In a Nutshell
In a playoff atmosphere the Blazers open up the game on fire before New Orleans administers an extended, flame-dousing swirly to them in the second and third periods. But LaMarcus Aldridge throws open the stall door in the fourth, pounding the bullies into submission and carrying the rest of the guys on his shoulders to a triumphal parade before the cheering student body. This wasn't the Game of the Year but this is certainly the high point of Portland's season overall so far.
The Blazers stormed out of the gate in this game. Both sides shot incredible percentages in the first period as initial stabs at defense fell short. LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews feasted on soft and tardy Hornet rotations. Aldridge destroyed David West individually. Matthews was the beneficiary of wide-open passing lanes. He either found his dribble unneeded or barely challenged as he hit an array of jumpers, threes, and layups off of cuts. Aldridge scored 13 in the quarter, Matthews 13 as well. In between those scores Portland forced turnovers and ran for easy buckets. The Blazers tallied an amazing 35 overall against one of the statistically best defenses in the league. The Hornets weren't too shabby either. Willy Green and David West scored on post moves, jumpers, and drives. New Orleans only came up with 26 in the period though and Portland led comfortably after one.
In the second period it appeared this game would take an M.C. Hammer-like arc. After the initial "Can't Touch This" explosion New Orleans slowed Portland's pace to a crawl. Gone were the turnovers and run-outs. Gone were the open passing lanes. It was the advent of the over-dribble. Tattooing the ball logo into the floor led to tough, one-on-one shots against the clock and/or ugly turnovers. The Hornets happily played a halfcourt offense. Their shots weren't falling either but Portland's small lineup could not rebound at all. The Hornets--normally a mediocre offensive rebounding team and missing their prime rebounder to boot--feasted on the glass and second-chance points. Even when Portland managed decent defense they were foiled by multiple shots. How bad was the combined effect? At the 5-minute mark of the second the Blazers had only attempted 5 shots. Free throws did make up some of the difference but not nearly enough, especially since the Hornets already had 5 offensive rebounds by that point. You read that right. New Orleans had as many offensive rebounds and the Blazers had field goal attempts. Portland scored but 13 in the period. The Hornets scored 23. Down by a bunch after one, the Hornets took a 49-48 lead into the locker room at the half.
Despite playing their remix of "You Got to Pray (Just to Make It Today)" in the locker room at the half the Blazers came out looking nearly as sad in the third as they had in the second period. Aldridge and Matthews made a few more shots and Portland did score 22 instead of 13 but the Hornets still had the pace in their favor and still had their way (and more) on the offensive glass. New Orleans scored 27 and led 76-70 after three. Mix tapes of a bunch of New Orleans victories in the Rose Garden started playing through everybody's head.
Then LaMarcus Aldridge showed up. And he was too legit to quit.
Aldridge didn't so much take over this game as kick down its door. He started destroying the Hornets with his back to the basket, scoring over single coverage and passing nimbly out of double (or more). His crowning moment was a thunderous right-handed put-back dunk that had everybody in the Rose Garden on their feet with jaws firmly dropped to shoelace level. I swear I heard his mom cry out from Texas, "Oh no, baby! What did you do??? Now somebody is gonna have to clean that up!" I swear, the world stopped as if everybody had just witnessed a 6-year-old crash an entire pitcher of milk onto the floor. It was just that shocking. I'm not sure LaMarcus noticed, as he was too busy swagger-walking back down the court as the rest of his teammates nodded knowingly and chanted, "Please Hammer, don't hurt 'em." At certain points during the period New Orleans was sending almost everybody into the paint to prevent Aldridge from catching passes, making shots, or, you know, breathing. At that juncture it was up to the guards and Andre Miller joined Matthews in making key shots. On the other end Aldridge and Batum were blocking shots and taking names and the Blazers finally started rebounding. New Orleans looked shell-shocked. They turned to Chris Paul but he said, "Don't look at me. I only know Bel Biv DeVoe." That girl may not have been poison but Paul's attitude was. The Hornets never recovered from the Aldridge whuppin'. Blazers 33 in the period, New Orleans 20. Portland walks away with a feel-REALLY-good 103-96 victory.
This was a playoff-like game from the start and despite the rough spots, Portland did a great job keeping composure. New Orleans got ahead but the Blazers never let them get out of reach. Even when the Hornets looked dominant the scoreboard read a 4-6 point margin. It was the kind of emotional stability and veteran-like play that's been missing from this team the past few years which, while undoubtedly successful, tended to resemble a roller coaster. The Blazers don't field the talent they once did but, at least on good nights, they're getting more out of the talent they do have.
Also I've seen a lot of stars in my time, up and down, injured and uninjured. Chris Paul looked worse than flat tonight. I wonder what is going on there because it wasn't good. It's not just that he didn't bring a spark. At times he actively sucked the spark out of the room. I hope for Monty Williams' sake that this isn't some kind of burgeoning dissatisfaction. All I know is that something ain't right there.
LaMarcus Aldridge, what can we say? Even if it's only for a month, this has been the most phenomenal stretch of concentrated dominating basketball we've seen since Clyde Drexler used to do it regularly around these parts. Brandon Roy has had better games but Aldridge has packed all of them into a few weeks. The team needed him badly down the stretch tonight and he delivered. 13-18 shooting, 8-9 from the line, 34 points, 7 rebounds, and don't discount the 4 assists and the 1 block, all of which were devastating in their effect on a Hornets team trying to keep pace. Wow. Just wow.
Wesley Matthews took advantage of the defense being concentrated elsewhere, didn't try to do too much on his own, and ended up with an incredibly nice 8-13 night for 24 points and 8 rebounds. The game isn't hard. Let Aldridge or Miller initiate and every time the defense moves to contain them Matthews feasts at the Twine Time Buffet.
Speaking of Miller, he picked his spots again tonight, particularly in the fourth. He and Matthews made sure the Hornets would pay for focusing on Aldridge...the development which finally broke the dam after LMA had weakened its structure. 7-14 shooting, 18 points, 7 assists. 'Dre also had the moment of the night (outside of Aldridge's dunk) when he okey-doked the Hornets by falling into the sideline-dribble timeout trot and then accelerated to the hoop and laid it in as four defenders went to the huddle without the timeout actually having been called. It was the equivalent of the fake QB ball spike in football and it was funny.
Nicolas Batum was active and engaged on defense tonight. It looked like he took this game personally. He was responsible for at least some of Chris Paul's woes. He also contributed 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. This was a good game for Nicolas without being a standout game. That's what the Blazers need from him: contributions when he's not having a star night.
Dante Cunningham got a little overwhelmed by the New Orleans bigs and couldn't stop rebounds from floating away. He had 3 points and 4 boards in 26 minutes.
Joel Przybilla had 2 blocks in 4 minutes but couldn't keep up with the Hornet big men either, in this case because they were too mobile.
Rudy Fernandez brought energy and splashed a couple threes for 8 points but shot 2-9 with 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers. It was more a night for defense, especially down the stretch, which meant Rudy's contributions were muted.
Patty Mills led the over-dribble parade in the second period and never got back in the game. 7 minutes, 2 points, 1 assist.
Stats of the Night
- New Orleans 13 offensive rebounds, Blazers 8.
- Blazers 25-30 from the line. The streak of high percentage charity tosses continues.
- Portland 52.9% shooting and 52 points in the paint. That's a HUGE number for Portland, especially since only 2 of them came on the break.
- Chris Paul 2-6, 8 points, 5 assists in 42 minutes.
Odd Notes and Links
For the moment the Blazers are the 5th seed in the West. Somebody stop the season right now.
Boxscore to save for your collection of awesome 2010-11 memories.
It can't be any fun to be at At the Hive right now.
Here is your Jersey Contest scoreboard. Somebody remind me to post a form for the Lakers game over the next couple days. We have a whole week and I just don't feel like concentrating on anything but this win tonight. It was definitely w00t-worthy and then some.