Let's make this short and sweet, heavy on the "sweet". It was another amazing win. These were the Nuggets. They were nearly healthy. They still had that bruising frontcourt. How did the Blazers manage to come away with a healthy-sized victory?
1. Brandon Roy dominated. ‘Melo looked good. Roy looked all-universe. He did damage from everywhere you could wish and put such pressure on the Denver defense that almost everybody else on the Portland side got comfortable playing their offensive game. It was a scoring symphony.
2. Everyone else did what they had to in order to support him. The big guys--Aldridge, Howard, even Pendergraph--rebounded on both ends. They didn't bend the game with their glasswork but with Denver already reeling they cut the legs out from under them. Blake and Webster both hit threes. They didn't take over the game with them but with Denver already reeling plus on shaky legs they provided the smashing blow to the mouth that sent them over. Miller and Bayless dished the ball to all of the above plus provided a little driving pressure. Only 8 guys played and every one of them contributed to this win.
The game was nip and tuck through three quarters but Portland poured it on to the tune of 33 points in the fourth. The Nuggets had several chances to take over the game had they rebounded, worked for better shots, or played less gimmicky defenses a little harder. But they didn't take over the game at any point. It was like the Blazers said, "OK...you won't? We will." And they did. Roy and Blake were the key guys but everybody else who stepped on the floor in the period outside of Pendergraph put points on the board. For the Nuggets it was Anthony and J.R. Smith and that was about it. Five beat two, end of story.
The Blazers shot over 52% from the field and the three-point arc both, drew and hit almost as many foul shots as Denver, and limited the Nuggets to 4 fast break points and 14 assists, meaning the offense came solo and hard for them. The Blazers covered for each other well, hustling for the good of teammates instead of watching plays. It's like everyone realized all at once that there's no margin to screw around with and, now executing like they should, they find that there's a bigger margin than they thought. One can only imagine what life would be like had everyone been selling out like this earlier in the season. But that's water under the bridge. This is the fourth straight win against a tough opponent and that's what matters.
Brandon Roy: 41 points, 50% shooting from the arc, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers...every bit as big of a superstar as he's ever been. He looked light on his feet, energized...he was beautiful.
LaMarcus only got 10 shots but he hit 5 of them, scored 10, and better yet grabbed 12 defensive rebounds and 13 overall to lead the team by a mile. Credit him as much with the win as Brandon. He could have wilted when the offense wasn't going through him. Instead he stepped up where we needed help.
Juwan Howard had 8 rebounds and 3 assists himself in 31 minutes. We're getting more out of him than we have a right to. The guy's on a one-year contract and could well have been disgruntled for not getting any kind of look early in the season. Instead he's playing for the team and looks every bit as much of a Blazer as anyone on the court. Another huge nod of respect, sir.
Martell didn't exactly explode but he did have a mini-eruption in the third quarter to distract the defense and keep the momentum going. He was 3-5 from the arc, 4-7 overall, and had 11 points in 25 minutes. He only had 2 rebounds and 3 turnovers. In his defense he was watching Carmelo and thus was a little distracted. (Not that he could stop ‘Melo. Or even slow him.) Not a perfect night, but I'll mention again how much easier the offense flows when he can hit a shot.
With the exception of a couple of those "never get above the rim" jumpers Andre Miller had a pretty-near flawless night. He had 8 assists and kept everybody in rhythm when the offense threatened to bog down. His passes were zippy and his offense was decisive and confident. 5-9, 14 points.
Ditto everything I said about Martell Webster and apply it to Steve Blake, except his mini-explosion was in the fourth, he went 5-7 from the arc and 6-8 overall for 17 points, and he had 2 rebounds and 1 assist. Underline the "easier when he can hit a shot" line though. This was maybe the best contribution Steve has made all season.
Jeff Pendergraph hustled his butt off and collected 5 rebounds, 3 offensive, in 20 minutes. It's not so much the production those boards led to but the fact that even the last guy off the bench was working for it and Denver had to account for that, and him. He ripped a couple of those boards down too. I liked his approach.
Jerryd Bayless was the only guy who had anything near trouble tonight. He went 2-10 from the field for 8 points in 30 minutes. Denver had heard he was coming, though, and started giving him the Roy treatment. They doubled teamed him on the perimeter when he received the ball. They lay in wait for his drives to erase them with the block. (Bayless probably will mount Chris Anderson's picture on his dart board tonight.) The jumper just wasn't falling so he had no recourse. Therefore the 2-10 wasn't nearly as bad as it looked. At least he was drawing that attention. He was able to dish 8 assists while doing so, which was phenomenal. It seems the smaller lineup with more screens and more motion helps his court sense, if nothing else by opening up more opportunities for those passes. Props to him for contributing on a night when his individual offense came harder.
The increased defensive pressure is something Jerryd is going to have to deal with. Everybody who tries to break out in this league faces it eventually. His statement in San Antonio brought it sooner to him than for most. Also the Blazers only have a couple other guys who need serious defending right now. The line between potential and legit NBA player is crossed with performances like Jerryd had the other night. But the line between NBA player and NBA scoring star isn't crossed until this kind of pressure is overcome. It's the kind of thing that Brandon Roy has to cope with every night, which is part of what makes performances like the one he had tonight so special.
This was a game I thought we'd have trouble with even before the road trip and Joel going down. The fact that we were able pull it out in style makes me giddy. Serious respect for what the Blazers are pulling off right now. They need to keep that "us against the world" underdog-hustle-"everything you've got" mentality. It serves them well.
See what the Nuggets folks have to say at DenverStiffs.