In a Nutshell
Behind Wesley Matthews the Blazers set a blistering first-quarter pace for three-pointers made, stretching Philly's over-pursuing defense past its limits. The resulting open floor made scoring and passing easy for the rest of the Blazers starters. Gerald Wallace turns in the effort of a season to keep the Sixers at bay when they threaten.
In the first period of this game, oh, excuse me, Wesley Matthews just hit a three. As I was saying, as the game started the Blazers...dang, he hit another one. Being well-coached Philadelphia obviously came out prepared to...Wesley! You can stop now! The game...yes, I just saw that one go in too...is over! Get on the dang plane already! Save that for L.A. tomorrow night!
As I was saying, the Sixers came into this game well-prepared to deal with LaMarcus Aldridge. He wasn't the overtly dominating presence in the opening period that he often is. That's because Philly has hounds on defense and they all jumped on him whenever he even thought about catching the ball. Watching the defense bow towards him was almost comical, except you feared what would happen if the Blazers couldn't compensate. Ha! The Sixers had not heard of Wes Money. He opening this game launching three-dollar-bills that way. They weren't counterfeit and he never asked for change. He just deposited and then flashed them the three-goggles. When he hit two in 30 seconds in the mid-portion of the quarter it was sick. When he ended up 5-5 from beyond the arc in the period it just wasn't fair. This opened the floor for Aldridge who scored inside late in the stanza, giving the Sixers a serious case of whuplash. (See what I did there? Their heads were going back and forth real fast, you see, trying to track the outside shooter and the inside guy. And Portland was scoring points. Yeah.) Behind Matthews Portland ended up 6-8 from distance after the first. Philly shot 52% in the quarter but still ended up down a step on the multiplication table, 27-36, as the buzzer sounded.
Sadly Portland's bench forgot the lesson of the day: jumpers are made to set up other shots against an overly-aggressive defense. The second unit figured jumpers were made to set up more jumpers...namely that the first unit's jumpers were made to set up theirs. Predictably the offense died under this novel philosophy. The wicked-bad (and not in the Boston-accent way) defensive trio of Patty Mills, Rudy Fernandez, and Brandon Roy didn't help matters. As the Sixers climbed back in Nate McMillan hurriedly subbed his bench out. By then they had the bit in their teeth, though, scoring on shots before the defense could set. The Sixers crawled back within 1 with 4:30 to play in the half before Portland restored order behind Gerald Wallace's passing, running, and shooting. Wallace drove past his man and hit open teammates all night tonight, further breaking the defense. He scored 7 points in the final 5 minutes of the period and assisted on 4 more. The Blazers walked into the locker room with a 62-54 lead.
The third period was the Wallace and Batum show. The two Blazer forwards played ultra-aggressively on both ends, driving to the cup and draining nearly every shot given them with equal aplomb. It goes without saying that they didn't hurt Portland's defense either. They were basically machine guns suppressing any fire the Sixers thought to lob Portland's way. The only way Philadelphia scored with regularity was by outrunning Portland again. Failing that, they depended on long shots. That wasn't near enough. Or at least it wasn't until the Blazers starters took a rest and the second unit turned a 10-point lead into a 4-point lead in a matter of 3 minutes. Portland 87-83 into the final period.
Elton Brand attempted to bully the Blazers in the opening minutes of the fourth but his lower body wouldn't perform like it used to when he trounced this team. He got a couple points but he slowed down the offense in doing so. On the other end Philly returned to the "hound Aldridge" defense when Portland looked to ride its stallion during the deciding minutes. The Blazers again made that look stupid, this time with mid-range jumpers and some more Wallace cuts. Wallace also showed Brand and company how to rebound. Wes Money came out and took a few final bows, this time near the rim. Because of the unselfishness and extra passing you can count on one finger the number of bad shots Portland took in the quarter. All Philly could do was launch more threes. A couple went in, but nobody cared. Blazers score 110 in the game and take the Sixers by 9, 110-101.
That forward passing from Aldridge first but also from Wallace and Batum makes the pack-the-paint defense look so two weeks ago. That, of course, and Portland hitting some shots from the perimeter. Hopefully the league will need a new game plan from now on.
Everybody in the building (except Portland's bench players) knew that the Blazers would have to develop an alternate strategy to win the game, that they couldn't rely on threes like they did in the first period. But describing Portland's early perimeter offense as "fool's gold" misses the mark. The Blazers still don't have a "no matter what you do I'm going to score" player on the roster. They need a few of those shots to fall early to achieve the result they saw tonight: stretching the defense. Once the floor is spread look at how many Blazers can either do damage or find someone who can. Two years ago we were looking at a roster full of mostly end-points and only a couple conduits. Now just about everybody can see the floor and pass. That's a big difference. But those early jumpers are they key. When made they're real gold. In essence they're gold coins that you slip in the coin slot, allowing the machine to work. That doesn't mean the machine is made out of gold, however.
All five Portland starters were scary tonight.
LaMarcus Aldridge made 8-13 shots for 18 points. That's so-so for him. But he also had 5 assists finding perimeter guys who made the Sixers pay. Had he not been on the floor drawing the defense in the first place those teammates never would have found open shots. He's turned into one of those guys who is valuable even when he doesn't touch the ball enough. 7 rebounds too.
Wesley Matthews' shooting was extra-scary in the first period, as mentioned. He went 6-9 from distance on the night, 9-15 overall for a game-high 28 points and 6 rebounds.
The scariest guy of all, though, was Gerald Wallace. He was a one-man wrecking machine, particularly in the second half. The Secret Weapon didn't just score (8-12 for 25 points) he had 8 assists off of his cuts towards the basket, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. This was Gerald unleashed. And it was good. Curious note: one of the big reasons the Blazers and the rest of the league used to be ga-ga over Darius Miles' potential was his ability to rebound the ball and take it down the floor himself. But Darius never rebounded that well and Darius had no clue how to set up a play or even attack the rim right once he got there. Wallace does all that and more. He's like Miles with way more polish and a side dish of nasty.
Nicolas Batum played an amazing game when you consider he could have easily hid in the shadow of Wallace or Matthews or Aldridge. None of that. He came out firing and never passed up a decent look. He also played defense and ran the floor hard. 5-10 shooting for 16 points in 29 minutes. This was Sweet Nic.
What did Andre Miller do on his birthday? Only notch 7 assists and 6 rebounds to go with his 9 points. He never got in the way of the other hot guys, in several instances becoming the off-ball recipient of their passes.
Portland's bench was also scary tonight, but in a different way.
Brandon Roy went 1-4 for 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 17 minutes. Unlike Batum he couldn't find a way to make a mark when his teammates were blitzing so hard. If anything it looked like he was over-passing the ball, fading into the background.
Marcus Camby played 15 minutes and had 5 rebounds and 2 assists plus a point.
Rudy Fernandez had the best bench game scoring 5 with 3 assists in 16 minutes. He looked more comfortable and aggressive defending point guards than he used to. That's a plus.
Patty Mills' most significant contribution in his 6 minutes was pulling a Butler-Pitt at the end of the first, committing a completely unnecessary foul on Lou Williams when the latter was 8 feet behind the three-point arc, allowing three-free throws on a shot that wasn't coming. 2 points and a turnover.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 11-23 from distance, 47.8%
- Blazers 25 made free throws, Sixers 13
Odd Notes and Links
It's a great Boxscore as long as you put your thumb over the bottom half.
Liberty Ballers will tell you the other side of this story.
Your Jersey Contest scoreboard and the form for tomorrow night.