Following what has now become the pattern for early-season wins, the Portland Trail Blazers knocked off the Boston Celtics 109-96 today, earning their third road win of the season and pushing their record to 7-2. For a quarter-by-quarter description and notes from the GameDay Thread, see our instant recap here.
This game started out on a semi-unusual note for the Blazers. Ultra-conscious of Boston's capacity to fast break (and equally conscious of Boston's lack of range and scoring ability in the halfcourt offense) the Blazers eschewed one of their normal sources of scoring: offensive rebounding. Portland left only Robin Lopez under the boards when a shot went up, sending four players back on defense. The strategy worked, limiting the Celtics' transition opportunities. The Blazers went up-tempo in their own offense, pushing the ball and shooting early in the clock. One suspects "win the transition battle" was underlined on a white board somewhere in the vicinity of Portland's locker room. The grand plan was scuttled in the first period by Portland's inability to defend in the paint. Granted, Boston scored only 21 first-quarter points, but 16 of those came inside. But Portland's offense also sputtered, leaving the Blazers a narrow 23-21 lead after one.
The first part of the second period went sour for the Blazers. The second unit turned over the ball, failed to get back in transition even when they held onto the ball, got posted up in the paint, and even ceded the Celtics three-pointers. Boston charged ahead to an 8-point lead. Once again Mo Williams came riding like a knight to the rescue, keeping the Blazers afloat with his scoring. Wesley Matthews joined soon after. With three-pointers having deserted the Blazers, those two were the only thing standing between Portland and a disaster. Nicolas Batum hit a couple threes late to push the Blazers back ahead, carrying a 6-point lead into the halftime break.
Batum continued his fantastic shooting as the third quarter commenced and Portland took control. Damian Lillard added a spurt of productivity in an otherwise-frustrating night. But Portland couldn't escape the Celtics because Boston's bigs were pouring in points inside and out, scoring like they were unopposed. Even with the threes starting to fall and a couple of hot players, Portland needed another weapon.
Enter LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA added his usual back-to-the-basket excellence to the scoring column, but just as importantly he resurrected Portland's offensive rebounding enough to keep the scoreboard ticking and the Celtics honest. Boston tried to make a run in the fourth but their bigs finally started missing from outside and Robin Lopez helped shut down the rim attack. As the clock dwindled and the Celtics felt pressure they became like an NFL team forced into long passes to try and get back in it. But the Celts aren't good at quick, long, and productive offense. At that point they fell apart under the weight of their own misses and the Blazers cruised away with the victory.
What went right for Portland? Thanks to Aldridge, Williams, and Matthews they shot 49% from the field. A 9-26, 35% night from the three-point arc is below their standards. That got them in trouble in the first place. But Boston couldn't capitalize and 35% ended up being plenty good enough to win the game. Portland stayed ahead in the free throw attempt battle, drawing 22 shots to Boston's 19. The Blazers also shot 91% from the line, better than they've done lately. Most importantly the Blazers held Boston to only 4 offensive rebounds and managed to best the Celts 15-8 in fast break points. The first was indicative of great effort all game long, the second a recovery from the second period.
Boston ended up shooting "only" 46% for the game but part of that was due to their late-comeback-attempt barf-fest. For most of the game they shot a high percentage and scored well in the lane. The Blazers and 4 personal fouls in 16 minutes kept Kelly Olynyk from doing any damage but Jared Sullinger had the Blazers for lunch, scoring around Portland bigs inside and shooting over them outside to the tune of 26 points. You can say this for the Blazers: What they do well, they do pretty spectacularly. What they lack, they lack spectacularly as well. They're getting enough timely contributions from enough players that the well-doing outweighs the lack.
LaMarcus Aldridge was laying in the weeds early but came on strong in the third and fourth quarters, ending the game with 27 points on 11-18 shooting plus 12 rebounds. 3 offensive rebounds might not seem like an earth-shattering stat but considering the Blazers only had 8 as a team and considering the timing broke the back of Boston's runs, those boards were a big deal tonight. More to the point, Aldridge has now become the guy that you know you're going to go to as the game winds to a close, either to get you back in it or to seal the coffin on the other team.
Damian Lillard had a rough night. He scored 17 on 6-15 shooting. He was looking for his own offense most of the night, desperately trying to score in the lane. Time after time defenders or the rim itself rebuffed him. He drew only 3 foul shots, committed 6 turnovers. His defense wasn't that handy either.
Nicolas Batum had a nondescript start to the game but poured it on after the 4:00 mark of the second quarter. Distance shooting, passing, rebounding, fourth-quarter "D"...he gave the Blazers everything they needed. His final shooting mark was 6-15 but 10 of those shots came from beyond the arc, of which he hit 4. 18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and only 1 turnover.
Wesley Matthews hit the turbo button in the second period, giving the Blazers offense when they needed it on a night when his stats ended up so-so. He scored 13 off of 3-6 shooting with 5 rebounds. His defense deserves a little credit. Portland's wings managed to keep their Boston counterparts on the perimeter for most of the game.
Robin Lopez had a good night on the boards with 10 rebounds and no offensive rebounds ceded to speak of. His defense helped preserve Portland's unstoppable march in the fourth period, turning away the Celtics inside and forcing them into desperation perimeter shots. But Portland's defense still gets in serious trouble when Lopez has to come out of the paint or move laterally through it. This is hands down the thing I'm most curious to see if good opponents can capitalize on as the season progresses.
Joel Freeland did fine in 12 minutes off the bench...4 rebounds, a little shaky on defense, but enough fort-holding to pass.
Side Note: Every team's fan base is partisan as far as fouls called for or against their team, but those who think the Blazers are getting a bad shake from the refs should watch Lopez and Freeland work, especially under the bucket. They're allowed to do plenty of chucking, some of it quite extracurricular. This adds to Portland's toughness, which is good, but it's another thing to watch as the season progresses. If the refs had reason to call a game tight--which they often seem to find in crucial games (not that I'm looking at you, late-season Lakers)--they'd find fertile ground among Portland's centers.
Dorell Wright had kind of a rough night. Matched up with Gerald Wallace he couldn't get around GW for his own shot and he got bullied by Wallace in the post. Not a good matchup. 3 points on 1-4 shooting with 4 rebounds in 15 minutes.
Thomas Robinson had another good game, following up his titanic night against Phoenix with 8 points and 4 boards in 12 minutes tonight. From looking lost 4 possessions in 5 on offense he's down to about 1-2 in 5 now. At least for this stretch.
But once again the bench Game Ball belongs to Mo Williams. He took Mo shots (8-13), dropped Mo dimes (8), and even added Mo steals (3), producing during minutes when the rest of Portland's bench was making like a dead skunk on the dotted line. Right now--and this isn't subtle--Williams is THE difference-maker off of the bench.
The dreaded early Sunday (10:00 a.m. local) Toronto matchup is up next. I swear they do this on purpose to the Blazers. We'll see how it turns out this year.
CelticsBlog will chalk this one up in the "Wiggins" column of their "Win or Wiggins" board.
Prepare for the JERSEY CONTEST to start Wednesday in Milwaukee.