It felt like this might change everything. This young, brash, determined, explosive point guard might just make every bad thing that's happened over the last six months go away. The injuries. The chemistry issues. Inconsistency from key contributors. A less-efficient-than-necessary Brandon Roy struggling at times to carry the burden of an entire team. Jerryd Bayless promised hope and he delivered it, propelling his Blazers to a nationally-televised 105-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Portland Thursday night.
The magnitude of Bayless's raw skills and his in-the-moment hot-shooting brought the entire Rose Garden crowd -- including Blazers management -- to its feet during a dramatic come-from-behind fourth quarter run. The seats remained empty as Bayless poured in bucket after bucket on his way to a career-high 29 points, with 16 coming in a fourth quarter that saw the Blazers erase a double-digit Suns lead. He sank free throws down the stretch (9 of 12 overall), added 4 assists and just 2 turnovers in 29 minutes.
During the game Bayless was flexing, talking junk to Suns coach Alvin Gentry, letting people know. After the game, after everyone already knew, after Steve Nash's potential game-tying three missed its mark, Bayless smiled through an I-told-you-so happiness bubble. He chuckled at the space Jared Dudley had given him that allowed back-to-back three pointers in front of the Suns bench and he caught himself before he said something that he might later regret.
It's not just the fans and Bayless himself who now feel the brunt of this potential change. It's Brandon Roy (27 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists), who Bayless said had talked to him about developing into a Mo Williams-type secondary scoring threat. It's Coach Nate McMillan, who couldn't stop praising Bayless after the game in one breath and then moments later seemed shocked at the idea Bayless might move up in the rotation. It's Steve Blake (12 points, 2 assists) who has rediscovered his shooting stroke -- in part thanks to passes from Bayless -- who is now dealing with a reality that Bayless knows well: every missed shot, every turnover could bring the hook.
But, more than anyone else, it's Andre Miller, who just watched a younger, hungrier, more-physically-gifted player do everything that Miller himself was brought to Portland to do: complement Brandon Roy, relieve Brandon Roy, protect the basketball, get to the foul line, increase the tempo, move the ball. Many fans noticed Miller rushing off the court after the game. He was frantically looking for his playing time.
Don't get this confused: Jerryd Bayless still has a long, long way to go. But his career ceiling just got raised to "Efficient Iverson." Will he ever get there? Will he even score 10 points on Saturday? Both legit questions. It's still way, way too early. But Thursday night, he made superstar moves and drew a response from Portland fans usually reserved for superstars.
A season, seemingly hopeless just days before, has new legs. Underneath, the many underlying problems remain. On top, a facelift of hope.
Random Game Note (There Can Only Be One)
The in-arena entertainment this year at the Rose Garden has been much more subdued than last year. Whether that's because of cutbacks caused by the recession or because fan surveys indicated the constant bombardment of "entertainment" had become too much, I'm not sure. But the festivities have been noticeably amped down. Not to sound like a writer three times my age but I kind of appreciate the subdued. This year, the 3 or 4 (or 5, or 6, or 7) hours in the arena have been feeling a lot more like a basketball game and a lot less like a carnival. Cheers to that.
Unfortunately, the carnival arrived back in full force tonight and his name was Avery Watts. Providing the evening's halftime entertainment with a live concert, Watts, a blonde, headbanging Brüno lookalike, adorned himself in a customized Blazers Jersey (Watts #1, naturally), eschewing an undershirt so that his pale forearms could be enjoyed in all their glory on the Rose Garden jumbotron. Backing Watts was a collection of pimply-faced misfits dressed in cult-like black hooded sweatshirts with the word "Takeover" emblazoned on their chests, strumming various instruments while engaged in a group epileptic seizure. Watts began his mini-set by screaming unintelligibly into his microphone and continued in that fashion through 2 (?) songs before allowing mic distortion to bring the show to a better-late-than-never ending.
Along the way, Watts pointed at his jersey and proclaimed his Blazer fandom like a run-of-the-mill drunk moron who finds himself in the back corner of the Kiss Cam and thinks he's now a superstar. His makeshift "stage" appeared to be located in a handicapped-accessible area of the arena that sports a protective railing; halfway through his 7 or so minutes of fame, Watts climbed on the railing as if he was bareback riding a horse, haphazardly thrashing his body, leading to grimaces from the few who continued to bear the sight.
The single most grating moment of the single most grating in-arena performance I've witnessed while attending 100+ Blazers games was Watts' apparent surprise when he didn't receive a standing ovation while being introduced. As fans simply ignored the PA announcer and streamed into the concourses for more beer and food, Watts paused, as if reality was finally hitting him square in the face. Unfortunately, his stress fractured ego has not yet been declared a career-ending injury.
If you're Avery Watts or his publicist please do not contact me. I linked your website above. We'll call that even.
Nate McMillan's Postgame Comments
What can you say? I thought he had a great game. We know Jerryd can put some points on the board. And with all the guys we have out, we need that. He's getting the opportunity to play and he's taking advantage of it. I've told him for really for the last two years 'be patient, be patient, the opportunity is going to come. I don't know when but it just does in the NBA.' And that opportunity has come in the last two games. He's shown this at times. The last two times he's shown what he's capable of doing with that opportunity.
I like that we are scrapping. That we are trying to play a 48 minute game. The last two games our second half has been really good. Defensively we've done some good things. Offensively we've attacked. Tonight we shot 35 free throws, the other night we shot 25. We are being aggressive going to that basket. That is what we need to see. A lot of that is due to Bayless and playing the guards, Miller and Brandon, getting to that rim.
Bayless and Roy together
I think these guys -- I mean, basketball, you've got to make adjustments. We keep talking about combinations, who can play with who, it's just a matter of making the adjustments, getting to your spots. Brandon played that whole second half, Bayless had some things going. I told Brandon we're going to give Bayless the ball, take a breather, and Bayless came through. We ran the high pick and roll, some sets we wanted to get him involved in, he executed and made plays. It comes down to that. Where we have to make plays. We talk about breaks, tonight we made those breaks by getting stops defensively and making plays on the offensive end.
Nash made a run at the end. Did you think he was going to hit that three to tie it?
I saw it in him. I've coached against him long enough the first three, I knew it was coming. He's just that type of player. He puts the team on his back in that situation. We were, in his mind, live or die with this three. He normally makes that shot. I thought Blake was pretty close but you need to be even closer because he was looking for a three at that point. The last three, you know, the game plan was to foul anybody other than Nash on the catch. If they caught the ball quickly, grab them. Nash got the ball so he was moving and I thought LaMarcus did a good job of just staying down.
Why foul anybody but Nash?
We knew Nash was going to catch and shoot. Anybody else, on catch we wanted to foul and put them on the free throw line.
Best win of the year?
Yeah. I mean all wins are good. But I know what you mean. Doctor Ramsay today spoke to the team, he talked about the things and I've been saying them too today. I thought they did that. Guys who were playing had to step up and raise their game which was Brandon Roy, who played the whole second half. He had to work harder. And those guys who weren't getting those opportunities had to step up and play. Bayless, ok, Martell. And they did. We're going to need that in order to survive without our guys on the floor in uniform.
In the past you said you would never intentionally foul in that situation?
Again, it's a feel. This is a three point shooting team. For me it's the feel in that situation, normally we don't foul in situations like that. But Nash with that basketball and what he's capable of doing. That's what they do. Shoot threes. We decided we were going to do that.
Make Bayless your backup point guard? Or think about trying to get him in earlier?
Why? He came off and he was fine. So... it's a long game. Everybody -- you want to put your best out there. They can't go but so long. You're going to need something. I thought our rotation tonight was really good. The fact that we had to play those guys the whole quarter and not sub, you're riding and you're gambling and they sucked it up tonight.
Four game road trip coming up
I thought it started tonight. I thought the road trip started tonight. Because of the team we were playing. It would have really even been tougher to go out on the road if we dropped this. So hopefully this will give our guys confidence that we can, we're not out of this thing, we've got to play great basketball to win but we're capable. So now we take it out on the road and we take it one game at a time.
I thought he played great. I thought he played great. He had not only a tip out but he was boxing out, rebounding, he made some big shots for us. We went to that spread offense to try and go to a smaller lineup and it worked out.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter