Basketball can be a complex, nuanced game. Or it can be like this game: simple and straightforward. The story tonight was obvious. The team that got the ball into the paint and did something with it prospered. The other team languished.
In the first quarter that prospering team must have been a nanosecond off in its space-time phasing and thus invisible to those of us in the normal temporal stream. The two teams we could see looked pretty ugly. The Blazers settled for jumpers. They dumped the ball to a scorer and abdicated responsibility for anything that happened after that. They went one-on-one. They kept the ball on one side of the court too much and too long. That offense wasn't stylish. It wasn't effective. It was "I just walked in on grandma changing her bra" ugly. The highlight of the whole first quarter was when the Blazer cameras caught a woman who looked almost exactly like Tina Fey sitting in the stands in a Blazer jersey. I fell instantaneously and irrevocably in love. Keep your Britneys and your Pamela Lees. Give me a funny girl with fantastic auburn hair and smart glasses with a Portland jersey on. Oh man.
Anyway...what were we talking about? Oh yeah. Quarter two.
After beating our heads against a brick wall trying to treat this like a YMCA game in the first quarter the Blazers finally decided to play ball in the second. They broke away from the Clippers by forcing turnovers and running, getting quick offense before the defense got set, and moving the ball in the halfcourt. They started setting some nice interior picks which not only freed shooters and cutters, but those same interior players as well. They started grabbing offensive rebounds too. All of a sudden the 17-17 tie after one became a 46-31 lead at the half.
Portland kept the clamps on defensively for a couple minutes in the third. But during that same time they settled for jumpers again and missed every one. Then the Clippers started playing with energy, getting inside, offensive rebounding, and doing all the things Portland did to get ahead in the first place. Portland's starters fought enough to keep most of the lead intact but when the bench came in with L.A. still cruising on momentum the Blazers looked like they were swimming with bowling balls attached to their feet. Scoring a point per minute is fantastic if you're a player. When your team does it, it's not so good. That's what the Blazers did from 5:45 in the third to 7:05 left in the fourth. By that time the game was tied.
At the 7:05 mark in came Steve Blake, Joel Przybilla, and LaMarcus Aldridge. All of a sudden the middle is clogged against the Clippers. All of a sudden Portland starts claiming rebounds again. All of a sudden 2 out of every 3 shots are at the rim. And then Rudy hit a couple threes. Oh, I'm sorry L.A. Did you think you were going to come all the way back? That would mess up our entire weekend, I'm afraid, so no. Good try, though. Here Zach, take a couple of charity field goal attempts at the end to pad your stats. It'll make you feel better.
Despite making it way harder than it had to be, basically by letting the Clippers outhustle them, the Blazers walk away with the same 15-point margin they held at the half.
It's hard to tell whether the Blazers or the Clippers held the Clippers to 38% shooting, but either way that was the stat of the game. By virtue of going inside longer than L.A. did the Blazers also owned a 27-11 advantage in free throw attempts. Rebounding and turnovers were pretty even. Portland had a fairly low 14 assists on 32 made shots tonight. That's not the way they play best.
We saw again that a primary opposing strategy is to put two men on Brandon Roy whenever he touches the ball. The Clippers were also devoting two men to LaMarcus and everybody who touched the ball near the rim whenever possible. If the Clippers can pull that off you can bet our playoff opponent is going to give it some run. The people over in the OregonLive chat rooms may be talking about whether free throws could doom us in the playoffs but the people over here should be considering whether we lack one extra scorer to keep defenses occupied. If the Blazers pass the ball freely and smartly and are hitting their outside shots nobody can stop them. But when the ball gets gummed up there's nobody to release the pressure. Rudy fills that role sometimes and Outlaw as well but neither consistently enough yet. Aldridge is certainly a proficient scorer but you know when he's going to get the ball and make his move. He's not a guy who surprises you often. You can adjust to him even if you can't stop him. This may be the drawback to the Przybilla, Batum, Blake trio around the stars. On the other hand I can't think of one of those three guys I'd not like to have in there. Nevertheless this may be one of the reasons we have trouble going deep this year. Maybe time adjusts it as Rudy, Travis, and Batum develop. But that time isn't here yet.
--Brandon Roy looked kind of tired. He had to fight hard for everything again. He looked frustrated getting bumped around as well. He still gave us 15 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals. Plus he hogged a lot of defensive attention which helped other people get off shots when the ball was moving.
--LaMarcus Aldridge again started out cold but began to get aggressive as the game wore on. He had a game-high 21 points plus 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block. He outplayed Z-Bo handily. It was a good overall effort.
--Steve Blake had a rough offensive night with 3-10 shooting but he hit a couple of zingers and changed the momentum of the game as the last-ditch outlet on offense. He ended up with 10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals.
--Joel Przybilla was a man inside and really allowed us to take this game. If you want somebody to control the interior you call Przybilla. 10 points, 14 rebounds, and a bunch of nifty bumping and grinding.
--Nicolas Batum didn't have quite the same target as he did last night which means he didn't have as obvious of an effect on the game. He did score a couple times off the dribble. 4 points, a rebound, and a steal in 13 minutes.
--Rudy Fernandez almost singlehandedly made up for a lackluster performance by the bench. He shot 50% from everywhere possible except the foul line where he was 100%. He had 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, finishing with 13 points and lifting us out of the doldrums. One of his assists was a beautiful over-the-shoulder, no-look alley-oop to LaMarcus on a designed play coming out of a timeout. The cameras caught him afterwards giving us that little sexy-cool swag look coming back down the court. Priceless. Rudy may be officially back.
--Travis Outlaw, on the other hand, had a 3-14 night. Some of his jumpers went so far astray they could have counted for two misses. 6 points and 2 rebounds in 21 minutes. Not so nice. We'll need Travis back for the playoffs.
--Greg Oden had a mixed evening. He had 6 rebounds in 17 minutes which is plenty good. He didn't really control space like Joel Przybilla though. He had some defensive lapses and never got on track offensively, going 1-2 for 4 points. I wanted a little more from Greg this game against Kaman, Randoph, and Camby.
--Sergio Rodriguez had a couple of aggressive shots in an otherwise forgettable game. He wasn't awful but he wasn't that productive either. 4 points, no assists, 2 turnovers in 12 minutes.
Final Thoughts and Seeding Ramifications
You kind of knew this game would only look good when it was over and that's exactly how it turned out. It's a good thing the Blazers have learned how to win ugly this year. Now the road games are over and the team can concentrate on Oklahoma City on Monday night, which could be the night that decides our final seeding. (If we're lucky, maybe not.)
The current standings in the West, 2-7:
- 2. Denver 53-27
- 3. Houston 52-28
- 4. Portland 52-28
- 5. San Antonio 51-28
- 6. New Orleans 48-31
- 7. Dallas 48-31
- 8. Utah 47-33
As you can see, with this win the Blazers now cannot finish any lower than the 5th seed in the West.
The only other game that really mattered today was the Jazz losing to the Warriors. They are now in 8th place, two games behind Dallas and New Orleans with two games to play. Utah holds the tiebreaker over New Orleans but Dallas holds it over Utah so the Jazz can now finish no higher than 7th.
Two significant games happen Sunday as Dallas plays at New Orleans and San Antonio faces the Kings in Sacramento.
The really important night, as we just said, is Monday. On Monday the Rockets host the New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio travels to Golden State for the second night of a back-to-back, Denver hosts Sacramento, and the Blazers play the Thunder in the Rose Garden. If Denver wins that game they will claim the Northwest Division. If by some miracle they lose, provided Portland wins Wednesday night's game against the Nuggets in Portland will be for the division crown. Heads up now: clear your schedule for Monday night. There will be a lot of basketball to follow.
Check out the impressions of tonight's game at ClipsNation.
Click here to review the Gameday Open Threads if you wish.
The Jersey Contest Playoff update will come shortly.