In a Nutshell
The Blazers play with fire one too many times, relying on a second-half rally after a mediocre opening to the game. Said rally was foiled by some hot fourth-quarter shooting from Stephen Jackson, missed free throws, and general impotence on any kind of scoring not immediately preceded by a hustle play. Since Charlotte hustled as much as the Blazers did late, the last category didn't provide enough buckets to prove decisive.
Like a cheap hotel shower, Portland's production tonight ranged between two poles--blistering hot or arctic cold--with nothing in between. The blistering hot came from points off of forced turnovers and the occasional offensive rebound. The arctic cold came from nearly everything else. Nicolas Batum and Andre Miller looked almost prescient in the first period, poking away Charlotte passes and allowing the team to run them down for easy buckets. No Charlotte pass was safe. The Bobcats committed 9 turnovers in the first quarter alone. Patty Mills' offensive aggression in the closing minutes of the period put the icing on Portland's cake. But the Blazers struggled mightily in the halfcourt on offense and defense alike. Charlotte scored at the rim with ease. The Blazers hoisted long shots off of broken sets. Portland's awesome display of stealing-and-scoring prowess netted them only 25 points in the period. Despite the obnoxious number of turnovers the Bobcats still managed 22 points themselves.
The second period featured more of the second unit. When a small lineup of Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Andre Miller gets replaced by Patty Mills, Rudy Fernandez, and Brandon Roy both the steals and the defense in general go way down. More pressure on the big men to compensate for a weak defensive backcourt takes them away from the glass, allowing the opponent opportunity for extra rebounds. Welcome to your second period. The Blazers, unable to force turnovers, plummeted to 20 points for the stanza. Even when some of the starters returned the energy remained low. Charlotte only managed 23 but it was enough to knot the game at the half...not what Portland wanted.
Things didn't get all that much better in the third. Portland's defense and rebounding at least were better. The Bobcats had a hard time getting any kind of open look as the Matthews-Batum-Wallace-Aldridge-Miller-occasionally Camby group choked the life out of them. The Blazers' own offense came in fits and starts though. They hit a couple jumpers early, made some nice drives in the middle, and Gerald Wallace hit a couple of threes late. That all amounted to 25 points. With Charlotte scoring only 19 it looked like the Blazers' usual M.O. of sloughing off early against poor-ish teams then pulling away late would hold true yet again.
Of course Portland didn't reckon on Stephen Jackson. Dude scored 13 points in the first 4:00 of the final period, scoring over whomever the Blazers put in front of him. The bad-defensive smalls got it started but once he warmed up even Portland's good defenders couldn't contain him. Once he blitzed the Bobcats into the lead the whole team took his cue energy-wise. They outhustled the Blazers for boards. Since Jackson was breaking down the defense Portland couldn't set to force turnovers either. At one point the defense broke down so badly that the Charlotte announcer screamed, "Everybody's open!!!" It was true. Portland looked all but done when Wesley Matthews hit a clutch three and then Matthews and Wallace poked away back-to-back steals for back-to-back dunks. 7 points in a minute brought the Blazers back within 2 and it was a ballgame. Down the stretch Portland finally found its halfcourt offense employing a strategy of posting up D.J. Augustin and whipping the ball to whomever came free because Charlotte sent an extra man to help. The Blazers pulled ahead by 1 with 1:00 remaining on an Aldridge pick-and-pop jumper. Captain Jack came back on the other end with a layup and one. Portland trailed by 2 with 48 seconds left. That's when the world fell apart. First Andre Miller got stuck against a much-larger-than-Augustin Gerald Henderson and turned over the ball. Then Portland got the ultimate break when Gerald Wallace clearly goal tended Henderson's layup but it wasn't called. The Blazers ran a nifty out-of-bounds play with Matthews inbounding, diving down the lane, receiving the pass, and attacking the rim. He was fouled but only made 1 of 2 free throws. Blazers down 1with 5 seconds left. Augustin sunk 2 free throws and Portland needed a three to tie. Sadly Augustin unintentionally (but smartly) fouled Mills as he brought the ball up the court. Duplicating Matthews, Mills missed his first free throw. With 3 seconds left he had to intentionally miss the second. Portland couldn't corral the rebound and Charlotte hit two more charity tosses for the final margin. 'Cats 97, Blazers 92.
The most interesting thing about this game was the continued evolution of Nate McMillan's closing lineup. Gerald Wallace is becoming more and more "in", Nicolas Batum out. Brandon Roy remains a closing fixture as well.
Also surprising was the difficulty the Blazers had dominating the boards. With Aldridge getting 10 rebounds, Camby 11, and Wallace 9 you'd think the Blazers would have destroyed Charlotte but the Bobcats equaled Portland with 10 offensive rebounds and beat Portland 42-39 on the boards. On the plus side, Portland finally converted turnovers into points in this game, scoring 23 of their 92 after Charlotte TO's.
Portland never got in the flow in this game. Their free throw total (16 shots as opposed to 30 for the Bobcats) reflected their generally disjointed offense. When they weren't shooting outside they were hoisting awkward attempts in the lane against multiple defenders. It's hard to gain the sympathy of the refs when you don't look good.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 10 rebounds and 3 blocks but only 15 points on 6-17 shooting. He wasn't bad in this game--in fact he missed a few really close shots that he normally converts--but he wasn't dominant either.
Nicolas Batum had a great first quarter and generally played well throughout the game. He was a troubling defensive presence and looked for his shot as well. He had a sweet soaring dunk too. 6-11, 13 points, 7 rebounds in 20 short minutes.
Gerald Wallace looked occasionally explosive but also occasionally unsure in his return home. He did way more good than not though. 4-8 shooting, 3-6 on three-point attempts, 13 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks in 31 minutes. He did have 5 turnovers as well as fouling out at the end of the night.
Andre Miller's game tonight can be best described as "compact". He didn't hold the ball much unless he was doing something good with it. 7-12 shooting, 15 points, 9 assists, 2 steals. Nice game.
Wesley Matthews had a team-high 20 points on 7-11 shooting, 3-6 from distance. He added 3 steals.
Marcus Camby: 11 rebounds and 2 blocks in 23 minutes. That's production.
Brandon Roy drew old-Brandon-level defensive attention but still has his new-Brandon-level knees. That led to his 4-11shooting night and 9 points. To his credit, he had 5 assists to go with, so he did take a little advantage of the attention.
Rudy Fernandez played 17 minutes, shot 1-5, and had 2 points, 2 assists, and 2 steals plus an ultra-rare blocked shot. Rudy's almost certainly going to be the odd man out in the Mills-Fernandez-Roy unit unless they can play better defense together or unless he can hit shots more consistently.
Patty Mills did his usual Patty thing on both ends, shooting 2-4 for 5 points and 2 assists in 14 minutes.
Stats of the Night
- S-Jax 10-25, 29 points, 10 rebounds.
- Blazers force 9 turnovers in the first quarter but only 17 for the game.
- It's not statistical, but Portland's supporting cast got outhustled by Charlotte's. D.J. White and Dante Cunningham made more than the most of their minutes on the floor.
Odd Notes and Links
As you can see here Gerald Wallace got a standing ovation tonight. Awesome.
Rufus on Fire will be celebrating tonight and may substitute "Captain Jack" for "Rufus".