Thank goodness the Blazers pulled it out. This would have been an awfully depressing recap otherwise. As it is, we can say a lot of things but make everything OK with a big "BUT" at the end.
The Blazers came out of the gate in this game with all of the enthusiasm of a Wal-Mart greeter and all of the aggression of a candy striper giving her first sponge bath. And that is putting it politely. Maybe it was too much playoff-clinching celebration. Maybe it was being too used to beating the Grizzlies. Maybe it was just one of those games. Whatever it was, the Grizzlies jumped all over the opportunity like a team that had just won four straight and wanted to make it five. Portland got away with hitting jumpers in the first few possessions of the game but pretty soon they stopped falling. Memphis, on the other hand, juked past their defenders and drove it. Blake had trouble with Conley. Roy and Batum had trouble with Gay and Mayo. Przybilla and Oden both had trouble with fouls. It was trouble with a capital "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "Portland's down double-digits."
Remember that feeling when you went to see Star Wars Episode I for the first time? Everything before this has been great. You've been anticipating more fine things. The opening credits roll. Your heart races. Your hands clench your armrests.
And then the movie actually starts.
That pretty much describes the Blazers' first half. We're in the playoffs now. Everything's going to be rosy. We're fighting for seeding. Let's go, Blazers! Then between the turnovers, fast breaks allowed, lack of foot movement on defense, poor rotations, surrender of paint points, lack of penetration on offense, crappy spacing, foul trouble, and nearly every player who took the court being ineffective we posted a truly Jar-Jar Binksian performance. "Meesa feet no workin'! Meesa allow mooey easy buckets!"
After a 14 point second quarter wherein the Grizzlies racked us up like Minnesota Fats we trailed by 12 at the half.
Thank goodness the second half script switched from Phantom Menace to Fantastic Four.
First LaMarcus Aldridge morphed into The Thing and declared it was clobberin' time. He brutalized Memphis from mid-range and the post. He forced them to pay extra attention to him. This left the floor open for Rudy Fernandez, a.k.a. the Human Torch. He was absolutely on fire from distance and off the dribble, scoring 15 points in 18 minutes. Between the two of them and some tightened defense the Blazers gained 10 points in the third quarter.
Then going down the stretch Brandon Roy reprised his long-time role as Mr. Fantastic, destroying the Grizz off the drive and from the foul line. Unfortunately O.J. Mayo made like Dr. Doom and kept draining magical three-pointers, keeping the game tight. Then when it came down to being down by 1 with no timeouts left and 13 seconds left on the clock the Blazers called upon their secret super-weapon. Travis Outlaw did his best Invisible Woman impression by levitating, collecting Rudy Gay's 6th foul, and somehow banking in an improbable, leaning shot. The Grizzlies never scored again and the Blazers ended up winning by 3.
Having allowed the Grizzlies to shoot over 50% the whole game (finishing at 52.2%) while remaining in the 30's themselves the Blazers found redemption and ended up with a respectable 49.3% from the field. Portland's impressive 6-14 three-point clip was dwarfed by Memphis going 9-14. Had either stat been the deciding factor the Blazers would not have won. What's worse, Portland had only 14 assists on the night (quite low) and turned the ball over 18 times for 23 Memphis points (quite high).
The Blazers won this game because they doubled up Memphis in free throw attempts (28-14), grabbed 13 offensive rebounds while allowing Memphis only 4, and generally controlled the glass by rebounding as a team when the centers were forced to the bench by fouls. That was enough, barely.
Synopsis: Blah blah energy, blah blah focus, blah blah blah BUT...we won.
--Brandon Roy was actually having kind of a rough night before he decided we weren't going to lose this game. The Grizz wings were scoring on him, he was having to work hard to generate any offense...things just weren't clicking. Then all of a sudden he turned it on, started getting into the lane, and owned the fourth quarter. He finished with 24 points on 7-16 shooting, 8-11 from the free throw line. He had 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 turnovers.
--LaMarcus Aldridge was also 7-16 but he only scored 15 because he got to the line only once. They were an important 15 though, kick-starting our offense in the third quarter. He led the team with 8 rebounds and also got 3 assists, matched by his 3 turnovers. His defense improved from the first half to the second.
--Joel Przybilla got two early fouls. Even though he never picked up another one the combination of the Grizzlies collapsing on defense and Greg Oden having a good night limited his minutes to 19. He had 4 rebounds and a block and went 5-5 from the line, finishing with 9 points.
--Steve Blake attempted one shot all night and hit it. He had one assist as well. As stated, he was having some difficulty with Mike Conley who shot 5-10 on the evening and had 8 assists. That said, he scrapped in there and ended up with 7 rebounds and 2 steals. He found other ways to help us win tonight.
--Nicolas Batum moved around a lot but had one of those nights where he ended up fading into the background. He had 5 points, a rebound, and an assist in 19 minutes. It wasn't a bad game for him, just not a standout performance.
--Rudy Fernandez was a key off the bench tonight. Along with LaMarcus he put us in position to take this game. His three-point stroke was on. He looked to score when he got the ball. 15 points in 18 minutes shooting 50% from the field and from range is mighty fine. He added 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and only 1 turnover. We'll need this from Rudy in order to prosper the rest of the way.
--Greg Oden had a mediocre first half but broke loose in the second half and started dominating the inside. He rebounded a little and dunked a lot as soon as he remembered he was more powerful than any of the Memphis big men. He also set some mean picks. Ironically much of his best work came after he picked up his 5th foul. It's like he said, "Screw it. I'm just playing now." It worked. The refs never tagged him with the final one. 10 points on 5-8 shooting and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes.
--Sergio Rodriguez also had a shaky start. His play and the team's both looked discombobulated. However he came on very strong in the second half and marshaled the action on the floor, making the offense look quite good and hustling his butt off on defense. He finished the game with 4 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and no turnovers.
--Travis Outlaw played 28 minutes and scored that wonderful last field goal. Like Oden he went 5-8 but he only shot 1-5 from the free throw line, finishing with 11 points.
--Channing Frye played 6 minutes, collected 2 rebounds, and missed 2 shots.
Memphis put up a good fight and maybe even deserved to win this game. It was nice to see from them. They have talent, though perhaps not well-meshed yet. I'm glad the Blazers netted the victory though. Good teams win games this was sometimes too. We'd better come with more active feet in San Antonio tomorrow. There won't be any getting up from a first-half stumble of these proportions there.
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