Oh man, I wanted this game badly. It's a shame Portland couldn't come out on the winning end but this was one of the more amazing outings we've seen in a couple years...years that have been filled with amazing events.
Long Story Short
Shrugging off the loss of Jerryd Bayless after the half the Blazers hustle, space, and above all rebound their way to overtime against the far deeper Celtics in a game where only the final minute out of 53 total went awry.
The Blazers were in this game from the beginning. The Celtics were too, for about a quarter. Portland shot well at the game's outset but their points were coming off of jumpers, particularly from LaMarcus Aldridge who was canning it from places besides the usual extended block. Boston, behind Kevin Garnett's energy, was getting the ball inside and rebounding well. The Celtics had a 20-8 points in the paint advantage after one period. Even if the Blazers shot a high percentage it wasn't hard to tell how this was going to turn out. Outside shots falter, inside shots stay steady. The only thing that kept Boston from running away with the game completely were their turnovers, most of the silly variety. 30-25 Boston after one.
When the second units for each team came in the story changed. Portland, short-handed, never played a complete second unit. They kept scorers in the game to produce points and let the reserves throw their bodies around. Boston's bench players, meanwhile, looked disinterested. The Blazers destroyed the Celtics by hustling and offensive rebounding...a theme that would carry through the entire game. Boston's bench never really responded. The only thing that kept the Celtics above water was Rasheed Wallace scoring over LaMarcus Aldridge in the post and over the entire squad from three. Had Sheed, who wasn't moving all that energetically himself, been off the Blazers would have made up ground easily behind their inspired play. Instead the quarter ended up even and Boston took that same 5-point lead into the half.
A couple of significant developments shaped the second half. First, Jerryd Bayless went down after the first minute of the third quarter with an ankle sprain. He wouldn't return. On a team already missing Roy (and everyone else we've lacked all year) it looked like the stroke of doom. But when Bayless went down Andre Miller, Martell Webster, and LaMarcus Aldridge didn't see adversity. They saw more shots. The Celtics remained fairly indifferent no matter which Blazers were on the floor. Kevin Garnett was the only guy with energy but he picked up fouls and had to sit. In his absence the Celtics refused to take advantage of any matchups consistently, playing a laissez-faire style of offense. The Blazers matched Boston's production in the period again, entering the fourth down by that same, pesky 5 points.
If you thought Portland's scorers got aggressive in the third, you should have seen the fourth. Andre Miller made like a slower, more squat version of Kobe Bryant, twisting his way to the hoop on multiple occasions. Martell Webster went crazy from outside. For a while there it looked like the Celtics, still looking passive, would get dragged under. But foul trouble only keeps you out so long and when Kevin Garnett came back Boston's energy returned with him. The Blazers and Celtics exchanged leads through the middle of the quarter until Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo lit Portland up for 9 points in 2 minutes. Comfortably up 8 with 4:43 left the Celtics had it in the bag. Except the Blazers took their Swiss Army Knives, cut a hole in the bag, slipped out the bottom, and began corkscrewing the Celtics right in the head. Miller and Webster each scored 5 points in the final 4 minutes. All Boston could manage was a Rondo layup. The score was tied and Boston had the ball for the final possession which turned into an unstoppable Paul Pierce drive. Except Andre Miller stopped it by jumping outside the no-charge circle and taking a charge with 1.1 left. After a couple of timeouts to get the inbounds play set the Blazers lobbed it in to a cutting LaMarcus Aldridge but his short floater off of the lob was blocked by Kendrick Perkins. Portland had pushed Boston into overtime. Several Celtics were in foul trouble. The Blazers only had 8 men dressed. Would fatigue or whistles tell the tale strongest?
The Blazers left it all on the floor in overtime. The only points scored in the first 2:30 of the 5-minute session came off of a 20-footer by Rondo off of an offensive rebound. Otherwise Portland kept the Celtics away from the bucket and cleaned up the glass. The Blazers scored the next two buckets: an offensive rebound tip by Juwan Howard and a Miller layup. Portland took a 2-point lead into the final minute of the game. Unfortunately Juwan Howard couldn't finish a fantastic offensive rebound at the 1-minute mark, losing it off of a bad pass to Kendrick Perkins. This led to just about the only shot Ray Allen connected with all night...a three. Boston led by 1. Then the Blazers missed a shot with 19 seconds left to put them up, the rebound was tipped out, Aldridge gave chase but flung it in from near out-of-bounds at the halfcourt line...to Ray Allen. At that point they had a ready-made fast-break and dunked it to go up 3. The Blazers got a semi-poor look from beyond the arc for Rudy Fernandez but tipped out a desperation rebound off of the miss. Fernandez recovered with 3 seconds left but his internal clock must have said .3 seconds because he flung it wildly. It missed wildly. The Celtics rebounded, the horn sounded, and the crowd celebrated wildly. Portland made a great accounting of themselves but came up short, 95-98 in overtime.
The Blazers ran a semi-understandable 56-32 deficit in the paint tonight. With that kind of gap this should have been a blowout. Portland kept it from being so by spacing the floor as well as we've seen all year, passing the ball appropriately, and hitting whenever they could. The shooting percentage says 38.2%, which looks awful, but when you look at the kind of shots the Blazers had to take tonight it wasn't a disaster. Portland generated enough offense to beat the Celtics on a night when Boston shot 10% higher than did the Blazers. That's no small feat. A bunch of that offense came off of second-chance points. The Blazers won that battle 22-8, nabbing 16 offensive rebounds to Boston's 6. The Blazers won the overall rebounding battle 46-37 on a night when they missed far more shots than the Celtics (which should lead to the Celts getting more boards). That was amazing. Portland also drew more foul shots than Boston, 27-18. It was all about hustle and nerve and the Blazers had both. In the end Boston just had too much talent and too many bodies. One shot-blocker on Portland's side to make the Celtics think twice in the paint probably would have made the difference. One less turnover might have done it. One more shot made could have too. It was that close.
Andre Miller led the team with 28 tonight, plus 8 rebounds and 8 assists. He really looked like he knew what he was doing out there. He really relished this game, his best as a Blazer. It's hard to imagine him playing any better.
LaMarcus Aldridge did his job with 10 boards. He mixed up the offense early to good effect but became more predictable as the game wore on. He ended up 7-18 with 19 points. He had a hard time guarding either Wallace or Garnett.
Martell Webster shot 5-16 for the game, 2-7 from the arc but he drew 9 foul shots (hitting 7) and turned it on in the fourth when he needed to. I think I even saw a strut out there after he hit a bucket. He certainly had a look like, "You know you should give me that ball!" 19 points and 4 rebounds. He didn't start the overtime period, which was a puzzler to me considering how he was rolling late in the fourth. I'd be interested in the rationale for that.
Jerryd Bayless played a good 21 minutes with 12 points and 4 assists. He attacked the hoop first and took the jumper second, which was good. Boston wasn't that interested in stopping him either. His ankle sprain was unfortunate. It's hard to imagine him doing much that Miller didn't cover though.
Juwan Howard was a MAN out there again, grabbing 12 boards, throwing every dirty trick in the book to get some offensive rebounds, and hitting 3 shots for 6 points. It's so cool watching him make veteran guile count more than size or athleticism.
Portland's bench came in two flavors tonight. The defense/energy guys--Pendergraph and Cunningham--did great. They took only 1 shot between them but they filled minutes with hustle so the scorers could rest. The scoring guys--Blake and Fernandez--had rough outings. Blake's 2-7 and Rudy's 2-11 were the only real downers to the evening. Both looked like they were rushing their shots and Rudy looks like he just doesn't like shooting it anymore. He passes up shots that he would have drained without a thought last year. Rudy did provide 5 rebounds. Both Rudy and Steve provided timely threes to keep Portland's hopes alive. It wasn't all bad...they just didn't play over their heads like everyone else and they both shot poorly in a game where we needed a tad bit more.
This game was one of the more uplifting, exciting games I've seen in a long time. I'm incredibly happy to have watched it. I do wonder if the effort plus the short roster plus overtime will end up costing us tomorrow in Detroit. Let us hope not. If Portland can pull out another effort like this one they'll be in for a pleasant end to the trip.
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