In a Nutshell
The Blazers counter 31 points from Deron Williams and uncharacteristically strong perimeter shooting from the Jazz as a whole with a strong team effort, this time holding on down the stretch for a five-point victory.
This game started ugly with both teams alternating between shooting deep and turning over the ball. When ever either side got within 20 feet of the hoop they scored but nobody seemed interested in pressing the issue or capable of holding onto the ball when they did press. The score was an anemic 16-19 Utah with 1:30 remaining in the period. In those final 90 seconds the Jazz hit 2 threes and a jumper and the Blazers countered with 2 jumpers of their own, leading to the 27-20 Utah edge after one.
Portland began the second verse the same way as the first, with a turnover and a couple missed "J's". Then Rudy Fernandez screamed, "No mas, mis amigos!" Well, maybe he didn't exactly scream that but his play screamed it for him. Rudy was all over the place tonight, setting guys up, rebounding, stealing the ball, hustling. The second quarter was his coming-out party. He set a blistering pace, one which his teammates gleefully followed. Having ceded a 9-point lead in the first 15 minutes of the game the Blazers made it back in 4 behind running, layups, and free throws. Utah scored well to close the period but a couple Jazz turnovers kept the Blazers in the mix and Portland was with 2 at the half, 45-47.
The Blazers built a lead of their own early in the third by splattering threes all over Utah's carefully-laid defensive plans. With Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum hitting deep the Jazz couldn't watch LaMarcus Aldridge as closely as they desired. They ended up scrambling to keep up with Portland's passes instead of hemming in the ball. The Blazers also continued their busy-handed ways, disrupting Utah's flow with the occasional steal. Naturally the three-point effect wore off with time, as the Blazers were unable to sustain the marksmanship. With Utah protecting the ball better as well they scratched back to even at 66-all as the third period ended.
Normally this would be the cue for the Portland sob story about falling apart in the fourth, but Rudy Fernandez said, "No mas!" to that too. Rudy would score or assist on 9 of Portland's first 13 points in the period. He also busted his butt up and down the floor, sneaking through crevices to grab boards or prevent passes. Portland also pulled away from the Jazz on the offensive glass, grabbing seemingly endless rebounds during the middle phase of the quarter. This feat was made more impressive by the absence of Marcus Camby, who rolled his ankle in the third and did not return. (X-rays are negative. He's listed as day-to-day.) LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller took over down the stretch, hitting layups, spin moves, and short jumpers. Things were going so swimmingly that the usual fourth-period clock-watching and praying seemed unnecessary. When the Blazers looked up with 1:00 left they led by 8. They hit their free throws in the closing 60 seconds, rendering made shots by the Jazz moot. Portland walks out of Salt Lake City with a somewhat-unexpected 96-91 victory.
The main theme of the game was activity. You can point to a zone defense here or a particular set there but the Blazers have run all of that stuff before. With their feet covered with cinema-floor residue none of it works. But tonight most things they tried worked because they were out-hustling their opponent. Cuts into the lane, in particular, were night and day different than we've seen them. Maybe this time that lesson will sink in. The more adversity you face the faster you have to move to avoid it.
These are almost unnecessary because for one, blessed night all the Blazers' individual gifts got showcased at once. LaMarcus Aldridge scored (26), Marcus Camby rebounded (12), Andre Miller passed (6 asst), got in the opponent's way a little (3 steals), and took smart shots while drawing fouls (17 points). Dante Cunningham went 4-8 for 9 points and helped with the rebounding. Patty Mills hit 2-3 threes for 6 points and 2 assists in 15 minutes. Rudy had 13 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals in 24 game-changing minutes.
About the only guys you could look twice at were Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Both stayed active, so it's not like they hurt the team, particularly defensively. They were plenty good on that end. Batum only hit 1-6 threes and they were open. Matthews looked off on his jumper, scoring mostly close to the basket, going 4-14 and 1-5 from distance for 14 points. But Wes Money had 8 rebounds, which wipes away a bunch of black marks for those misses. It was a near-complete team game.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers shoot 47.1% for the game.
- Blazers draw 30 foul shots and hit 83.3% of them.
- Blazers outrebound the Jazz 41-31.
- Blazers 40 points in the paint
Odd Notes and Links
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