In a Nutshell
The Blazers take advantage of a sloppy Celtics team over-relying on one-on-one play and long shots, cruising out to a nice lead in the opening minutes of each half. Portland's paper-thin bench can't sustain the momentum and the Celts roar back each time. Boston takes over early in the fourth, looking to demoralize Portland but the Blazers switch roles, storming back to make it a close game late. Portland's defense ends up a single stop short, though, as Ray Allen cans a three--one of his only makes of the night--to put away the red and black.
Both teams started this game attacking the paint, making high percentage shots. The Blazers worked a couple of advantages: new-made starter Wesley Matthews' three-point firestorm and Boston's propensity to turn over the ball. With treys and fast-break points padding their numbers the Blazers shot 50%, streaked out to an 8-point lead, and held on to 6 exiting the period. All of Boston Garden was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The Blazers featured another rotation change to start the second period: Patty Mills getting the minutes usually slated for Armon Johnson. The good news is that Mills didn't turn over the ball like Johnson has been lately. The bad news is that Portland's offense stalled under him as much as any other non-Miller point. Suddenly the Blazers were stuck manufacturing shots against multiple defenders, relying on the foul line and offensive rebounds to generate points out of ugly sets. At the same time the formerly individualistic, passive Celtics started scoring exclusively on assisted buckets. The saving grace of the second unit was their ability to steal the ball and run. But the party came to a screeching halt when Marcus Camby, anchoring the bench defense, went down at the 5:00 mark with knee trouble. Camby would return in the second half but in his absence both the defense and offense fell apart. Portland was already struggling against the bulk of Shaquille O'Neal and Glen Davis. With only Sean Marks and Dante Cunningham to throw bodies against them, the Celtics big men became an enormous threat, taking away Portland's ability to double cover Boston's stars. In these circumstances Paul Pierce found scoring comically easy. The Celtics got rebounds, got to the line, and got simple buckets. They sandblasted Portland's lead in minutes. Only a buzzer-beating three by Wesley Matthews saved anything from the Blazers' margin. Portland walked into the locker room with a 49-48 edge. All of Boston Garden was waiting for the other shoe to keep dropping.
The third period featured the return of Marcus Camby and the beginning of an Andre Miller breakout which would carry the Blazers through the entire half. Miller played a fantastic game, picking his spots and shots and reminding the Blazers that paint points would be necessary in order to prevail. The Celtics once again returned to their walking, isolating, turnover ways. The Blazers once again played smart and opened up a 6-point lead. With the Celtics having to watch Miller, Lamarcus Aldridge was able to get involved for the first time in the night. He hit some free throws and scored easily off of an offensive board. Had the Blazers been able to keep up their formerly-hot three-point shooting this game might have ultimately ended up differently but predictably the long ball dried up. The Celtics, meanwhile, got bailed out by Davis who, after checking in for a momentarily-bruised Kevin Garnett, rattled off 8 straight points on smaller, lighter defenders inside and outside of the paint. The close shots were expected but the jumpers didn't seem fair. When Portland's second unit guys came in the first-half stall-and-fall repeated itself. The Celtics ended up leading by 7 after three. All of Boston Garden was sure the other shoe had knocked the Blazers right on the head and everybody was ready for the victory dance.
The other shoe was fixin' to kick Portland's butt right out of the arena in the fourth, as the Celtics opened up a 16-point margin via star power and passing acumen. The Blazers missed layups, free throws, and three-pointers. Boston just never let them get an open look. With 5:00 left the score was 80-96 in favor of the home team and everyone assumed the game was done. Boston once again went into "whatevah" mode, hoisting up a variety of barely-caring shots, all of which missed. The Blazers outworked them for the rebounds. Meanwhile Portland released every major guard on the roster. Andre Miller sliced them. Brandon Roy diced them. Rudy Fernandez treyed them and then Wesley Matthews filleted them. When Brandon Roy backed his way into the lane for a successful 7-footer the score was 95-96 in Boston's favor. Portland appeared poised to take that other shoe and stick it where the sun don't shine. Sadly the game would resemble a licensed massage therapist and not one of those ill-lit joints. Ray Allen, having missed nearly every shot all evening, missed a three so badly that the rebound came off hard...right into Boston's hands. After a non-shooting foul the Blazers lined up in a basic zone, daring Boston to shoot long again. Allen did, and he hit the only shot that the Blazers couldn't stomach: a three. The Blazers would chuck two wild threes trying to get the magic back but it was gone. The margin remained at four points and Portland takes its 5th straight loss, 99-95.
Wesley Matthews looked aggressive and active and actually played well with a variety of people, making his insertion into the starting lineup look decent. His early threes were set up by teammates which made them more accurate and palatable. As long as he's not creating his own shot constantly he looks like a weapon.
The Blazers definitely played with energy and definitely played together tonight. Having to promote deep bench players into significant minutes is a glaring weakness which Boston exposed. Portland's defense allowed 57% shooting as well. Some of that was just laser-guided jump shooting by Boston but the lack of bulk inside and length outside contributed. When fully-stocked, or even nearly so, the Blazers are big and long. They didn't look that way tonight. Every Boston player seemed to have 6 inches and 40 pounds on their counterparts.
Brandon Roy went 5-10 from the floor but also 8-9 from the line as he posted 18 with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. It looked like he would rediscover his clutch play late in the fourth but he never got the chance to make the difference. The Celtics ran the offense at him pretty consistently though, to the point that the Blazers were looking to hide him guarding weaker offensive players. It wasn't one of Roy's best 100 games in his career but it looked pretty good compared to recent offerings.
You can't say enough about Andre Miller tonight. He took what the defense gave him and returned the change with a pat on the head. He took 17 shots, only two of which looked forced and only one of those unnecessarily so. He hit 9, scored 20, and dished 6. His defense looked better than Roy's but Boston's guards are hard covers. His aggression without selfishness was the storyline. It was one of his best games.
Wesley Matthews went 8-13, 5-7 from distance, for a team high 23. He was active all night, at least trying to make things happen. He had 2 steals but 0-fered everything else. But it's not like Batum hasn't done that too. He remains a net positive as long as he remembers he was signed to guard Kobe Bryant, not be Kobe Bryant.
For the first time in a while the Blazers didn't run the offense primarily through LaMarcus Aldridge and all the guards looked happier for it. Not being a true low threat, nor quick-footed, nor a volume passer Aldridge doesn't necessarily open up shots for his smaller teammates. Tonight he used his quickness to counter Boston's superior bulk, spinning time and again for those now-familiar alley-oops. He worked his turn-around more than the face-up. He ended up 6-14 but like Roy drew plenty of foul shots, going 6-8 on the night. He scored 18 with 6 rebounds.
Marcus Camby is starting to look like the soul of this team. The 21 minutes he was on the court looked pretty good. When he was off...not so much. He had but 1 foul tonight but got hurt in the second and sat minutes the Blazers couldn't afford. He had 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks on the evening. Sadly his jumper continues its M.I.A. status, as he went 0-3 on the evening.
Rudy Fernandez looked committed to the cause, scoring 8 in 17 minutes. His three-point shot seems to be random, though he made 2 of 4 tonight. At this point when he shoots, even when open, you're hoping more than banking. if he could recover his stroke he'd be a huge asset because he's getting looks. He ended up 2-6 for the game and contributed 2 steals.
Dante Cunningham finally got a couple shots to fall, going 2-3 in his 13 minutes. Unfortunately he was so outweighed and towered over that he couldn't manage much else.
Nicolas Batum played 15 minutes, hit 2 of 4, had 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and provided a couple nice defense stands including a really good blocked shot. Still he wasn't the spark that Portland needs and his overall game looked mushy on both ends.
Sean Marks and Patty Mills combined for 0 points, 4 missed shots, 1 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, and 7 personal fouls in their 8 minutes each. The Celtics painted a meatloaf on Marks' uniform and ate him up. Mills just looked grateful to do anything good.
Stats of the Night
- Both teams top 40% from three-point range
- Celtics 57% shooting ruins Portland's 46% night
- Blazers score 42 points in the paint, about double their recent output
- Blazers force 17 turnovers from veteran Boston
- At the same time Boston claims 23 assists on 36 made shots
- Paul Pierce 28 points, 9-11 shooting, 6-6 free throws, 7 rebounds
- Ray Allen 1-6 three pointers, the "1" being the only one that mattered
Odd Notes and Links
The game was covered by NBA TV, they picked up the Boston feed, and as usual the W.A.I.L. effect was in full force. For the uninitiated that means Whiniest Announcers In the League. To his credit, Tom Heinsohn refrained from his usual repeated rants about how the Blazers are a lousy team just getting lucky against the Celtics. But the duo made up for it by constantly complaining and calling for fouls. And mind you, I follow Portland...a team with announcers that do plenty of talking about refs and a fan base that tends to whine about them too. This is like Robert Downey Jr. saying you might have a little drug problem, like Don Rickles berating you for insulting people too much, like Harry Potter saying your glasses suck. But there it is. You guys are 14-4. You have at least 5 locks for the Hall of Fame on your team, maybe more. You're slated to contend for the title this year and you've hung a heck of a lot of them in the past...perhaps the proudest legacy in the league. How about easing up so you don't sound like some guy in a bar watching his third game ever?
See what they think over at Celticsblog.
Here's your Jersey Contest Scoreboard for tonight and here's your form for Friday's game.