In a Nutshell
Ever hit a raccoon with your pickup and then feel bad about it? That's what Portland did to L.A. tonight, minus the feeling bad part. The Blazers ran the Lakers out of the gym for the first two and a half quarters, fast-breaking and alley-ooping their way to a 24-point lead. When the tempo slowed the lead diminished but Portland withstood L.A.'s three-point shooting and more importantly their physicality, shoving back every time the Lakers tried to take them out of the game and manning up for a victory more decisive than the score would indicate.
The Blazers feasted on turnovers and fast breaks in the first quarter, giving the Lakers a heaping helping of tonight's game plan on a red hot platter. Portland notched 10 fast break points in the opening period alone. Meanwhile the Lakers could not get on track, missing multiple shots. Kobe Bryant looked sick (and not in the good way). Pau Gasol and Ron Artest compiled most of L.A.'s points. As expected the Lakers responded to Portland's tempo rush with big-man rebounding, scoring 7 second-chance points in the quarter. Everything evened out 21-21 at the horn.
The key word describing the second period was LOB. You think I'm talking about alley-oops, right? Sort of. Mostly I'm describing the Lakers on defense, namely Lazy Old [Archaic Word for Offspring of Dubious Legacy]. Portland sent spinners and cutters into the lane and their defenders weren't even in the camera shot. I swear once LaMarcus Aldridge whirled around Gasol from the post and Gasol maybe turned his head to watch the dunk...maybe. Portland dribblers feasted on incisive passes to the rim. Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace...if they were any closer to the cup they'd be coffee. Splash in a couple of Portland threes and some late-period deep jumpers from Aldridge and you have a 32-point period for Portland. The only thing that saved the Lakers was a run of four three-pointers late by Kobe. That gave them 26 and Portland led by 6, 53-47, at the half.
You might think that having lost three in a row and making claim to being the best team in the league--plus having a little chip on their shoulders about the Blazers--L.A. would have come out determined and on fire to start the third. You would be thinking wrong. Instead the Blazers started running like dime store pantyhose, assaulting the Lakers with quick shot after quick shot. The Blazers made 7 field goals in the quarter. Exactly one came from beyond 10 feet. With 3:45 left in the quarter the Blazers had scored 21 points the Lakers 3. Sadly Portland's second unit slowed down and then couldn't hit open threes (of which they took many) to save their lives, leading to L.A. run-outs. The Lakers turned the tables and cut a dozen off of the lead, finishing the quarter down 12, 74-62.
Unable to persevere by talent or game plan, L.A. decided to pull a veteran trick and get physical with the Blazers in the fourth. Lamar Odom and Ron Artest led the charge, throwing elbows, knees, headlocks...anything to take the Blazers out of rhythm. Since Portland was already playing stall ball the physical play had the maximum chance to succeed. The game got ugly, fast. However Artest went barking up the wrong Redwood, employing most of his spastic chicanery against Gerald Wallace. Artest is a like a pit bull when he gets going: big, strong, menacing, persistent. Wallace, on the other hand, is Godzilla. He took everything sent his way from Crazy Ronnie's House of Pain, calmly sank free throw after free throw courtesy of the foolishness, and continued to grab rebounds and attack like a beast. Net effect? Zero. Portland fans remember all too well when Artest looked like a pit bull among poodles and offered their appreciation to #3 with an enormous "Ger-ald Wal-lace" chant midway through the period. The Blazers didn't exactly play poetically in the quarter but when Nicolas Batum hit a dagger three to put L.A. down 10 with 1:45 left the lead was safe. Portland look an ugly, somewhat underhanded shot from a struggling-yet-vain team, turned them around, kicked their posteriors, and sent them packing. Blazers 93, Lakers 86. Ballgame.
The response to L.A.'s physicality may have been the most significant thing to come out of this game. The running attack was great but the playoffs are unlikely to yield as many opportunities as the pondering, listless Laker defense did tonight. The post-season will involve plenty of blue collar, black eye moments though, particularly if the Blazers have the temerity to play above themselves and actually challenge. It's good to see that the Blazers can take it, even if it's just for one game. Long-time observers will say, "Finally!" All it takes is a couple players to make the attitude shift and the rest of the team follows. The Blazers now have those players.
LaMarcus Aldridge's offense was either lob or jumper tonight but that's appropriate against a bigger team. He drew defenders out of the lane and either stroked it over them or streaked by them for the flush. He went 10-19 for 24 points. More importantly in the absence of Marcus Camby he grabbed 11 rebounds and tallied 4 blocks, including a couple out of a horrible scrum down low involving seemingly half of the players on the floor late in the game when the Lakers were trying to surge back into it. He was LaMarvelous out there tonight...just what the Blazers needed in this situation.
Gerald Wallace was critical to this win because Gerald Wallace doesn't take crap from anyone. And not only that, Gerald Wallace has the talent to back up that crap rejection with actual damage to the other team. Gerald Wallace scored 19 tonight. Gerald Wallace got to the line 10 times and has the bruises to prove it. Gerald Wallace drew the 6th foul on Andrew Bynum taking a charge right after Gerald Wallace had been clubbed by Bynum on the other end with no whistle. Gerald Wallace also had a team-high 13 rebounds. Gerald Wallace also dished 7 assists. Gerald Wallace also played point forward late in the game when the Blazers needed to switch it up and combat the Laker pressure. You don't get to use pronouns tonight. Say his NAME, Portland. Gerald Wallace is...awesome.
Nicolas Batum was doing everything hoped for in this game too before he sprained his ankle early in the third period and left for the locker room. He came back to play late so it's not a crisis but it did derail his otherwise spectacular evening. He ended up 6-12 for 14 points and 4 rebounds. He was so quick that none of the Lakers could stop him.
Wesley Matthews shot 7-11, 2-5 from distance for 18 points. He also made Kobe Bryant work for his buckets, something that Kobe Bryant did not care to do tonight. The result was a bunch of careless shots by Kobe, playing right into the Blazers' hands.
Andre Miller was like a kid in a candy store tonight, providing the kid spent his time chucking gumballs to all the other kids passing by instead of just hogging them for himself. Don't worry, 'Dre went 4-8 for 12 points but his big contribution was the 13 assists, only 1 fewer than the Lakers managed combined. He also had 6 rebounds and participated quietly in that late-game toughness we talked about.
Brandon Roy played 29 minutes with 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also had 4 fouls. But he was the only guy in the second unit you didn't fear would cough up the game. He actually stared down Artest on Gerald Wallace's behalf while Gerald Wallace picked Gerald Wallace's self up from the floor after Crazy Ronnie elbowed him in the back of the head on a rebound.
Episode #192, Page 1
"Skipper, what's this?"
"I don't know little buddy. Where did you find it?"
"Behind this coconut."
"Hmmm...there's some kind of writing on it. Professor, can you make it out?"
"Interesting. Unless I am mistaken this is a basketball shot. The writing is in Spanish. It says, 'Property of Rudy Fernandez.'"
"What do we do with it, Skipper?"
"Hold onto it little buddy. It must be important or this 'Rudy Fernandez' wouldn't have marked it like that."
"It's sad thinking about some basketball player running around without his shot, Skipper."
"I know, but we'll return it as soon as we get off this island."
"Good plan, Skipper! I'm sure that will be soon."
Oh, and Patty Mills went 1-6 in 9 minutes. Perhaps his shot is in Lovie's handbag.
Chris Johnson played 7 minutes and mostly didn't blow it.
Stats of the NIght
- Blazers 20 fast break points, L.A. 6
- Lakers 17 turnovers for 13 Portland points, Portland 9 turnovers for 0 L.A. points.
- L.A. 21 offensive rebounds to Portland's 7.
- L.A. 44% from distance but only 39.5% overall
- Blazers 28 assists on 35 made baskets
- Kobe Byrant 10-25, Pau Gasol 4-11, Ron Artest 4-14
Odd Notes and Links
Silver Screen and Roll will no doubt have Phil Jackson's quote about how this was all the fault of the referees, as usual.