In a Nutshell
The Blazers build, then nearly blow, a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, hanging on by a thread to a face-saving win in a game that was good for Blazer fans but not so much for basketball fans.
Rudy Fernandez and Dante Cunningham joined LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller, and Wesley Matthews in the starting lineup for the injury-depleted Blazers tonight. Whatever plans the Warriors had to test, let alone exploit, Portland's new lineup went out the window early as both teams settled into a one-on-one halfcourt grind-fest. If anything you'd have thought the uniforms had been switched because the only relief from the poky little offense was Portland's run-outs, on which they scored easily as Golden State was no more active getting back than they were going forth. Andre Miller took advantage of a defense that was constantly scrambling off of switches, surgically placing passes to cutters and shooters. Golden State turned over the ball repeatedly, adding to their woes. The only relief for the Warriors was their offensive rebounding, which came across strong. But that was about the only time the ball touched David Lee's hands despite the halfcourt nature of the game. None of it made sense. Portland's offense hit a lull when the second unit first checked in, the only thing keeping them south of 25 in the period. The score was 21-18 Portland after one.
Golden State made a push early in the second period with even more glass-work. For a while it looked like the Blazers would never see the ball again once the Warriors shot it. With Portland having to score with Sean Marks and Dante Cunningham just to tread water, the Warriors took their first lead with 6:00 to go in the second. Then the Blazers went back to their starters. They cleaned up the rebounding problem and scored repeatedly through Aldridge, Matthews, and Miller. The half ended with Portland up 9, 51-42.
Golden State started the third period setting nice screens and hit a couple shots. Monta Ellis, heretofore colder than a Roybot rejection (not that I'd know), started heating up faster than an AK-inspired Batum argument. Portland, meanwhile, struggled to score. But the Warriors still couldn't get out of their own way with the turnovers. Rudy Fernandez turned up the heat himself, scoring 7 in the period, and the Blazers held on to their lead, exiting the quarter 23-23, up by 9.
The fourth period began with Patty Mills, also ice cold throughout the game, pouring in 3 jumpers. Luke Babbitt, who could never get out of his own head on offense, added an and-one. All of a sudden the Blazers led by 15 and it looked like that brigade could finish the game. Then the Warriors started getting hotter than a Dave pick-up line (not that you'd know) from beyond the arc. The Blazers watched the lead shrink to 10 and then 8 before they called a timeout and got the starters back in. But half of Portland's starters aren't really starters and the suddenly-tight Blazers couldn't stop the flow. Every Golden State trip was either a made three or foul shots...no more turnovers. Every Portland trip was a makable shot that somehow rimmed and rattled out. 5...3...1...Portland's lead was down to the narrowest of margins when Ellis canned 2 free throws with 33 seconds left. Portland called timeout, bled the clock, then got a Wesley Matthews drive swatted to heck, retaining possession because a cement wall wouldn't have stopped the block from going out of bounds it was moving so fast. On a very short clock all Portland could manage was an off-balance, out-of-position Aldridge jumper and Golden State had the ball and 8 seconds to spoil the party. Fortunately Ellis threw up a jumper that, while somewhat open, had no prayer and the Blazers walked away with the win, 96-95.
Golden State just played bad tonight. I don't know what their game plan was but that couldn't have been it. Of course that's pretty much the norm for this series. The Warriors look like dolts in Portland and then beat the tar out of the Blazers by the bay.
Portland had some nice moments, particularly in stretches from their point guards. But it's evident that the Blazers first unit is really their second and their second unit is actually their third. More playing time for everyone involved should smooth out some wrinkles but I'm not hopeful that the final results will look pleasant under full light.
Andre Miller was the player of the game with 17 points and 8 assists. Part of the prosperity stems from Golden State defense but he also looks more comfortable and free without Roy on the floor. The ball's in his hands and he knows what to do with it. It's sweet to see his passes unfettered.
LaMarcus Aldridge took but 10 shots tonight--fewest of all the starters--in a game where the love was spread far and wide. He made 6, scoring 17 and adding 12 rebounds. His late-game foul shooting continues to raise eyebrows.
Dante Cunningham got 13 attempts in 39 minutes. The Warriors left him alone and he made them pay. He scored 13 with 5 rebounds and picked up 5 personal fouls.
Rudy Fernandez had some nifty passes early and some good shots late, scoring 15 off of 6-12 shooting with 6 assists and 3 steals.
Wes Money went 5-12 for 13 points but grabbed 7 rebounds. Seeing numbers outside the scoring column is nice.
Patty Mills played the most minutes off the bench with 20. He went 4-10, in a serious slump until those 3 fourth-quarter makes. He got the team running when he could and had 4 assists.
Sean Marks played 16. He hit 3-4 shots as the Warriors were also content to leave him alone. 6 points, 5 rebounds.
Luke Babbitt went 1-5 in a night where everything looked like a struggle.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 17 fast break points, Warriors 8. That's like saying Pauly Shore 6 Academy Award Nominations, Meryl Streep 0.
- Blazers shoot nearly 49% from the field, 40% from the arc.
- Portland misses 8 foul shots out of 22, good for 63.6%. That makes games harder than they need to be and it's becoming more frequent for this once-pristine-shooting team.
Odd Notes and Links
Optimism or pessimism? Probably depends on who's writing the post at Golden State of Mind.
See the Jersey Contest Scoreboard here and enter Monday's game vs. Milwaukee here.