I've got to be honest with you. I was hoping for a little more convincing of a performance coming out of the All-Star break and gearing up for the stretch run. I wanted Lawrence Olivier in Hamlet. I wanted Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. I got Scott Baio in a pair of leotards. (Yeah, I don't know what happened either, but it wasn't pretty.) Were it not for some late-game heroics by Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw combined with Memphis' inability to hit free throws this game might have had a different outcome. That would have been a disaster.
First things first. The Blazers actually started out the game running. If you Google the term or look it up on Wikipedia I'm sure you'll find something on it. I'll totally wait while you do the research. .......... There. Back now? Anyway, running is something we used to do back in the Clyde Drexler era when we wanted to score a lot of points fairly quickly. It's not always effective against good defensive teams, but against teams like Memphis that can't seem to put a coordinated defensive game together it can really put a game away in a hurry. So we did this "running" thing early on. Lamarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez...all of them hustled up and down the court and caught the Grizzlies by surprise. The resulting flurry of dunks produced 30 points in the first quarter. The Blazers kept up the offensive pressure with 27 in the second as well. We were scoring in the paint and generally making life hard for the Grizzlies' defenders.
Unfortunately our rebounding and defense did not match our footspeed and point production. The Memphis hotshots were hitting everything they threw up, which didn't help, but we also gave them open opportunities, second chances, and turnovers to take advantage of. At the end of the second quarter our scoring dried up and theirs didn't. The resulting 13-4 run left a once-promising lead at only 4 points at the break.
Nicolas Batum started out the third quarter on a scoring bender with a little help from teammates who kept feeding him the ball in great position. That run ended with 6:11 left in the period. After that...well...cue Chachi for Swan Lake.
For most of the last 18 minutes of the game the Blazers let the Grizzlies bully them around the court. The inside scoring dried up altogether. Jumpers were the order of the day. And it was a jumbo-sized order. We had similar problems on the boards. Without the defense and board-work there was no way to resume the earlier scoring torrent. We watched the Grizzlies creep closer...closer...closer. It was like watching classic Star Trek when an enemy projectile was headed towards the Enterprise. Sulu's sitting there at the console going, "15,000 kilometers, Captain! 14,000! 13,000!" Finally with a little over two minutes left to go in the game and Sulu screaming, "200 kilometers, Captain!!!" Brandon Roy yelled, "Hard to starboard! Full reverse!!!" Roy to Outlaw for three. Blake to Roy for a layup. Memphis misses a storm of shots they were hitting earlier. Torpedo explodes off of the port bow. The bridge shakes and everybody flies all over. Then it's done and everybody is OK. Damage superficial, but it was a close call.
The Blazers ended up shooting 45.6% for the game while whittling the Grizzlies down to 43.5%. Both teams had been well over 50% in the first half. The Grizz got up more shots and free throws than the Blazers but they only hit 12 of their 20 while Portland was 15-18 (thank goodness). Portland also connected on 7 three-pointers out of 19 while Memphis hit only 4 of 13. The Blazers needed those extra points too.
The Grizz outrebounded Portland 42-39 but the big stat was their 15 offensive rebounds. Their whole team pitched in rebounding on that end. Ours not so much. The Blazers did have 27 assists on 36 made buckets. The spacing was generally better tonight which was great to see. We created open passing lanes and took advantage. The offense looked smoother and more consistent with Steve Blake back. The transition opportunities also had a big effect on both shooting percentage and assists. It's something the Blazers should look at but they can't abandon great position defense and team-wide rebounding to make it happen.
--The Grizzlies really had no solution for Brandon Roy (just as the Blazers had no real solution for Mayo or Gay. We had no answer for the Memphis screen and curl plays either, but that's an old story.) Brandon had his fingerprints all over the beginning of this game and its end. I'm more than comfortable with that. 9-15 shooting, 24 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 turnovers. Brandon won the game for us, just not with the direct last-second shot this time.
--Lamarcus was one of the chief beneficiaries of the running game as he beat his defender down the floor and flushed. He was obviously looking to score in the paint even in the halfcourt game which was great to see. We went away from him in the second half which was part of the problem with the offense. This was one of Lamarcus' more encouraging offensive nights even though it was nowhere near his most productive. 15 points, 6 rebounds, 6-17 shooting.
--Joel Przybilla was into this game. You could see it in his rebounding (15 overall), his defense (good job keeping the paint contested, add 3 blocks and 2 steals), and the way he was jawing at refs, opponents, and teammates. He wasn't up for losing this one and was one of the only Blazers who got excited when Memphis tried to rough it up. Fantastic job.
--Steve Blake was back, played confidently, and even took some charges and bumps on that shoulder. He spread and directed the offense, scored 7, and dished 8 dimes.
--Nicolas Batum stuffed his 17 minutes with goodness tonight, flying up and down the court, providing some spectacular moments of transition defense, and hitting 4-5 for 11 points. It's nice to have that kind of help from an unexpected quarter.
--Travis Outlaw had a poor offensive night, hitting 3-9 for 9 points. He did hit the back-breaking three late. He also did a better job than we've seen lately at staying with the Memphis scorers. He played a lot of small forward tonight and moved around quickly doing it.
--Rudy Fernandez also hit a couple of important threes and had a beautiful alley-oop pass, ending with 8 points and 3 assists in 24 minutes.
--Sergio Rodriguez is looking more and more confident in his shot, which is very much to the good. He hit 3-6 for 9 points and 3 assists in 17 minutes.
--Oden's injury made room for our old friend Channing Frye who looked understandably rusty on offense but did manage 6 boards in 19 minutes (along with 5 points). He can't guard opposing centers though.
--First and foremost, it's a good thing we won. We'll need to come with a better game against Atlanta though. Also we are going to get to know this Memphis team pretty well over the next month and a half. We need to amp it up against them next time.
--Confidential to the gentlemen sitting courtside next to the gorgeous brunette right behind Coach McMillan:
Hey buddy, you do not get courtside seats and then sit there and text in them. You are COURTSIDE, dude. There is a game going on that you have the privilege of being very close to. Failing that you were also very close to a not-bad-looking girl. Do you think you might put down the phone for a sec and talk to her? If you don't want the seat, the chance to hear what's being said on the Blazer bench, and the chance to trade witty bon mots with your stunning friend I'm sure I can find a volunteer or two to take that seat.
Read the Memphis take at 3ShadesofBlue.
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