In a Nutshell
In a game where both teams played to type the Blazers overcome some startlingly bad early defense with plenty of energy and rebounding, foiling the Mavs' attempt to run away with the game in the first half. Neck and neck through the final period the Blazers amp up the offense and defense, beating the Mavericks to every ball, overcoming their immaculate scoring attack with an all-out blitz. Every Blazer, including the entire supporting cast, contributes to the win in a fantastic game to watch.
If this game had gone by the book it would have been a complete blowout for the Mavericks. Their offensive execution in the first minutes of this game was literally flawless as they hit 11 of their first 11 field goal attempts. If there were any way within the laws of physics to hit 12 of their first 11 they would have done it. Their three-pointers were finding twine. When they weren't bombing they were dunking. This wasn't solely based on individual prowess either. They shared the ball with a purity and simplicity often missing from NBA courts. The Blazers were getting passed around like an Amish octogenarian on the interstate. It took the Mavs inserting Brian Cardinal and letting him shoot a three to break their streak of made shots. (He was 0-1 total for the game too. How would you like your only attempt of the night being the one that broke your team's run?) Nevertheless the Blazers hung close in part because the Dallas defense was no great shakes either and in part because Portland played to its own strengths: offensive rebounding, forcing turnovers, and blasting the offense through LaMarcus Aldridge. With Wesley Matthews starting the game red hot from the arc as well the end effect was Portland's 50% shooting producing only a couple points less than Dallas' 100% shooting. After the best first quarter that could be hoped for Dallas led only 32-29.
The Blazers started the second shooting and missing outside but kept up the hustle and the extra shot attempts. Brandon Roy provided a small spark off the bench and soon after Portland started attacking the rim more. Aldridge was particularly adept, scoring just about everywhere imaginable. The only blemish on Portland's second period was a propensity towards committing their own turnovers instead of forcing them from the opposition. The Blazers brought weak defense, good rebounding, good energy, and decent offense. The Mavericks brought weak defense, so-so rebounding, so-so energy, and great offense. It ended up a wash at 24 each, Dallas was up 3 at the half.
The third period opened with Dallas making a concerted effort to control the paint on both ends of the floor. Eschewing the three they began diving to the cup. On the other end they played the old collapse-in-the-lane card. the result was easy points on one end, hard points on the other, and the Blazers going into a nasty little 7-point hole midway through the period. That's when the Blazers took over the game. The big run started with a familiar move, seldom effective for the Blazers. Coach McMillan removed Andre Miller (who had done a fine job up to that point) and let Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez run the offense. You may recall that the last few games have featured Rudy-Roy-Point Guard lineups that have botched the defense something fierce. Portland eliminated that problem by ditching the point guard. Fernandez tore up the court on defense, hopping, skipping, and thieving everywhere he went. He also hit a nice three. Roy, on the other hand, blazed his way into the lane for layups, pull-ups, and free throws. The more mobile Portland defense caught the Mavs off guard, forcing them into threes later in the clock and/or without the ball penetrating into the middle...threes which they missed. All of a sudden Portland has posted a 15-5 run and Dallas is all, "Whaaaa?" When Roy hit a 20-foot buzzer-beater at the end of the period to give the Blazers an 82-80 lead the roof came off the joint.
The fourth quarter opened with an encore of the Rudy-Roy show. Roy scored repeatedly. Fernandez fed Aldridge for a couple of sweet hits and made a deep shot of his own. Everybody who hit the floor after that fed off of their energy. Matthews, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, all of them played out of their minds. Naturally Dallas fed Dirk Nowitzki down the stretch, remembering plenty of games where the Blazers couldn't stop him. Portland didn't tonight either. Nowitzki would score 8 in the fourth. But Portland was able to close an extra man on him and recover well enough to avoid giving up the easy shot. They made the Mavericks think about their offense and take time. No matter how many shots the Mavs made, the Blazers were ready with another. Dirk may have scored 8 in the period but Roy scored 10. Aldridge chipped in, Camby tipped in, the Blazers pushed all-in to win the game. Portland carried a 3-point lead into the final possession wherein Dallas had the ball with 18 seconds left. First the Blazers made them bleed 10 of those seconds without ever seeing the rim clearly. Then the Mavs called a timeout. They couldn't find a shot in the final 8 seconds either. They ended up with Dirk in the coffin corner being bothered into abandoning a three and then re-launching as the clock neared zero. It missed and Dallas couldn't corral an offensive rebound in time. The Blazers were going to walk off the floor but they were too busy high-fiving and hugging each other to move much. Coach McMillan was all but jumping up and down, applauding hard and yelling. Everybody knew that Portland had played the kind of game it was capable of. Everybody saw signs of what this team could be...and for just a moment it was really "could be" instead of "could have been". Whether that assessment sticks is a matter for future consideration but for tonight nobody cared. Blazers win, 104-101.
The point-guardless lineup working was a big deal tonight. It went well not only because of Roy's driving and scoring but because every single member of the second tier brigade stepped up hard tonight. Fernandez, Matthews, Nicolas Batum were all 100% devoted and darn effective. The energy from that group meant mistakes slid by instead of crippling the team. You know that you're going to get good games from Aldridge, Wallace, Miller, and at least something from Roy and Camby. The next three players are huge variables. Having all of them on at once makes this team look marvelous.
Again I'll point out that both teams played well and followed their scripts tonight. Dallas is just plain scary in the way they execute their offense. You know how the Blazers often get open threes but they seem like bail-out shots and they miss them even though they're wide open? Dallas gets those shots intentionally and knocks them down like they were layups. The way Dallas passes and senses the spacing on the court is amazing. There's no way the Blazers could beat them on offensive merit alone. Maybe with ten years of seasoning these Portland players could execute like that but now? No way. But Portland eked out enough possessions through opportunistic turnovers and hard rebounding to nullify the Dallas advantage. That and making a few of those open shots of their own proved the difference.
LaMarcus Aldridge was once again in Texas Trainsaw Massacre form, pouring in a game-high 30 points against a boxed assortment of defenders and adding 5 offensive rebounds, 8 total. The Blazers obviously meant to hit the offensive boards hard tonight and Aldridge was the key to that plan. Unlike many nights his lack of defensive rebounds (remember who he was guarding) didn't kill the team as everybody else stepped up.
Welcome back to the upper reaches of the recap, Brandon Roy. #7 had 21 points, 17 of those coming in the second half and 10 in the fourth period. With 2:15 left in the first period Roy had Brian Cardinal guarding him one-on-one and bailed out the play with a weak pass, only to shoot a sad jumper seconds later. That's right, against Brian Cardinal. At that point you wondered if he was going down the tubes. Then he started slicing and dicing in the second half, surprising Dallas and everybody else in the arena. He was magnificent, strutting as of old. 9-17 shooting, clutch performance.
Wesley Matthews scored 18 points on 5-7 shooting including a first-quarter barrage of threes that would eventually yield a 4-4 performance from beyond the arc for the game. He also had 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a complete performance on defense. After Rudy Fernandez' sterling performance in the fourth you were sorry to see him come out of the game until you realized that Matthews was coming in for him and Matthews was having a heck of a game himself and was putting his own stamp on the defense. That's exactly the reaction Portland's lineup should engender.
Speaking of Fernandez, this was another of those games that Blazer fans and the Blazer brain trust dreamed of when the guy came to Portland. His 4-7 shooting, 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in 22 minutes don't tell the story. He lit this team on fire. He was the secret weapon. That's exactly what his role should be...the crushed chili peppers on the pizza, so to speak. It's not like you'd eat a whole container of those straight up, but when sprinkled over the combination topping they just make the slice come alive. NBATV commentators were calling him an annoying player in the good sense of the word. Kevin McHale said every team needs one of those guys that just comes out and frustrates the opposition. Rudy is an opportunist and as long as the rest of the team lays down a solid enough foundation to support his opportunities he's a really nice game-changer.
Nicolas Batum only shot 2-8 for 5 points but he also had 5 assists and stood out plenty early for his energy. He added 4 rebounds and a steal. I liked his game tonight more than I've liked some where he's scored a dozen.
Marcus Camby actively passed up shots tonight which was a good thing. He also tallied 8 rebounds and 4 blocks and provided an emergency backstop for the defense when the Mavs feasted on attacking the rim, notable against the center-less lineups. That was an even better thing.
Gerald Wallace's insertion into the starting lineup didn't work exactly as planned. He had trouble guarding Nowitzki because of height and Portland's defense didn't look any more mobile than when Camby played, likely because they had to compensate so hard in bothering Dirk that they didn't have a prayer getting back on shooters. That wasn't necessarily Gerald's fault though. The Wallace-Aldridge big man combination is probably better left as a way to wrinkle the game instead of a bedrock feature of the lineup. Wallace went 4-8 for 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and definitely helped on defense when he wasn't isolated on Nowitzki. He allowed other players to take the chances that made them shine.
Andre Miller went 2-9 for 8 points and 4 assists in only 26 minutes. It wasn't the best style of game for him. He was among the most animated guys from the bench even when he wasn't playing...much respect there. Nothing changed for Miller tonight. Coach just went with the guys who were in the flow.
Patty Mills played 5 minutes with an assist, a steal, and a missed shot. This wasn't the game for him either.
Stats of the NIght
- Blazers outscore the Mavs in the paint 48-36
- Blazers 15 offensive rebounds, Dallas 6
- Blazers force 15 Maverick turnovers for 22 points. Mavs force 7 Blazer turnovers for 8 points.
- Blazers 12 fast break points, Dallas 9. High tempo game for the most part.
- All of this overcomes Dallas shooting 40-67 overall (59.7%), 9-21 from the arc (42.9%), and dishing 30 assists on those 40 made shots.
- It didn't hurt that the Blazers attempted 85 shots to Dallas' 67, nor that Portland shot 6-14 (42.9%) from the arc themselves. Those two things combined are Blazer basketball at its best.
Odd Notes and Links
No matter what uniform he's in, Tyson Chandler can't help but act the fool when he comes to Portland. Tonight he had 5 fouls and a silly, pouting technical. My only regret is that Joel Przybilla wasn't still around to rub it in and push him over the top.
This game featured some spectacular dunks by both teams.
This was a great win but, as always, what matters is what happens in the next game and beyond. The Blazers played fantastic ball but if the experiment isn't repeatable, it's no good. It would be great to see that same kind of energy Thursday against Cleveland, an eventuality which would result in a 2,000 point lead and plenty of chance for the Patty Mills and all the Johnsons on the team to also look good.
Mavs Moneyball will no doubt wax philosophical about this. To Dallas' credit, this loss was by a scant 3 points which is about triple the margin on the usual (rare) Mavericks loss. This team is playing well.
The game is starting again right now (midnight Pacific) on NBATV. Watch it or record it if possible.
P.S. The team put together $40K for Tsunami/Earthquake Relief in Japan tonight. Press release:
TRAIL BLAZERS RAISE $15,000 FOR JAPAN TSUNAMI RELIEF
Total in addition to $25,000 donation from owner Paul Allen
PORTLAND, Ore. - In an incredible display of community support, fans attending tonight'sPortland Trail Blazers game against the Dallas Mavericks raised $15,000 to assist in Japan's tsunami relief.
Along with partner Mercy Corps, Trail Blazers staff, alumni and volunteers collected the donations at ingress of tonight's game at the Rose Garden. Fans donated what they could, in amounts ranging from $1 to $400.
The funds will support Mercy Corps' longtime partner, Peace Winds, who has mobilized a humanitarian response.
Additionally, Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen made a $25,000 donation to Mercy Corps through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
Those still interested in donating can visit trailblazers.com or mercycorps.org/donate/japan