The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the New York Knicks, 102-91, at the Moda Center on Monday night, winning their 11th straight game and improving their record to 13-2.
The Blazers are rolling and the Knicks are rotting; those two words aren't too far apart in the dictionary, but the contrasts between the two teams were so self-evident that they were practically boring. The same blind man who can see Will Barton's got money would surely be able to realize that New York is in disarray.
Pick a topic. Portland's players are nearing the point where they consider making the extra pass a given; New York's players harped on a lack of ball movement in their post-game comments. Portland's players continue to push themselves to put together complete games and to make improvements on the defensive end; New York's players barely addressed defense (while playing or in their locker room assessments). Portland's players reiterated the importance of playing hard to protect second-half leads; Carmelo Anthony was at a loss for words when asked if there was anything more he might be able to do to help his team. Portland coach Terry Stotts was glad that New York never "got within striking distance" down the stretch; Anthony tried in vain to focus on his team's second-half positives, while admitting that his Knicks "didn't play with any effort' during a first half that saw them trail by as many as 22 points.
"Hot team enjoys thumping cold team" would be the six-word recap for this one, and the specifics weren't particularly revealing. The Knicks are a decayed, soggy tree on defense without their starting center, Tyson Chandler, and their offensive attack goes through enough impotent stretches that pharmaceutical assistance might be in order.
"Without Tyson Chandler in there, it changes their defense a little bit," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said politely. "We were probably a little more aggressive this game going to the rim maybe than some other games."
Damian Lillard, who finished with 23 points (on 9-for-20 shooting) and 6 assists, dispensed with the tiptoeing.
"We knew they didn't have rim protection so we wanted to attack the basket," Lillard told Blazersedge. "We were successful doing it. We just continued to get in there, drop it to the bigs, finish it ourselves."
Portland scored 40 points in the paint and shot 22 free throws, a nice interior balance on a night when the three-pointers weren't quite falling at their usual rate. One or two extra passes is enough to foil a Knicks team that is prone to breakdowns at every blink. Case in point: Lillard drove from the top of the key and easily had enough time to read Andrea Bargnani's entire last name from the back of his jersey as he coasted in for an uncontested dunk. The Knicks' big man was simply turned around backwards, totally unaware of the developing action.
"[The Blazers] didn't make the playoffs last year when I was there,'' Knicks guard Raymond Felton told Marc Berman of New York Post back in March. "When I looked last, I don't think they're in the playoffs now.''
That was just about the most fate-tempting gloating I can remember in recent years, considering that New York was tracking towards a top playoff seed, and the tables appear turned now. Sidelined with a hip injury, Felton watched along with everyone else as his Knicks were picked apart in deliberate fashion by what amounted to a B-effort from the Blazers.
What goes around tends to come around, a truism that has guided much of what Portland has said (and not said) so far this season. Burned by over-excitement in years past, the "we haven't proven anything yet" drum beat has been pounded relentlessly, and multiple Blazers players -- and their coach -- have intentionally excluded the team from the category of upper-echelon teams. They believe entrance to that club requires success in the playoffs.
After this one, Wesley Matthews passed when prompted to assess what was different about the Knicks this season compared to last season. Asked the same question, Nicolas Batum simply stressed the important roles played by Chandler and Jason Kidd. Again with the forehead-slapping contrasts: Portland's gracious approach in victory directly ran counter to Anthony's tone in defeat.
"I don't think [the Blazers] did anything special on the defensive end [in the first half]," the Knicks' All-Star forward said, after Portland held New York to 39 points at halftime.
That's enough from the coroner's report on these flawed Knicks. Let's allow them to stew at their own pace while we lose ourselves in the shiny promise of technology. There is an ongoing game within the game that is far more fascinating than Monday's action.
If you think you've seen the Blazers looking at iPads on the bench during games, your eyes are not deceiving you. Multiple members of the team are indeed viewing game tape on the bench, during games, with an eye towards strategic adjustments.
A quick survey of Portland's key players on this subject produced some interesting results. Lillard, Matthews, Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge all said that they are using iPads for help during games. Interestingly, they are pursuing individual approaches when it comes to what footage they want to watch, and they also have personal preferences about when and how they view the on-demand footage.
Matthews and Aldridge were the biggest advocates of the new technology. Matthews told Blazersedge that he uses the tablet to examine plays on both sides of the ball. On his offensive touches, he's concerned with his shooting form, whether he's rushing his shots, and whether there were additional options available to him when the ball swings his way. On defensive plays, Matthews is checking for his stance, his spacing relative to his opponent, and how players are scoring on him.
Aldridge, by contrast, does not look at Portland's defensive possessions, instead reviewing the opposition's defensive coverages when he has the ball in the block or in isolation. Where are the double teams coming from? When do they come? Which of Portland's shooters are opponents choosing to leave open? What are his passing options? He sounded like a football quarterback or an offensive coordinator when describing this instant, in-game "reading the defense" process.
Both players painted the iPad study as a serious competitive advantage.
"It does [help] because you get to see it [again], and in the game everything happens so fast," Matthews, who finished with 17 points (on 6-for-14 shooting) and 6 rebounds, told Blazersedge. "You ask yourself, 'Did I rush it? I felt like I rushed it.' [The video can tell me] when I'm in that same situation -- off a flare screen, when Nic [Batum] passes over the top -- [if] I have more time to get the shot off or [if] I have to shoot it at that speed again. Or, could I have driven it?"
The visual helps with maintaining his confidence too.
"You're not replaying [a possible mistake] in your head, psyching yourself out," Matthews explained to Blazersedge. "You can actually see it."
This video feedback comes almost in real time. Starters are able to watch sequences from their first shift when they check out for the first time, minimizing the delay from action to correction. What might once have been a "halftime adjustment" can now take place before a player checks back in during the second quarter.
"I get double-teamed a lot so I just have them put my double teams on there," Aldridge, who had 18 points (on 7-for-20 shooting) and 14 rebounds, told Blazersedge. "I want to see how they're double-teaming me, where they are coming from. Of course [it helps]. If I'm getting double-teamed and I can see how they're doing it, that helps me and all my teammates."
Lillard and Batum also use the quick-hitting footage, albeit with less regularity. Lillard said he prefers to watch the tape at halftime, while Batum, who finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, said that most of his videotape study comes before and after games. To my amusement, Batum said he enjoys looking over Aldridge's shoulder to watch whatever tape the All-Star forward is watching on the bench; anyone with younger siblings can relate to that phenomenon.
As a point guard, Lillard said there is plenty for him to digest, but he often saves the heavier lifting for next-day sessions or plane rides.
"[At halftime], I look at how they're playing pick-and-rolls, how I read something," Lillard told Blazersedge. "If one of the coaches is telling me, 'You looked here, but the wing was open,' I'll go back and look at those plays where they corrected me. I'll [also] go back and look at plays that I felt like I might have gotten fouled, to see if I was wrong. ... It's basically just watching film. You can watch film right now instead of tomorrow at practice. You can see what mistakes you might have made, you might be able to correct it in the second half. ... [It helps with the] adjustment process for a game."
We often hear that there's a saturation point when it comes to data, that too much information can be distracting or counterproductive. Information overload. Oh, really? These guys don't sound particularly over-saturated, do they? Next thing you know, they will be wearing Google Glass Sport Goggles and watching replays of their highlight dunks as they jog down back down the court.
Disclaimers: 1) These were all pretty quick exchanges about the iPad and 2) It's tough to remain totally objective on this issue as I am an iPad devotee. With those out of the way, I think even unbiased observers would listen to this sampling of direct feedback from players -- regardless of the actual tablet being used -- and conclude that they should be the stars in the next commercial campaign for Apple (or Microsoft, or Samsung).
The whole idea of the tablet is personalized, immediate, touch-based access to relevant information and multimedia content, right? Doesn't that describe exactly what is happening here?
And now that we're totally down this path, doesn't it seem like anyone that isn't doing this right now is already behind the times? Doesn't it seem absolutely ridiculous that the Blazers are using this approach when the Toronto Raptors have Rudy Gay banning boxscores from the post-game locker room because he thinks looking at stats can be a distraction and an impediment to teamwork?
Video tracking, shot charts, SportsVU data: All of that is theoretically available to active participants in a game within seconds of their return to the bench. Why look up to the jumbotron hoping for a replay of a dunk when you could watch it on YouTube? Why listen to hecklers on the road when you could pull up positive Twitter posts from friends and fans? The technology floodgates are so open that they could soon be invisible. How far can this go and when should the NBA start drawing the line?
OK, enough rhetorical questions and excited blathering. It's getting later (after 2 a.m.) and I guess that means it's time to give this post one last proof-read on my iPad. Didn't you hear? All the pros are doing it.
Random Game Notes
- The attendance was announced at 19,939. Generous but not crazily so. Not a sellout.
- Here are the game highlights via YouTube user NBACalifornia.
- The pre-game introductions featured a custom video from YouTube All-Star MaxaMillion711. Apparently the Blazers saw this post and decided to have Max tweak his winning streak video for use on the jumbotron. Big congrats to Max, who has been pumping out awesome videos (about various teams and players) for years. What a savvy move (not to mention quick-thinking, considering the tight turnaround) by the Blazers that resulted in a huge win for their game operations.
- It's been roughly a month so it's time to take off the gloves: the wifi at the Moda Center is a joke. The free wifi has been only sporadically functional (which is better than day one, when it wasn't functional at all) and the media-specific wifi went down again during Monday's game. It's time for intervention from the top (Chris McGowan) and some real results on this issue, given how hard the organization pushed the new network over the summer and during the preseason. This stuff matters if you want to host an All-Star Game.
- Public Address announcer Mark Mason did a nice job of smoothly working in "Player of the Week" to LaMarcus Aldridge's pre-game introduction.
- Aldridge on his Player of the Week award: "It's an honor. It shows how well the team has been playing. I think from the first guy to the last guy, everybody has been great, that's been big for us."
- Aldridge refused to comment on his $45,000 fine for participating in the scrum with the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
- Aldridge suggested on Twitter Saturday that Wesley Matthews should be a contestant in the Three-Point contest during All-Star Weekend. As of Monday night, Matthews ranked No. 2 in three-pointers made in the NBA and No. 11 in three-point percentage (rankings subject to change when Basketball-Reference updates). "If I'm selected I'll go and represent Portland," Matthews told Blazersedge. "If not, I'll go home, rest, recharge and make them pay after the All-Star break."
- I asked him whether he would launch a campaign for inclusion in the event. His response: "You can do it if you want to." That sounds like an open invitation to his fans. Let me know if you launch a video or a petition or something.
- Matthews said that his $20,000 fine "sucks" and that he was "shocked" by it, but he left it at that. He did give one reporter a (good-natured) hard time: "You know we just won our 11th straight game and you want to talk about a fine?"
- Matthews took the mic before the game to wish the crowd a "Happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday" and he was given a loud ovation before he could even begin speaking. His center court appearance was accompanied by the "Ironman" guitar riff.
- Another nice musical touch: Playing "War! What is it good for?" during a jumbotron feature about this week's Civil War between the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers.
- The weird music choices at the arena have spread to the BlazerDancers' routines. I guess family-friendly is the goal? It's hard to say. The UO and OSU dancers were in the house to have a little dance-off and the difference between their music (which sounded like BlazerDancers music from years past, heavy on the hip hop) and this year's BlazerDancers music was pretty distinct.
- Have no fear! The Cha-Lu-Pa chant remains undefeated this season. It was overwhelming, even though it's been two weeks since the Blazers last cracked 100 points at home. I didn't hear anyone chanting for McDonald's (or KOi Fusion for that matter). You can take our land, but you can never take our FLAKY CONDUITS OF "BEEF"!
- About 45 minutes before the tip off, a bunch of streamers randomly fell from the rafters onto one section. So now we know that the Moda Center has its own brain and that it's susceptible to calling its shot by guaranteeing a victory.
- Lots of good signs at this one. One played off of those famous Mastercard commercials, listing off the price of the suspensions and fines from the Golden State game before concluding: "Standing up for teammates: priceless." Another good sign spotted by John Canzano of The Oregonian (noted on Twitter): "We want Bama." Another sign: "Gotham meet Robin." Another (direct) sign: "RIP Knicks." Another one that was a well-meaning stretch: "LaMVP."
- Bruce Ely of The Oregonian with a great shot of a dejected J.R. Smith leaving the court.
- Terry Stotts received birthday wishes on the jumbotron.
- A few home games back, Aldridge pointed out the importance of stomping on the opposition when they are down. Matthews expressed the same sentiment on Monday. "That's our next evolution, when we have them down to keep them down. ... We have to get better with playing with a lead. ... That's what San Antonio does, that's what the Heat do, that's what OKC does, we're not comparing ourselves to those teams. Those [are] the upper echelon teams. If we want to be in that group, when we get you down, we've got to keep you down. Every team is going to make runs, it's the NBA. Especially a team like that, as talented as they are, minimize their runs and respond quickly. Our thing is now, if we have them down 17, they can't get to nine before we make our run. If it gets to 13, we have to make our run there and get it back to 17.
- Matthews joked to Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com about his banked in three: "That's the first of my life. I thought that was so off. I thought that was going to skid and hit Paul Allen."
- Anthony's post-game session was pretty depressing. Reminded me of a scene from Dwight Howard during his Orlando days. His assessment of New York's six-game losing streak: "It's frustrating. If you're happy during these times... it's a tough situation. It's OK to be positive and think positive, this is tough times right now. The only way we're going to do it, we have to do it together." Asked if the Knicks needed a "turn things around" type win, he replied: "[Expletive], we need a game, period, at this point. We just need a win."
- In general, both the players and Stotts (see below) played down the concept of an "emotional carry-over" from Saturday's victory.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
One of the things we've been concerned about is how we started games, especially defensively. I was really pleased by the way we set the tone in the first quarter, particularly at the defensive end. Maintained that throughout the first half. I thought that was great effort. We were a little disappointed that we let them get back in it but New York has a lot of talented scorers, we kind of lost some three-point shooters and made a few mistakes. All in all, it was a pretty solid win.
That's who we are, we need to have that. We rely on the passing, I was kind of getting used to having 20+ assists. To be honest, especially in the first half, we had a lot of really good looking threes that didn't go in because we were passing the ball well. That's who we are. We've got L.A. on the block, we got some penetration but our ball movement was really important.
Those kind of guys are special. He's here, he's accepted his role, he's a great role model for the young guys, on top of that he can come out and help you win a game. He can change the complexion of your defense, he sees the floor really well, and he's filling a dual role, being a mentor and doing everything. The guy comes in on game days at 4 o'clock, he's out on the court doing his work, he sets a great example. Against Golden State and tonight, being able to contribute to a win, that's pretty special.
Wesley Matthews on Carmelo Anthony
I like Wes's strength, he's got a little more leverage. I thought when Nic was on him, Nic did a good job. I just kind of like that match-up. Bottom line, a lot of times Nic and Wes are going to change up, or they have, because I think they are interchangeable. I thought particularly in the first half, Wes took the challenge. Carmelo is a fantastic scorer and he's going to get shots up, and he's going to make tough shots. His first two or three shots were well-contested but he made them and that's what he does.
Particularly in the first half, they extended the lead. They were active, aggressive, pushing the ball. Made plays for each other, made some nice passes. That stretch in the first half had all five bench players in the game, they did a really good job when they were there.
Emotional carry-over from Warriors incident
Other than Mo being gone, that might have been the only carry-over, the fact that we knew Mo wasn't here, it kind of changed the complexion of the game a little bit. Other than that, I don't think there was much of a carry-over, I thought we approached the game the way we have every game. Just out to prove that we need to keep getting better and keep playing hard.
Got to the free throw line a lot, making Knicks pay for breakdowns
The free throws were kind of spread out, I thought our execution in the first half was very good. I thought we got a lot of good looks because of our execution. It's one of the few games that we actually outscored somebody in the paint, that's a little unusual. More than anything else, I think it's important that we play how we play. Whether the points come from the free throw line -- we did want to be aggressive because New York gives up a lot of shots at the rim and we wanted to take advantage of that. Without Tyson Chandler in there, it changes their defense a little bit. We were probably a little more aggressive this game going to the rim maybe than some other games.
First half vs. second half
I thought the first half was exceptional in what we did at both ends. We gave up 52 in the second half and didn't win a quarter and they were 0-for-6 from the three from the first half and 6-for-9 in the second half. We didn't win the second half so the first half, no question, was better. Learning to play with the lead, it's difficult in this league, you see teams give up leads a lot, the fact that they made their runs, never were in a position of striking distance.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter