In a Nutshell
After a beautiful first half by both teams, each playing to their strengths and game plans, the Blazers and Lakers turn the second half into a titanic defensive struggle. Portland fares quite well, taking an 8-point lead into the final 4:20 of the game. But too much Kobe Bryant and too many three-point misses from the Blazers allow L.A. to close the gap and send the game into overtime. The Lakers work inside during the extra period while the Blazers continue to bomb. Late Portland miscues foil any attempt at a miracle finish.
This game started out with the Blazers still on vacation. L.A. opened a 10-2 lead by the 9:30 mark of the first, not because their offense was overpowering but because their offensive rebounding was. Scooping up 3 offensive rebounds and 5 second chance points in the first couple minutes buoyed their steps and made the Blazers look like they were running knee-deep in swamp muck. Then the Blazers struck. Portland's defense forced turnovers and the Blazers pushed the tempo, beating the relatively slow L.A. bigs down the court. All of a sudden every shot was wide open or a dunk. The Blazers scored 11 points in 90 seconds, making L.A. look shell-shocked. Then it was on. A bevy of Blazer smalls hustled their butts off on defense as Kobe Bryant got off to his traditional slow start in Portland. Pau Gasol did his best to shoulder the scoring load, scoring 9 in the quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge topped him with a whirlwind 11. The Blazers led 29-23 after one.
The hot offense continued in the second. Los Angeles depended on opportunity shots from LaMar Odom and threes from Ron Artest. The Blazers whipped the ball around to whomever was handy, including multiple alley-oops interspersed among mid-range jumpers. The game got physical as the Lakers consistently tried to batter Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. The Blazers responded well, throwing and giving up bodies with equal aplomb. Portland's picks were especially crisp. The rebounding issue was long cleared up. The tempo did slow to L.A.'s favor, letting Kobe uncork but Aldridge, Batum, and Wesley Matthews answered. Portland led 47-41 at the half.
As the third period started the tempo ground to a complete halt as both defenses went for blood. The Lakers feasted on open threes occasioned by a collapsing Portland defense. Joel Przybilla played a fantastic defensive game but he couldn't stay out there for big minutes and couldn't contain all by himself. To prevent Gasol, Odom, Bynum, and even Bryant from having a field day in the lane Portland sent guards low. Artest, Bryant, Derek Fisher...they all struck from distance. The Blazers countered with yet another torrential downpour from Aldridge. LMA notched another 11 in the period. Wesley Matthews attacked off the dribble and fell into some short, leaning jumpers. Portland's inside play provided what proved to be a huge advantage at the foul line over the constantly-lofting opponent. But L.A.'s plethora of extra points via the arc more than made up for it. L.A. closed Portland's lead to a mere 2, 69-67, heading into the final period.
Needing points, the Blazers eschewed traditional centers for most of the fourth, sending Przybilla and Dante Cunningham to the bench, going with Aldridge and a bunch of wings. The L.A. offense immediately inverted. Odom and Bynum became the scorers with Artest only rarely getting his threes off. On the other end Matthews and Rudy Fernadez out-quicked their lumbering counterparts. The offenses looked stalemated but Portland had vastly superior energy on defense. Every player on the floor sold themselves for loose balls and slap-aways. Everybody dogged their men and helped their teammates when somebody escaped. Rotations looked crisp. Hands were high. Feet moved. The result was the typical Lakers-at-the-Rose-Garden hustle smackdown. Fernandez ripped rebounds away from bigs. Aldridge poked balls away from post players. Diving, running, whipping the ball around the Blazers built a 10-point lead with 5:45 remaining. Then two things happened:
- Kobe showed up.
- The Blazers went completely three-happy
The first was expected, of course. Never in his life has Kobe failed to take over a game late in Portland, even when he's failed to win them. The Blazers have good perimeter defenders but every defender in the league is at Kobe's mercy when he's one-on-one, which is exactly how the Lakers played it. Wesley Matthews couldn't begin to stop him as he hammered home shot after shot. But as has been the story multiple times in Portland, it didn't matter. Or, in this case, it shouldn't have mattered. The Blazers still carried an 8-point lead across the 4:20 mark when Nicolas Batum tipped in an alley-oop from Andre Miller over the still-slow Laker defenders. But that was the last time the Blazers would score in regulation. The Lakers decided they were going to play hard, jump in front of every attempted pass out of a Portland pick scenario, and pack the middle. The Blazers had already been drifting to the perimeter as the quarter wore along. This hastened the process. The Blazers attempted three after three. Including tip-shots and alley-oops the Blazers attempted 15 shots in the fourth. 11 of those came from 20 feet or farther. Still, had any of their many misses connected we would be celebrating a Portland victory. Instead shots from Batum, Matthews, and Fernandez looked about as clutch as Spongebob taking his driving test. By the time Aldridge tried layups in Portland's final two possessions the Lakers had zero incentive to do anything but send four men at him. Down by 7 with 1:30 left the Lakers scored on a Ron Artest three and two short Bryant jumpers. This game went to overtime.
The Lakers decided to play nice in the opening minutes of the OT, retreating to a three-point shooting contest again. Portland kept up their fourth-quarter ways, bombing threes as well. Neither team had an advantage (95-95) with two minutes remaining. That's when L.A. decided enough was enough and went back to Gasol and Bryant inside. Portland answered with a turnover, two missed Aldridge free throws, and a backcourt violation. Bryant hit 6 catch-up foul free throws. And that was the ball game, anticlimactic after such a rousing start and neck-and-neck finish to regulation. Lakers 106-101.
Brandon Roy came back tonight in limited minutes. He got a standing ovation, missed a couple of jumpers early, but connected on a nifty left-dribble wizard jumper and a three late. His defense looked better than we've seen this year, as did his mobility. He didn't try too much though.
Some will say the Lakers got lucky with their barrage of threes but keep in mind that the Blazers as currently constituted were forced to cede those shots to prevent a flood of points inside. L.A. didn't get lucky, they were just too big and talented to ignore in the paint.
That said, it struck me tonight that whoever built this team, at least in theory, built a Laker-killing machine. Imagine the results if the Blazers were healthy with Greg Oden, Marcus Camby, and Joel Przybilla to throw in the middle on defense. Imagine no more open threes, instead Batum and Matthews and Fernandez darting everywhere to disrupt shots and dribbles. Imagine Aldridge pounding Gasol and Roy keeping up with Bryant in the scoring department. I'm not saying the Blazers would be the best team in the league, I'm saying they'd cream this particular team 3 times out of 4 because they were built to do just that. It doesn't matter, of course. Nobody's healthy. That's the difference between imagination and championships.
According to swirling rumors, any of three active Blazers could have been playing their last games in this uniform tonight. All three acquitted themselves extremely well.
Rudy Fernandez was the Rudy of everybody's dreams, an opportunist on defense, a rebounder, a willing passer. He even stayed in front of Kobe once with the game on the line. The only thing he fell short on was hitting 2 of 7 threes but it was a full-on great game from him anyway. 7 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists.
Andre Miller also missed plenty of shots, going 3-10, and he had 6 turnovers including both of the ones late in overtime that cost Portland their slim chance at a comeback. But he had 8 assists and 5 rebounds and furnished some delicious alley-oop passes. It was amusing to see him defend Bryant well the couple of times he got switched up on him. This wasn't so much Andre as the fact that Bryant relies heavily on fakes to clear himself on the dribble. Andre doesn't jump to block shots and doesn't move quickly laterally. So Bryant would up fake and shake and 'Dre would still be standing solidly right in front of him in perfect position.
Joel Przybilla, finally matched up against a big center, played his best game of the season. He had 7 rebounds and a block in 26 minutes and kept Bynum completely under control (3-6, 6 points, 4 rebounds). He also gave Ron Artest a chuck or two after Artest had bullied the comparatively slender Matthews and Batum.
Of the guys who are slated to stay for sure, Aldridge has the best game but Batum and Matthews weren't far behind. LMA barely missed a shot in the first half, finished 12-18 with 29 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists. You can't count the missed free throws in OT too heavily. Had his teammates been slightly better shooters he never would have been in that position. The story of this game is how L.A. committed everything to stop one Blazer and how nobody else ended up stepping up in the clutch. LaMarcus was that one Blazer.
Despite their inability to hit jumpers late, Matthews and Batum did well. Matthews shot 9-18 for 22 points. Batum went 7-16, including 4-9 from three, for the same 22. Nicolas' three-point average was sterling overall, Matthews less so (2-6). When it mattered, neither could hit a deep shot to clinch the game. But the defense was good in all but the baldest of Kobe-iso sets and both guys gave their hearts to this game.
Brandon Roy went 2-5 for 5 points in 16 minutes.
Dante Cunningham had 4 rebounds in 13 minutes. He wasn't a good matchup against anyone but Odom.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 9-24 from the arc (too many attempts), Lakers 11-18 from the arc (too many makes).
- Blazers 25 free throw attempts, Lakers 15. 6 of those 15 came off of intentional late fouls.
- L.A. only 2 fast break points, Portland 7.
- Every other stat was close. Much of this game resembled two heavyweight fighters just throwing bombs at each other, neither gaining a clear advantage.
Odd Notes and Links
It did my heart good to see Roy back on the court. Later tonight Ben will have more about the mood from the Rose Garden surrounding Roy's return and the trade rumors.
If you haven't helped to send a kid to Blazersedge Night yet, please consider it.