In a Nutshell
The Blazers overcame a sporadic performance by forcing turnovers and hitting just enough threes, getting just enough post attempts from LaMarcus Aldridge, and grabbing just barely enough rebounds in the fourth quarter to win. LaMarcus Aldridge once again proves the backbone of the team with defensive assists from Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace.
The entire first half of this game can be encapsulated thusly: Orlando packs defense into the lane. Portland misses three pointer after three pointer. The Blazers force turnovers to limit Orlando's points, bailing themselves out of their miserable distance shooting. Andre Miller provides a few extra points via the mid-range jumper but LaMarcus Aldridge, though also connecting with jumpers, never posts up anywhere near the lane and looks like a shadow of himself. The Blazers lead 47-43 at the half but there's no telling which way the game will go.
Both teams got serious in the third period. Wesley Matthews played good denial defense on Jason Richardson early. Without J-Rich or Dwight Howard the Magic simply couldn't score. Lacking definitive scoring opportunities they continued to turn over the ball. Behind Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace the Blazers rebounded the heck out of the ball and began to run out. A few zippy passes provided a quick dunk or set up open jumpers which finally started falling. Behind a couple threes the Blazers led by 13, 60-47, with 5:50 left in the third. Then Jason Richardson hit a miracle three against the shot clock which lit him on fire. J-Rich scoring opened up the field for everyone else and the Magic started storming back. Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Gilbert Arenas all hit long jumpers in 150 seconds of court time. Then Portland's second unit came in and the Magic started scoring closer to the hoop. All together the Magic scored 16 points in 5 minutes. Meanwhile Portland's offense fell off the rails as those outside jumpers stopped falling again and they had to force inside shots against multiple defenders. Only two Roy jumpers to end the period kept Portland ahead, 70-66, when the horn sounded.
The fourth period was interesting. It started with Richardson again connecting and looking like he was going on a full-fledged spree. Orlando splashed 3 threes between the 10:00 and 8:00 mark of the period. But the Blazers decided to go down firing. Patty Mills and Gerald Wallace attacked the paint and scored and then Roy connected from 20. But things still looked dicey as the Blazers got only tentative shots from Aldridge. Finally midway through the period LMA posted up within a foot of the lane instead of eight feet away from it and he scored twice. With Orlando's interior defenders now watching Aldridge, Wallace got to sneak in for offensive rebounds. Suddenly Orlando's lack of size--a non-issue to this point--started to show. Wesley Matthews provided the back-breaker, hitting a triple with 3:00 left to put the Blazers up 7. Orlando could only manage a three-pointer after that, frittering away the final 15 seconds of the game clock while down 4. The Blazers win, 89-85.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge had a very good game but it should have been spectacular. Though guarded by smaller players all night he never established deep post position until late in the game. Part of this is attributable to his teammates not hitting any open threes, of which they had several. Even a couple deep connections would have spread the Magic defense. Even so, Aldridge didn't even attempt to set down low. When he posted he was 18 feet from the basket, playing right into Orlando's hands. Stopping his moves from that far out looked comically easy. On the rare occasions he did post deep he either scored or got fouled.
2. Portland's defense was head-scratching confusing, especially early. Their plan was obviously to deny Richardson the ball, which they did with aplomb most of the game. High marks there. But other than that they consistently scrambled into indiscriminate double teams. Would somebody explain to me why you would send help against Hedo Turkoglu 20 feet out on the court or Ryan Anderson in any position? Portland is supposed to have one of the best defensive corps in the league with Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, and even LaMarcus Aldridge. With 4 of those 5 guys on the court the Blazers were still scrambling against decidedly non-scary players. This allowed open threes on the weak side...an Orlando specialty and their ONLY chance of keeping in this game.
3. To the defense's credit, Portland again poked away multiple turnovers...18 in fact. This is becoming a staple of their play and is attributable to all of those guys we just mentioned. If the Blazers could reliably turn that defense into offense they'd be scary.
4. It's pretty evident that Gerald Wallace brings things to this team that nobody else does defensively, rebounding, and even on offense. His drives to the rim are awe-inspiring. Sadly his teammates don't know how to look for him yet. I counted 3-4 incidents wherein Wallace was wide open off of a screen-roll or a cut but the dribbler never even looked at him, let alone made the pass. Had he received the ball he would have destroyed Orlando's defenders and likely the rim. We haven't seen near the best of Wallace yet.
5. In the end Portland won this game. That's the main thing.
LaMarcus Aldridge shot 10-18 for 24 points. Orlando didn't have anyone to defend him but this was one of those nights when for long stretches he defended himself by taking himself out of his prime scoring zone. His teammates also ignored him for a while. He had but 3 rebounds. It was a really good game but not one of his better really good games.
Marcus Camby was all over the glass tonight, changing the game with his rebounding and defense. He had 10 boards, poked away a couple steals, and generally bothered the shorter Orlando players when they came in the lane around him. He was a spark.
Gerald Wallace was that kind of spark and then some. He also had 10 rebounds, a steal, and a block. He had a couple of Crazy Man drives in the fourth too when Portland was pussyfooting around on offense. His defense is not only technically good--a la Batum and mostly Matthews--but it's powerful, a characteristic neither of those two worthies possess as yet. I'm telling you, when he gets acclimated and unveiled fully this guy is going to be one of your favorite Blazers of all time. What he does isn't subtle. Everybody can see it.
Andre Miller had a really nice game, particularly in the scoring department. He shot 6-11 for 15 points with 7 assists and actually bothered to get (and hit) shots inside the arc, avoiding the brain-freeze-induced brick-fest that plagued his backcourt cohorts.
Brandon Roy went 4-8, again favoring the jumper but hitting it well enough. This game begged for him to fly out of the phone booth but he never did it, only peeking out slightly late in the third. His defense wasn't sharp, but that's an old story. 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 24 minutes.
Nicolas Batum went 4-8 for 9 points and played acceptable defense. My issues with him were two. First, he went 1-5 from distance on wide open shots. Wide...open. As I said a game or two ago, these kind of shots should be at least 50% hittable for any average NBA player and maybe half again that for a good shooter. They're practice shots. But Nic's inability to hit them (his teammates' as well) shows something about the mentality of this team. Even with all the skill and size there's a certain confidence, swagger, killer instinct missing from these guys. Far lesser players murder opposing teams when given the shots that Portland routinely misses. Batum also had but 2 rebounds.
Ditto in general for Wesley Matthews who also went 4-8 and saved himself with that late three-point connect to go a respectable 2-4 for 13 points. He did great denying Richardson. He had 0 rebounds and 2 assists though. Some teams are just begging to be taken advantage of and, like Batum, Matthews doesn't always do it.
Rudy Fernandez went 1-4 from distance, 1-6 overall, and ended up with 5 points. He did have 3 assists and 2 rebounds though.
Say what you want about Patty Mills (and I have) but he has that devil-may-care, gonna-kill-you instinct against teams that can't guard him. He shot only 2-7 tonight but at least it was an aggressive 2-7. Do I like that shooting rate or the fact that a reserve point guard puts up 7 shots in 14 minutes? No. But for purposes of illustration at least Patty is going to do what the heck Patty is going to do instead of just kind of taking the game as it comes.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 36 rebounds, Orlando 39. No Dwight Howard? That's a bad stat for Portland.
- Blazers force 18 turnovers. That's a good stat for Portland.
- The Magic score only 22 points in the paint. That's a good stat for Portland until you realize that they held the opponent to 22 points in the paint and only won by 4.
- Blazers 8-25 from distance. Did I mention how wide open the shots were?
Odd Notes and Links
Blazers Broadcasting showed about a dozen Portland fans in Orlando's arena tonight. You could identify them immediately. They all had on red and black and none of them were remotely tan.
Casey Holdahl also made it into a camera shot. That's a good thing. Holdahl=Ratings.
Orlando Pinstriped Post will be glad to have Dwight Howard back.