Long Story Short: The Blazers keep the tempo and scoring pressure high through most of the game then pull away from the Mavericks in the fourth quarter, defeating Dallas' zone defense and giving their offense fits through the solid efforts of almost every Blazer on the floor. Andre Miller has one of his best games of the year to lead the charge.
The entire first half of this game featured a shifting series of offensive runs by both teams. From the get-go Portland looked ready to push the ball. Dallas obliged and we were off. The Mavs struck the first blow, getting out of the gate 6-0 before LaMarcus Aldridge spearheaded the charge back to even. Scoring stalled until Andre Miller lit a fire under the team by driving through Dallas' soft defense. In addition to scoring at the rim and drawing fouls Miller set up LaMarcus Aldridge whose flame caught as well. Portland rattled off 19 points in just over 4 minutes. The Mavs knew a good thing when they saw it. Caron Butler used the drive to set up a couple of jumpers. Dallas subbed in Brendan Haywood who scored twice inside. Dallas was back within two with 2 minutes left. Brandon Roy hit a free throw, a jumper, and assisted on a Marcus Camby jumper to combat a couple of short Shawn Marion shots. At the end of the quarter Camby poached the ball from Jason Terry and hit a streaking Jerryd Bayless for a last-second layup. When the smoke cleared nearly everybody from both teams had acquitted themselves well in the scoring department and Portland led 32-27.
The "nearly" in "nearly everybody" is primarily in reference to Dirk Nowitzki, who scored only 4 in the period. Portland's game plan was clear from the start: deny Dirk, bump Dirk, and send extra guys at Dirk. At times it seemed the Blazers almost paid too much attention to Nowitzki, as the other Mavericks certainly capitalized on their freedom. But the Blazers ended up ahead, at least to that point, so it was all good.
Portland's second unit had trouble at the start of the second period. Without Camby in the game the interior defense fell apart. Dallas made 5 of their first 6 shots, two of those being dunks. Near the end of that run Coach McMillan subbed the starters back in. The defense tightened up and the offense scored just enough to keep Portland's heads above water. As in the first period there was a serious lull in scoring through the middle minutes of the quarter. When things picked up again a pattern emerged that would continue through most of the game. Dallas scored but they did a lot of damage from the three-point arc. Portland scored but picked their spots for threes, working inside out, passing for shorter jumpers. Dallas managed 9 points on 3 made threes in a row. Then they missed 3 consecutive jumpers, one of those also a three. Portland scored 15 points on 4 layups/dunks and a series of short jumpers mixed with one open three. Dallas hit a few more shots down the stretch. The Blazers hit 3 free throws, an advantage that weighed heavily throughout the half, and another layup. Portland went to the half up 6. Caron Butler had gone wild in the second period but Nowitzki had scored but 2.
The scoring settled down considerably after the first four minutes of the third period. Dallas started out the quarter ramming the ball down Portland's throat, a tactic that yielded 6 quick points off of Kidd-assisted short jumpers and a Butler dunk. Just when it looked like the Mavs would surge ahead Marcus Camby got busy inside, scoring on a point-blank turnaround and a nice tip shot. That sparked Miller and the Blazers who turned Camby's seed-shots into a 12-0 run. After that, though, Portland took a page out of Dallas' book and started shooting deep and the offense dried up. Dallas' offense was sporadic but included a couple more threes towards the end of the period. Portland scrambled with some made leaners in the final couple minutes but their lead had been cut to 5. Nowitzki had come alive a little in the quarter, scoring 7. Everyone feared that he was ready to emerge and push his team over the top.
As the fourth period began it became evident that the Mavericks had read their scouting reports about the Blazers. Or perhaps they just read this blog. Or perhaps they had the story in color crayon doodles from any random five-year-old who has watched the Blazers lately. Whatever the source, they knew to throw a steady diet of zone defense at Portland late in the game. And at first it looked like little Johnny's doodles would hold up, as Portland either missed jumpers or got the ball into scoring position but executed so slowly that the Mavs had an easy time adjusting. Fortunately Portland was giving the Mavericks fits on the other end and they only managed 5 points in the first three minutes to Portland's 2. Then the Blazers went on the definitive run of the game. It consisted of penetration and/or LaMarcus Aldridge establishing position and scoring. All the shots came close to the basket save one Rudy Fernandez three. Two minutes later the Blazers had scored 11. Even more impressively Portland went all-out on the defensive end, with everyone from Aldridge to Miller to Fernandez hustling to cut off the ball and forcing the Mavericks to set up and shoot way out on the floor. Things only got better when Marcus Camby checked back in. The Dallas shot chart featured a litany of missed jumpers, deeper and deeper as the period progressed. The three-point shot finally failed them and they managed just 7 points in the final 6 minutes of the game. Nowitzki's contribution in the quarter ended up being 2 free throws. Nobody else took the game over for Dallas. Portland didn't score a lot either but at that point they didn't have to. Dallas was so out of sorts on offense that they weren't coming back. Portland wins 101-89 in game that, while hardly mistake-free, was as well-executed as any they've played this year.
The big-picture stats illustrate what a nice game the Blazers played. Portland shot 50% to Dallas' 44.4%. The Blazers had 25 assists on 40 made shots. Dallas had a significant advantage at the three-point arc, going 9-22 for 40.9% to Portland's 3-11, 27.3% performance. But the Blazers didn't rely on the three...an incredibly smart move. The point gap was bridged by Portland's 18 free throws made out of 26 compared to Dallas' 8-9. The Blazers kept the Mavs to one shot, allowing only 7 offensive rebounds. Portland was +10 in the paint on the night, 44-34. But the most striking stat of all was Portland scoring 16 fast break points to...0 for Dallas. Yup. The Blazers pushed the tempo on the Mavs yet goose egged them on the run. That was well done.
It's funny. This game wasn't that pretty. It wasn't a dominating effort. It didn't feature remarkable individual heroics...at least not the kind that will fill up SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays. This was just a good game. It was professional, energetic, well-played basketball. Portland didn't let the Dallas runs throw them. They didn't settle for a ton of bad shots. They never lost their poise. They took advantage of their advantages, which sounds circular but as year-long viewers will know it's something the Blazers have struggled to do this season. They rolled the dice with the No-No Nowitzki strategy, stuck to it, and it worked. It was just a nice game. Finally. Bravo.
One thing the Blazers didn't need a ton of tonight was Brandon Roy. It was really more Andre Miller's game (more on that in a second) and Roy just took a few shots when the time was right at the end of quarters, set up teammates otherwise, and called it good. He went 5-7 from the field, 6-8 from the line for 16 points. He had 7 assists and 4 rebounds. He had trouble with Caron Butler when matched up with him.
Andre Miller had 19 points, 10 assists, and 3 steals but those numbers don't describe his effect on the game. He was the engine that pulled the train along tonight. His open-court passing allowed Portland to break. His driving broke the Dallas defense. He looked Jason Kidd in the eye and said, "I'm going to have at least as good of a night as you do, if not better." And he did it. He just bumped and dished his way into the performance of the night. He even got after it a little on the defensive perimeter in the fourth. Mwah. Mwah. Nice game.
LaMarcus Aldridge was one of the main beneficiaries of Miller's prowess as Andre set him up time and again either on the break, cutting, or with nice entry passes when LMA had position. LaMarcus went 9-18 for 20 points. He also shared the love himself with 5 assists. He added 10 rebounds plus a few stretches of nice defense, both help and on Nowitzki in the second half. Aside from the cosmetic flaw of missing by 10 feet every time he did miss a shot, this was a great all-around game from LaMarcus.
Marcus Camby came alive tonight as well, hitting some nice shots in addition to blocking them, grabbing rebounds on both ends, and covering Dirk for the early part of the game. He went 8-13 for 17 points plus 11 rebounds. He was one of the guys forcing Dallas deep late as well.
Nicolas Batum's stat line was an unremarkable 8 points and 1 rebound tonight. He played 24 minutes. But he helped Camby with Dirk Defense in the first half and in general things ran smoother on both ends when he was in the game even if he wasn't the one with his hands on the ball.
Rudy Fernandez's line also looks pedestrian at 7 points and 2 rebounds on 2-6 shooting. Rudy came through on the defensive end though. Dallas isn't a terribly physical team and Fernandez thrives when he can scrap and mix it up without getting his block knocked off. He moved and fought and poked enough to justify his 28 minutes even when he wasn't scoring.
Martell Webster got 10 minutes and looked like he decided, "What the heck...I'm shooting." He went 3-6 for 6 points so it was a good instinct. If he's going to be out there he needs to try and make an impact.
Juwan Howard played 25 minutes but looked a step slow. Those brief Dallas surges of inside scoring happened with him in the game. It's not all his fault because the Blazers should be able to help him better than they do. But it wasn't one of his best games. 4 points, 2-7 shooting, 4 rebounds.
Jerryd Bayless played 8 minutes and had a couple of aggressive shots go in for 2-3 shooting and 4 points but his defense was jumpy, he had a silly turnover, and this isn't the time of year for either so he didn't play much.
Dante Cunningham had 3 minutes. He's just not going to be a part of the regular rotation going down the stretch unless something drastic happens or we play a specific opponent against which he can thrive. That's OK. You have to shorten it down as you get into these critical games. If he never got another minute he's still had a good year.
So...Dallas needed this game. Dallas did not get this game. Dallas did not look like they were going to get this game. If the can't come out in the final game of the year against Portland (April 9th in the Rose Garden) and steamroll over the Blazers behind a bunch of point from Nowitzki we're going to start speculating that this is not a good matchup for them. It's always dangerous to wish for certain opponents during the playoffs, especially when you're the underdog. The playoffs are a different animal and regular-season success doesn't automatically correlate. But if the Blazers pull off another win in a couple weeks everybody in Blazer Nation is going to start jumping up and down begging, "Gimme THEM! Gimme THEM!" It could well happen.
Of note: There appeared to be plenty of pro-KP signs in the arena tonight. TNT talked about the recent struggles and showed several shots of Paul Allen in the process. That can't be comfortable. Hopefully it'll blow over until it's time for actual decisions to be made, as the final games of the season should be plenty intense.
Read another interpretation of tonight's events at MavsMoneyball.
P.S. Thanks to all in the Gameday Thread tonight. I had fun! Great game, cool conversation!