (15 attempts out of 73 total shots). The refs blew a ton of whistles in this game and Portland got the benefit of most of them, shooting 40 foul shots to 22 for the Bulls. They outrebounded Chicago by 20, virtually eliminated turnovers...other than some spotty defense there was absolutely nothing wrong with this game. It was great to see.
Click through for individual observations and links.
I remember earlier in the season--I think it was in a game against Memphis--I opined that should that game have occurred two years from now Oden would have scored 30. He darn near did it tonight. He was as into this game as I have ever seen him. He frustrated the heck out of Joakim Noah, at one point making him throw the ball into the stanchion in frustration. (Ostensibly that was at the refs, but we know who you were think of when you released, Joakim.) More impressive than his 7-8 shooting clip were his 12 free throws, of which he hit 10. The refs are starting to show him some respect on his moves. He also had 6 offensive and 6 defensive rebounds and 2 blocks to go with his 24 points. It was a massive game.
Brandon Roy had an unassuming little 18 points and 7 assists. While Oden and LaMarcus were front and center Brandon kept the defense honest by driving off the dribble and hitting pull-ups, layups, and foul shots off of their screw-ups. The best word for his offense tonight was "integrated". It was a beautiful game to my eyes. Defensively...eh. But somewhere the Blazers are going to have to dig up some better defensive players to surround Brandon and then you won't notice as much.
Along with Brandon, LaMarcus Aldridge was one of the players who ran with starters and reserves both. The Blazers cleared out for him a bunch and allowed him to be an offensive focus. It worked. He shot 10-16, matched Oden's 24 points, grabbed 13 rebounds (to Oden's 12, so I guess Greg is buying the Dr. Peppers tonight), and dished 3 assists. LaMarcus looked as happy as I've seen him this season. I would recommend continuing to use him this way.
Andre Miller looked pretty darn comfortable with Roy on one wing and Rudy on the other. That unit appeared to click offensively more than any small combination we've seen so far. The energy was palpable. Andre chose his shots carefully and hit most of them. He brutalized the Bulls on the drive, drawing 11 foul shots and hitting 10. His 5 assists were sweet too. You know defense...blah, blah...help. But I liked this incarnation of Miller overall.
Rudylicious: 13 points in 19 minutes, more threes than a Divided 9's convention, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, controlled energy...spark-ish. It's what you want from him. He also looked like the best backcourt defender on the floor tonight among the regulars. Faint praise, but praise nonetheless.
Steve Blake did pretty much what he was supposed to. He helped the ball moved, tried to move on defense, and otherwise facilitated rather than putting himself forward. He made a couple of really nice passes and ended up with 4 assists and 5 rebounds. He and Miller virtually split minutes, Blake with 29 and Andre with 27. At this point I think Blake plays well with more players but Andre plays better overall when he's with lineups that are comfortable for him.
Joel Przybilla rode the scoring horse as well tonight, getting 8 points off of chip shots in 17 minutes. The floor opening up is good for Joel. Lots of people standing is not.
Dante Cunningham and Jerryd Bayless each got decent minutes, DC with 14 and JB with 11. As we mentioned above, they pressured a little defensively and each showed gumption and drive out there. They looked like what 10-ish mpg guys are supposed to look like: moving, active, giving their all. What are you saving up for? Each scored 4 points off of good shooting, Cunningham with 3 rebounds, a steal, and a block and Bayless with a board. Based on this game you have to forecast more PT in their future, though you probably shouldn't look for either to get 24 minutes yet. I think Cunningham could sneak up on Martell if the latter falters though.
Speaking of Martell, he was the only guy who went through a sub-par shooting night, going 3-10, missing both of the threes he took, and scoring 6 with 4 rebounds in 22 minutes. At least he was a bigger body on Deng. And he had a sweet dunk off of an alley-oop.
Happy? Me too.
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