In a Nutshell
In a game with more runs than a Tijuana restroom the Blazers ride solid rebounding, turnover generation, improved defense, and three-pointers to a morale-boosting victory.
The outset of this game looked like an extension of the last 24-hours for the Portland franchise with the Blazers looking confused, aimless, and grasping for hope. Every shot Portland took was outside. Every shot Portland took missed miserably. Fortunately the Nuggets also looked content to miss from the perimeter and the Blazers didn't pay for their drifting. After a couple minutes of non-productive play Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge came alive. Batum hit a superstar-looking runner in the lane and a three. Aldridge got a couple of layups. Wesley Matthews would later add a couple of his own and the Blazers found themselves up 5, 16-11. That's when the offense went colder than Snow Miser's tea kettle. Denver clamped down on the defense a little and the Blazers rushed multiple shots, failing to score on any attempt (even free throws) in the final 4 minutes of the period. Portland also turned over the ball 3 times in that span. The Blazers didn't get back. When they did beat the Nuggets down the floor two passes found an open shooter, particularly if that shooter was at the three-point arc. The result was a 17-0 Denver run to end the quarter and Portland looking down the barrel of a 28-16 deficit after one.
At this point every observer in the universe was wondering whether a Blazer collapse was forthcoming. That might have happened had Wesley Matthews missed the back-to-back-to-back three pointers he shot, interrupted only by a Rudy Fernandez three attempt. Rudy's shot missed but Wesley hit all three of his, scoring 9 points in 1 minute. Advanced stat aficionados will note that this put him at a pace for 432 points in the game. Throw in a couple of Aldridge mid-rangers and the Blazers were even again at 29 with 8:45 to play. Aldridge and Andre Miller continued the attack through the period. The Blazers played well enough on defense to keep the Nuggets scoring only from the perimeter and occasionally from the foul line. Denver led by 2 at the half, 45-43. Disaster averted.
The third period saw Aldridge and Miller continue their assault. Both worked for good looks and fed off of each other. As long as they were scoring the other Blazers seemed content to take a back seat. On the other end Portland again defended everything inside the three-point arc well. Unfortunately they could not spare any covers for the deep shot and Denver feasted from distance, hitting 5 threes in the quarter, accounting for 15 of their 26 points. A trio of early threes sent Denver on another run but the Miller-Aldridge show (with a couple cameos) was good for the same 26 that the Nuggets posted by the end of the period. Denver leads 71-69 after three.
Aldridge continued his offense in the fourth, this time aided by Rudy Fernandez who heretofore had posted a horrible game. It took considerable guts--or at least a considerable lack of alternatives--for Nate McMillan to send Rudy back in the game and Fernandez repaid him with a couple threes. Even so, Portland's offense would be good for only 17 in the final period. That was a couple points more than they needed because the defense picked up big time. The Blazers had done a solid job rebounding all night but in the fourth they gave up nothing to the Nuggets. Every Blazer in the vicinity jumped on any ball coming off the rim on either end. Portland's long, rangy lineup also bothered the Nuggets every time they tried to put the ball on the floor. Carmelo Anthony in particular had nowhere to dribble. The result was plenty of Denver turnovers and long jump shots, now (mercifully) not falling. The only hitch in Portland's giddy-up came on their final possession where they clearly felt the lack of Brandon Roy, their normal ball-control guy in such situations. Up by 3 with 20 seconds left, needing only to run out the clock to win (or accept the inevitable foul and resulting free throws), they were first forced to call a timeout after inbounding when Matthews got trapped on the sideline. Fortunately the basketball gods were not paying attention or Denver would have stolen the superfluous second inbounds pass and hit a three. As it turned out that wasn't necessary because on the ensuing play instead of holding the ball and getting fouled the Blazers somehow found themselves with Andre Miller trapped under the backboard falling out of bounds, having to loop a pass to Aldridge. When Aldridge received, hard-charging the bucket to make himself available for the bailout, he had no choice but to force a speeding layup from an uncomfortable angle...which missed. Now Denver had the ball back with 14 seconds remaining and a chance to tie. Chauncey Billups missed a deep three but Arron Afflalo grabbed the offensive board and ran to the sideline for a second attempt. Wesley Matthews clearly fouled him on the shot but Afflalo's toe was also on the line on the buzzer shot, meaning had it been called the free throws would have been a harmless pair. As it was the Blazers escaped with a three-point victory which must have felt like a million.
Brandon Roy's absence and Wesley Matthews' insertion into the lineup had several side effects. The offense was far more scrappy (in the bad sense) when plays didn't work and Portland's shooting percentage rose from atrocious midway through the game to just bad (40%) by the final horn. However the ball did move more perforce as iso looks were not merited by most of the players out there. Portland's defense was much tighter and more effective than usual, not so much in stopping shots as stopping attempts in the first place, particularly among the Denver smalls. Forced turnovers were part of it but the suddenly-mobile Blazer perimeter guys simply stopped the Nuggets from getting good looks short of the long bomb. Denver had 16 points in the paint tonight and 9 of those were off of fast breaks. Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, and Camby cover a lot of territory as a unit and it showed. Portland's rebounding was also fantastic, leading one to wonder where that critical component has been the last week or so. Matthews himself had 10 boards. Matthews' promotion left the bench weaker than Bangladesh tea, though. Only three reserves played in the game, totaling 43 minutes between them. At halftime they had zero points. They finished the game with 7 due to Fernandez's double threes.
Parts of Portland's effort tonight are sustainable. The rebounding and defense are great signs. Depending on gluts of three-pointers to bail out of manufactured offense, not so much. Also the Blazers are going to have trouble drawing foul shots without Roy. Plus they can't play the starters so many minutes over the long run. The effort was the thing, though, coupled with a little appropriate emotion. Those won't be enough to guarantee Portland's future this season. But tonight was enough for tonight.
Aldridge led the team with 24 points on 9-20 shooting, most of the shots well within his comfort zone. He even hit a couple with his back to the basket. Had any of a half-dozen botched alley-oops to him connected he would have had 30. He also kept the Nuggets from running with 7 offensive rebounds, 10 overall. His 6 turnovers were typical of his play under "main man" pressure but overall he did his part and then some. Great game.
Wesley Matthews scored 20 points on 8-18 shooting. His play ranged from the sublime (those triple threes in the second) to the ridiculous (waving off everybody to take Nene off the dribble and then having Nene swat his stuff to kingdom come after he put up a completely straight shot on a no-juke drive). His defensive range helped immensely and those 10 rebounds, 9 defensive, provided the underpinning for Portland's victory.
Andre Miller played another smart game. He's getting into the groove now. He shot 8-15 for 16 points and 6 assists. He didn't really take a bad shot, he knew when to take over and when to get out of the way, and he kept the Nuggets paying attention to him.
Nicolas Batum started the game with a little strong offense and ended the game with some strong two-way play. For a minute it looked like this would be a statement night for him. But his middle-game performance was forgettable save perhaps on some defensive stands. Once he busts through that block and decides to take over a game he'll be scary. 5-14 shooting, 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, great fourth quarter.
Marcus Camby missed 8 of his 10 shots but he grabbed 14 rebounds and kept Blazer-muncher Nene under control while helping shut down the middle against drivers.
Rudy Fernandez had a first half worthy of any trade demand he's ever made. His defense was bad and his shot was worse. He finally got yanked (and this with the team short-handed) after a "Wow That's Fascinating" moment with 7 minutes left in the second. He heaved a three pointer off the dribble from 5 feet behind the arc with 13 seconds left on the shot clock. But wait, there's more. After the Nuggets grabbed the rebound they had an easy outlet to Al Harrington for a layup because, despite being 10 feet closer to the defensive rim than any other Blazer, Fernandez didn't get back. Time stopped when McMillan ran him back out on the floor for Nicolas Batum late in the third, this right after Batum went on an offensive run. As it turned out Nate knew what he was doing as Fernandez responded with those quick threes and Batum played energized in the last period (as did Rudy). 6 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist in 17 minutes.
Dante Cunningham played defense but couldn't really get into the groove of this game in his typical blitzing fashion. He played 19 minutes.
Armon Johnson played 7 minutes with an assist, 2 turnovers, and 2 fouls.
Stats of the Night
- Denver 16 points in the paint (in case you missed it the first time).
- Nuggets shoot 38.5% from the field and three point range. The latter is nice but the first is horrible.
- Portland only draws 22 foul shots and misses 11 of them
- Denver 9 fast break points. Portland too.
- Portland forces 17 turnovers while allowing only 18 assists.
- Denver 7 offensive rebounds, 35 overall. Portland 16 offensive rebounds, 48 overall.
Odd Notes and Links
Here's your boxscore.
Here's your Jersey Contest form for Saturday's game. Here's your current scoreboard, now updated to include the results from the Memphis game. A power outage due to windstorm prevented me from seeing that game and updating the board right after it.
See what they think of all this at Denver Stiffs.