Note: See Brandon Roy's (admittedly discouraged) assessment of his participation tonight in the post right below.
Long Story Short: The Blazers do exactly what they were supposed to do, taking advantage of a disjointed (and perhaps dispirited) Clippers team's turnovers and slow rotations, cruising to an easy victory.
I haven't been able to say this about many Portland games this season. Believe me, in this kind of situation it's a compliment. This game was pretty mundane after the first 20 minutes or so. How often have the Blazers come up against opponents willing to be defeated this season and played down to their level, making the game a tough, nail-biting affair? When's the last time you remembered a Blazer win (as opposed to loss) that was almost boring? Had Portland been able to live up to expectations this season we would have a couple dozen games like this one under our belts. It's good to see the team finally going out and making a winnable game look easy.
In a surprise move Brandon Roy started the game tonight. He ended up playing only 15 minutes, all in the first half, going 2-7 and scoring 4 points with 2 steals. But it was still good to see him out there. Even though he didn't affect the game much personally the players around him came out hot and ready to go. The Clippers, meanwhile, came out flatter than a microwaved steak. Every time they tried to do something beyond a simple one-on-one move (usually leading to a jumper) they fell apart. Portland's offense tonight featured heavy doses of the pick and roll. Mind you, that has nothing to do with screening. We're talking pick off an errant L.A. pass and roll to the other end for an easy look. When the Blazers couldn't manufacture something early they went to LaMarcus Aldridge who poured in 10 in the first period and 22 for the game. When the Clips tried to shut down LaMarcus Portland just whipped it around for an open look. L.A. rotated about as much as a Shaquille O'Neal free throw attempt tonight. Martell Webster became the prime beneficiary but guys like Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum also saw easy, makeable looks. The net result was Portland shooting 49.3% for the night, 55.6% from the arc, and winning every quarter en route to 109 points. You could tell the Blazers' energy on offense was high from their 32-15 free throw attempt advantage as well.
The Clippers eventually found their sea legs on the other end but they never brought any kind of coordinated attack. A few individuals had good nights. Eric Gordon had 20, Rasual Butler 18, and both DeAndre Jordan and Bobby Brown shot incredibly well of the bench, netting 14 and 9 respectively. But the Clippers' other two big names, Chris Kaman and Baron Davis, were either absent or off. Kaman, L.A.'s leading scorer, barely touched or shot the ball ending up with 4 points on 1-6 shooting. Perhaps the Blazers denied well enough and forced him out deep enough that he was ineffective. Perhaps he was registering a protest of sorts, intentional or not, about the Clippers seemingly giving up on a season in which he had fought hard and put up the best extended numbers of his career. Certainly Portland's board work, limiting Kaman to 2 offensive rebounds, played a part. Baron Davis was more active than Kaman but not much more effective. People want to complain about Portland point guards sometimes? Check out this line: 3-11 shooting, 0-5 from three, no free throws, 6 points, 2 assists, and 5 turnovers for a 0.40 assist-to-turnover ratio. Do you even want to know what they're paying the guy? Hint: It's about $6 million per assist. Or, if it makes you feel better, $2.4 million per turnover. In any case the Clippers were hoping from 20+ points out of Kaman and at least mid-double-digits from Davis, if not another 20 as he's been trouble for Portland before and was being guarded by weaker defenders. They ended up about 30 points short of their dreams. Credit goes to the Blazer points but also to guys like Batum, Cunningham, Howard, and even a little bit of Aldridge, all of whom were ready to shut down the middle when the stars tried to get in there. The Portland defense packed it like Steve Blake tonight, forcing the Clippers into their weakness, and it paid off royally.
L.A. did make a comeback from double-digits late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. The Blazers had a little trouble at point with Bayless and then with Miller, as both tried to score a little much. The Clippers picked up on the single-minded attack and packed the lane themselves, thus the offense stalled. But that was a momentary lull, soon cured by several trips to the foul line (off of similar drives...persistence counts) and some splashy deep jumpers. Although the Clips got within 5 the game was never really in doubt. Portland waltzed away with the win and now has 3 days to prepare for Boston.
The keys to this game were pretty simple. Portland limited L.A. to 6 fast break points, 8 points off of turnovers, and 8 points off of free throws. The 27 points Portland scored off of Clippers' miscues made up for all of that plus several DeAndre Jordan-inspired second-chance points. No easy buckets = no fun for the Clippers.
Click through for individual observations plus commentary on the raft of interviews the Clippers' broadcasting team featured tonight, including words from Marcus Camby, Mike Dunleavy, Kevin Pritchard, and Steve Blake.
Brandon Roy rejoined the Blazers the same way Mike Nesmith rejoins the Monkees when they make a reunion tour: show up for a couple dates, have a little fun for old time's sake, but let the other guys do the work. Roy looked predictably rusty and still hobbled.
The night belonged to LaMarcus Aldridge anyway. Even when L.A. wanted to return Portland's medicine and clog the paint, preventing easy buckets, LaMarcus showed them that he considers that 15-18 foot jumper easy as pie. He was more active on defense tonight than he was before the break as well. He really moved a couple of times and his hands were as busy as his feet. He got 5 personal fouls as well, which for him is probably a decent thing as it shows he was close to a lot of plays. 9-16 shooting, 4-6 free throws, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 22 points...a line we'd take any night.
The Blazers held a Martelathon tonight and Webster cashed in again and again from the three-point line. Check out the stats: 9-13 shooting overall, 7-11 from distance, a game-leading 28 points. The boy was dropping donations all night long. But the Clippers were leaving him free, so why not? He also had 3 assists and 2 steals.
Rudy Fernandez also made hay while the sun shone, taking advantage of clear sight lines to pop 5 of 10 shots, 3-6 from range, for 15 points. In case you haven't figured it out, this game made our shooters look good. He had 2 steals as well.
Andre Miller, not being a shooter, had a harder time scoring. He ran into a thicket of Clippers when he drove. He ended up 3-8 for the night, 4-6 from the foul line, for 10 points. But denying the drive is probably the wrong strategy to employ against the Blazers...at least if you try it all game long. Portland chases driving buckets the way my wife chases spiders, a process which involves hopping on the couch and shrieking. No, the Blazers prefer those nice, clean jumpers. And since everybody collapsed on Miller he had no problem delivering passes to get teammates those exact shots. 12 assists, 1 turnover. At Baron Davis rates we now owe Andre $72 million. Oh, and Miller had 6 rebounds as well.
Juwan Howard had a nice little 21 minutes keeping an eye on Kaman and company. He did his usual quiet, decent job. 6 points, 6 rebounds, and the obligatory 2 steals.
Dante Cunningham had another nice game, shooting 4-9 for 10 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes. He also played some nice defense which got especially effective when he and Nicolas Batum played together. I can see a future in which those two are like heat-seeking missiles trailing any opponent who dares advance the ball with a drive. They'll not be in a permanent lineup together but they could create a nasty situational problem for opponents.
Speaking of Batum, his jumper still looks sweet. He took 2 shots, made 2 free throws, and had 2 assists and 6 points in 16 minutes. It seems like he's still warming up to being back. But when he makes a play you know it.
Jerryd Bayless saw 11 minutes, some alongside Miller and some alongside Fernandez. The good part was that he kept driving aggressively and netted 6 free throw attempts for his 6 points. He also had 3 assists, duplicating much of Miller's style. But he had difficulty setting up the offense, or even getting set himself, when playing the point and we may anticipate that teams from here on out will make it harder on him to do so. He can't just default to drive-and-score mode anymore because teams--even the Clippers--are sitting on that.
Jeff Pendergraph saw 8 spot minutes and Patty Mills got 2 minutes in garbage time.
The Clippers' broadcast team talked about the trade a fair bit, including interviews with Steve Blake and GM Mike Dunleavy online plus Marcus Camby and Kevin Pritchard in the arena. The fascinating part of the conversation came when Camby said he "wasn't burning bridges" with the Clippers while Dunleavy later stated how much the organization loved Marcus, how much cap space they had this summer, and how anything can still happen. Ummm...Mike, it's OK to think about stuff like that but you can't really say it. You're supposed to surprise everyone four months later by announcing Camby is back and then everyone who cursed you for a fool in February praises you as a genius in June. Deflecting the criticism by telegraphing the intention isn't worth it, as the league looks dimly on such things. This kind of thinking would go a long way towards explaining what the Clips get out of this deal...something that Dunleavy himself had a hard time explaining otherwise. He talked about Outlaw as a fantastic young athlete who can play the 3 well and also some 4. (We know it's the reverse, minus the "playing the 3" part.) He also talked about re-signing the two acquisitions while in the same breath mentioning how they preserved the Clippers' cap space. The only thing missing was Lawrence Welk waving the baton to start the music while Dunleavy tap danced. Pritchard, meanwhile, mentioned how much Camby would help with a playoff drive but also took great pains to say how they considered him a long-term acquisition. You'll forgive me if I noticed that he tripped over whatever he was going to say next, falling silent for a couple seconds after having made that assertion. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it looked an awful lot like a guy saying, "Why yes...yes I do have pocket aces! Ummm, all...in?" (commence sweating now) It's all tea leaves at this point. A ton of things could change for all of the principals involved. But the whole drama, complete with scripts that might as well have said "insert nervous laugh here", made me chuckle.
See what's going on trade-wise and game-wise over at Clipsnation.
There was no Jersey Contest tonight but you can enter Friday's form here.
P.S. Again, the post right below this with quotes from Brandon Roy about his hamstring is worth a read. People are already e-mailing me asking for interpretation. My take is that his hammy hurts, he wants badly to play, and he's frustrated...no more or less than that. I doubt his frustration equates to a solid prognosis. It just may mean we wait longer to see him back. Obviously both he and the team are going through a hard time with this injury. With some perseverance and hope they'll make it through.