Note: Apologies in advance if this is a little more fan-ish and a little less straight-laced than is my usual wont. Wins against the L*kers at home make me a little giddy. --Dave
Well, my friends, the L*kers came into the building looking for a little revenge tonight. Revenge for their loss against the Clippers in their last game to be sure, but also revenge on the monkey who keeps doing the mambo on their back every time they step into the Rose Garden. It used to be an annoying, almost amusing thing. This team from Portland keeps winning against L.A. at home no matter what the relative standings of the two franchises vis-à-vis the rest of the league. In 2006, what did it matter. In 2007 it was a small thing that a few media folks started to notice. In 2008 more of the media started in on it. In 2009 the L*kers players themselves admitted that they knew they never won in Portland and that it was time to put a stop to it. So here we are in 2010 with the Portland roster decimated, the cupboard threadbare. The only guys still standing are injured. L.A. has advantages at multiple positions. Portland has no bench, no counterpunch. All the L*kers have to do is come in here and steamroll the Blazers, not let them off the mat, easy-peasey-fo'-sheasy. Revenge would be theirs.
Except this revenge quest went about as well as Milhouse's versus his parents and Doctor Sally Waxler. L.A. pushed a bunch of buttons. All they ended up getting was the old heave-ho.
It was pretty evident early on that the Blazers knew who they were playing. The standing, soft cutting, walking up and down the floor, watching half of the game go by...all of the slip-ups of the last week were gone. In their place we saw energy, verve, alertness, crisp cuts, zinging passes, sure conversions. Portland cleared out the lane and ran guys through it. The L*kers figured they'd get to those guys later...if not later in the play at least later on that game. The result was a few layups out of halfcourt sets and a wake-up call that L.A. better start doing something defensively. So they did, taking the obvious route and trying to shut down the ball-handlers, particularly Roy, with extra men. Against normal Portland that actually works pretty well. But tonight as soon as the help got to the ball-handler the ball wasn't there anymore. It was in the hands of a shooter on the other side of the court who more often than not rewarded the defense with a swish. Andre Miller was huge during the early period, making drives and hitting cutters alike. Right away he answered any lingering questions about his motivation to play or his ability to do so.
Meanwhile on the other end of the floor the L*kers went with another predictable approach. Ignoring the fact that they had a serious height mismatch at center and at least a mild defensive question mark to take advantage of at power forward, they forsook the a la carte offensive menu and went with the All-You-Can-Eat Kobe Buffet. Kobe here. Kobe there. Kobe everywhere. And every Kobe you see is heaving up a shot. Even though Bryant is probably the best player in the NBA, Portland also had something close to their normal defensive rotation against him (just minus Nicolas Batum). Yes there was a mismatch on paper, but it was the normal mismatch. Between Martell Webster and Brandon Roy the Blazers managed to put enough energy into defending Bryant that the mismatch wasn't that big. Indeed it would turn out to be none at all if you compare star-to-star. But the steady diet of Kobe Beef did manage to take the other L.A. players out of the game. The L*kers missed rebounds. They didn't get back on defense. They swiped at the Blazers instead of defending them, leading to free throws. Portland started rolling for real.
Then at the 4:50 mark of the first quarter it all came to a crashing halt. Brandon Roy got whistled for a second foul, leaving the Blazers little choice but to give him a seat, lest they lose him for the entire half. Nate looked down the bench and motioned for...oh NO! What the jeepers is THAT? Nate! No! For God's sake...NOOOOOO!!!
Popcorn vendors watched their puffy snacks spontaneously pop again. Arena employees gasped as their plastic I.D. tags melted to their shirts. Old men jumped out of their shoes. Young men watched their chest hair fall out and then spontaneously grow in again twice as thick as before. The scoreboard rattled. Girders shook. And an old lady in Section 207 found Jesus. And Buddha. And Krishna. All three were huddled under her seat trying to figure out how to keep this monstrosity from destroying the world. For B-Rex had come. And he was hungry.
Now look, we've been talking back and forth a little about Jerryd Bayless' potential effectiveness pairing with Roy, which is still up in the air. But in this case the Blazers weren't looking at him pairing with Roy. This was in place of Roy. As in, "Playing the role of the guy whose green light outshines the sun." Sticking Jerryd in that role is like lighting a match in a fireworks warehouse. You're not quite sure if anything will go off, but if it does...watch out.
And watch out indeed was the order of the night. When Jerryd's first long bomb went through the hoop off of a quick, decisive release eyebrows rose and mutters began in Rose Garden seats and living rooms alike. When the second did the same it was pandemonium. Bayless brought a bib and the L*kers were the lobster. The guy scored 11 points in the final five minutes of the period and 15 of the Blazers' next 17. Having already been walloped by Miller, the L*kers were now taking it from the other flank. And this without Roy having uncorked any real frontal assault yet. The quarter ended with the Blazers scoring 30 to the L*kers rather average 24 and the game was on.
No doubt L.A. planned to recoup in the second period but they made a bad, bad mistake early. Their second unit players, particularly D.J. Mbenga, picked up early fouls. This didn't matter as far as the individual players, but the cumulative effect was to put the L*kers in the penalty with 8 minutes remaining in the period. That meant every time Portland got fouled in the final 8 minutes it was going to be free throws. And Bayless was still in the game. With his bib on. All the Blazers had to do was push the tempo a little and move ball and feet reasonably quickly and L.A. was going to reach and stumble. And so they did. The parade to the free throw line started with Bayless but then Brandon checked back in with a big ol' bowl of butter. The offense passed from Bayless to Roy and Brandon had a feast at the table. Meanwhile the Blazers were still working hard on the other end, if not exactly stopping L.A. at least making life hard on them and, more importantly, limiting them to one shot. Kobe still took a lot of those shots, except now he was missing. His teammates hit some for him but they never got steady enough looks to really get into it. The result was a 19-point showing by L.A. compared to 25 for the Blazers and Portland exited the court up 12, 55-43.
You knew the strategy was going to change coming out of the locker room and indeed it did. After blanking on a couple of threes to start the period Kobe started driving. That drew attention, of course. Instead of just forcing up the shot anyway as he had in the first half he calmly found teammates in the corner. The L*kers hit 4 threes off of Bryant assists in the first 4:10 of the period. When they weren't doing that they finally figured out that guys like Ron Artest and Lamar Odom had experience and bulk advantages and could force the defense to compensate maybe as much as Kobe. The net result was the narrowing of Portland's lead to 5 as the period passed the 1/3 mark. Then the real trouble started as the L*kers realized they also had an advantage in Andrew Bynum, who had several inches over any Blazer in uniform and enough offense to take advantage of them. Once the big guy got involved Portland's defense was stretched far too thin and the L*kers started scoring from multiple positions, at the rim and on the perimeter both. The only thing that saved the Blazers from getting tugged under by the offensive wave was Brandon Roy's mad paddling. He scored 6 points off of patented "fooled you" jumpers in a little over 2 minutes. Juwan Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in buckets of their own. When all the L.A. scoring was done the lead was still 5 for Portland. That's when you knew the Blazers had a chance. When the L*kers coughed up the ball 3 times in the final 1:15 of the period that chance became much bigger. The Blazers were up 10 as the horn sounded and only a mighty L.A. comeback would change the tide of the game now.
Portland held off the L*kers admirably during the first half of the final period but L.A. almost got its comeback as the game wound down. The biggest culprit was the combination of L.A.'s increased rebounding energy and the Blazers' lack of size to do anything about it. Though they did get hot, the L*kers weren't necessarily making more shots than they had in previous streaks. But every shot they missed they rebounded and tried again. Free throws, drives, jumpers...the L*kers rebounded them all for chip shot conversions. And this time the Blazers didn't have the offense to counter. Having ballooned to 20 at the 6:00 mark, the lead slipped to 14 by 4:40, to 10 by 2:30, then down to 7 in the final minute. Normally a 7-point lead with a minute left would be comfortable, but with the L*kers running hot and Kobe Bryant on the floor, everyone was starting to sweat. Fortunately the Blazers were bailed out by the same mistake that had sunk L.A. in the second period. At the beginning of the fourth quarter L.A.'s second unit had committed four quick fouls in less than three minutes, which meant that every foul thereafter again brought Portland free throws. And Jerryd Bayless with his bib looked at Brandon Roy with his fork and said, "They have dessert here?" Nom-nom-nom, the Blazers make 16 free throws in the final quarter and push away from the table with a 107-98 win in a game which, if not perfect execution-wise, at least featured constant energy and a large dose of smarts.
The Blazers shot almost 51% for the game while holding the L*kers to just over 43%. The best thing by far about the offense was that nobody held the ball and nobody (but nobody) hesitated in taking their shot. Whether it was a layup or a three-pointer they just let it fly without a thought. And most of them went in. Portland took 39 foul shots to L.A.'s 10. That's not bad considering Kobe is easily capable of drawing 10 free throws in a quarter. Meanwhile L.A. attempted 28 threes for the game, far too high of a number considering the Blazers are playing third-string guys in the paint. The Blazers allowed L.A. (admittedly not a running team) only 2 fast break points for the game. Portland took care of the ball, rebounded, passed...did everything they needed to. It was sweet. If the Blazers could bottle the energy they brought tonight and chug it before every game we'd not have to talk about half of the things we do.
Click through for Individual Obsverations, Jersey Contest links, and a somewhat unusual Final Thoughts section.
The superstar comparison tonight: Brandon Roy--32 points, Kobe Bryant--32 points. Think they played to a standstill? That would have been great, but think again. Brandon got his 32 from 11 shots, hitting 9. The 13-14 free throw rate helped too. Kobe took thirty...seven...shots to get his 32, almost 40% of the L*kers' total attempts. Kobe had 8 rebounds and 7 assists in 41 minutes. Roy had 5 rebounds and 6 assists in 38 minutes. This was one of those classic Roy games, where he was quiet and intense and wasn't going to let the team lose, period. He had his full "you can't guard me" regalia on tonight and he put in the effort on the other end and on the glass as well. Be glad you have Brandon Roy, Portland.
Lots of other players could have gotten a piece of the game ball tonight but Martell Webster deserves some mad props for staying in front of Bryant most of the evening and making Kobe work for his points. This was a brilliant game from Martell. His feet were moving as fast as I've seen them and his decision-making was good. Most of all his energy was up all night. Loved it. He only shot 2-10 from the arc but he gave the team 14 points and 8 rebounds.
Jerryd Bayless scored 21 points in 21 minutes, 5-9 from the field and 10-12 from the free throw line. He had 3 assists and 3
blocks rebounds and the L*kers thinking it wasn't fair that the team got more explosive when their star went to the bench. I liked Roy playing a few less minutes tonight. I liked Jerryd making his opening trip to the floor in full-scoring mode. The team might want to consider making it part of the rotation...letting Bayless do some of Roy's work early and then letting them meld and mesh in Jerryd's second call of duty.
Andre Miller played this game like a true Blazer facing the L*kers. He came out and popped the score early. He had 7 assists for the game. He was up for this one. Oh...he managed 17 points on 5-10 shooting as well. I'm fine with Miller being the early catalyst in the game as well.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 8 rebounds and 4 assists but appeared to take a half to get into the game for real. He only got 8 attempts tonight and scored 8.
Give it up for Dante Cunningham tonight. Like Miller, he played this game like he was born a Blazer. He gave his teammates 17 important minutes of rest, defended nearly every position on the court during his time out there, managed 5 rebounds, and hit 3 of his 6 shots for 7 points to keep L.A. from ignoring him. His energy and commitment don't show up in the boxscore either. Whatever he went through this week, this was definitely the way to respond.
Jeff Pendergraph got blanked in the boxscore in 5 minutes but he was hustling too.
Up to the point where we win a championship, there is still nothing sweeter than beating the L*kers when we're not supposed to.
I did note at the beginning of the game a return of some unpleasantness I thought had passed us by. There were audible cheers for the L*kers in our own building...to the point where they obviously weren't coming from scattered L*kers fans. This used to be common when Portland was in the dumps and couldn't sell tickets, but it had been much less prominent in the past couple years. Now the team is decimated, expectations are low, and L.A. wins the title and here we go again.
Listen, I'm not talking to diehard L*kers fans here. If you've followed the team since you were a kid, if you watched the Showtime magic and fell in love, even if you followed the Kobe-Shaq show a decade ago and gloried in the rings and the publicity, more power to you. I hate your team, but you know why. It's because you've handed us our lunch several times over the years, often in painful and disillusioning fashion. There's respect there along with the hate. In fact I love hating your team, which in itself is a sign of respect. More to the point, I don't begrudge any passionate, diehard fan the chance to see his or her team in an opposing arena. If you truly love the L*kers and live in or near Portland, by all means you should be at the Rose Garden when they come to town and you should cheer your head off.
No...I'm not talking to those folks. I'm talking to the folks who bought a Kobe jersey 8 years ago because they thought it looked cool and hide it in the closet until L.A. looks like it might be on an upswing, then wear it to the arena because they think it'll give them a chance to brag. I own Blazers jerseys and shirts. I wear them a fair bit. I wear them because I believe in this team and want to show support for this team, rain or shine. I don't wear them because I want to get the rub from this team--to take instead of giving, to ride a bandwagon so I can fill in the cracks in my ego with somebody else's achievements, casting them off as soon as they stop making me look better than I am. I'm probably among the most tolerant, level-headed people you'll meet in this little internet world of ours, but nothing makes me more hot under the collar than bandwagon L*ker fans glomming on to what they think is glory.
I have a question for those folks who come out in purple and gold when things are going well and make donkeys of themselves and then retreat like mice when the tide turns. Did you ever think that maybe...just maybe...this little streak is in honor of you? How long have you been frustrated now coming to the Rose Garden to get your two minutes of pretend fame and being sent home empty? I'm not usually superstitious, but maybe this is the basketball gods' way of telling you that you should just watch the game on your couch? If that's the case then by all means keep coming I guess. I've been there and I've seen you, Too Much Beer and Bravado Guy. Nothing makes me happier than watching you walk out to the concourse muttering to yourself, your chin tucked down into your nacho-stained jersey, eating every word you screamed to your section in the first quarter, watching Blazer fans board the MAX with enormous smiles on their faces throwing high fives right over your head.
Enjoy your evening.