This was the second straight dominant win by the Blazers. That's a very encouraging sign. Every win counts equally at this point in the season, of course, whether it's by 2 or 20, but beating teams we're supposed to beat on the road has an extra savor when we make the game easy. It reminds you that you're supposed to beat them and it makes you feel like the team knows what it's doing instead of just riding on emotion, guts, or skill. All of those are key factors naturally, but they're so much more telling when your game is put together right.
If I were going to choose one reason why we won this game it would be one of the pre-game keys. We kept the Pacer guards out of the lane without utterly sacrificing the perimeter. Granted some of that was the return of Danny Granger and the 24 shots he attempted, which was as much as Jack and Ford combined. But you didn't see the slew of halfcourt layups and close-in fouls in this game the way you did in Portland, even from Granger. We made the Pacers earn their points and they couldn't earn enough. It didn't hurt that their guards turned the ball over 8 times between them.
This also points out one of the real strengths of this Blazer team: they take their game-specific lessons to heart. They're young and they repeat some overarching mistakes but when they've been beaten a certain way by a given team they're not going to fall prey twice...at least not without a fight. I guarantee the coaching staff had guard penetration circled tonight. The team listened and executed. Well done. This could also come in handy in the playoffs, provided we face a team that doesn't just overwhelm us no matter what we do. We'll have multiple chances to learn lessons.
In any case, the numbers of the game weren't necessarily offensive for Portland. Rather holding Indiana to 16 points in a quarter twice proved the difference. This is a good offensive team whose main star just came back and dropped 35 and they still never got close to beating us.
After starting out shooting jumpers up the wazoo the Blazers finally settled down into a nice mix of penetration, dishing for open looks, and rebounding. Nobody had a standout offensive evening but everything clicked when we were playing right. The key, as often happens, was simply getting our feet into the paint at least once before attempting a shot. We did to Indiana what good teams do to us: break the defense down with a nice individual move and then exploit the cracks their compensatory scrambling caused. We cruised through the first three periods with only minor hitches. We hit a turnover spell and went to three-happy land once or twice, but basically there were no worries.
Our bench stepped up and demolished theirs, outscoring them 34-11. We also dove on the ground for loose balls and hustled well in general which has become a pleasant habit lately.
This was another game where we had more field goals, three-pointers, and free throws made than the opponent. I'm still waiting for somebody to explain how we could ever lose doing that. And that's pretty much all there is to it.
--Brandon Roy had his usual Brandon-like game, and by "usual Brandon-like game" we mean "performance that would make you pee your pants in joy if anyone else did it but it's Brandon and we're used to it so ho-hum". He didn't penetrate as much as he does in his true superstar outings and he shot 8-20 but he ended up with 20 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block.
--LaMarcus Aldridge started out cold and never really got on track offensively, finishing the game with 12 points on 5-14 shooting. He played some pretty nice defense though and got 7 boards.
--Joel Przybilla: 11 rebounds, 10 points, 2 blocks, I still <3 U.
--Steve Blake found his stroke again tonight and also passed the ball with great timing. He stayed in front of his man most of the evening as well. I liked this game from him. 6-10, 2 threes hit, 8 assists, 2 steals, 14 points.
--After a break-out game a few days ago Nicolas Batum has returned to Planet Nic where 20 minutes and 4 shots per game are the absolute max. 5 points, 4 rebounds, 18 minutes, and a whole bunch of hard defensive assignments.
--Travis Outlaw wasn't connecting easily tonight but he still finished with 15.
--Rudy Fernandez scored off of the dribble a few times tonight! Zoinks! His three-point shot is still off though. You remember how Robocop had to screw his targeting device back into place after getting racked up by the bad guys? Somebody fetch Fernandez a power drill and Nancy Allen to help him. Overall he had a good game with 13 points.
--Greg Oden returned tonight and had a sad-looking run in the first half. Josh McRoberts outrebounded him consecutively, once on either end of the court. However a little over a minute into his second-half rotation Steve Blake fed him for a wide-open baseline dunk. After that the big fella perked up plenty and started rebounding like crazy. If that's what it takes, feed the dog! 4 points, 7 rebounds, and a block in 12 minutes.
--Jerryd Bayless played 17 minutes tonight. Every once in a while you get a glimpse of his sheer speed and ability but at this point it's only a glimpse.
--Channing Frye played 3 minutes, grabbed a rebound, and hit a shot.
1. There was a scary moment in the fourth when LaMarcus went down after banging into Jeff Foster and then another, slightly lesser one when Nicolas Batum appeared to turn an ankle. It's late in the season, bodies are tired, and every game is rough. When we're up by 19 in the fourth I'd prefer to see the deep bench earlier. Yes, there's a small risk of blowing the game but now we may have blown tomorrow's with LaMarcus' concussion and Batum's sprain. (See post right below.)
2. Jarrett Jack showed the good and bad of his game tonight, staying aggressive and hitting some nice shots but also making a couple mistakes and getting down on himself. Ahhh...memories.
3. I respect Coach Jim O'Brien as one of the best lesser-heralded coaches in the league. I think he's handling a challenging season pretty well. But tell me, what do you have to be drinking to go into your hair stylist and say, "Give me the Reverse Skunk"?
Check out the hubbub over at IndyCornrows.
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