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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks Final: Defense, Bench Bring Victory to Blazers

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LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Kaman, and some nifty second-half defensive adjustments lead the Blazers to a blowout win over Dallas.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

A fan collapsed during the fourth period of tonight's game and was taken away in a stretcher. Before we begin this recap, our thoughts and prayers are with her. We'll update you if and when we get news on her condition.

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The Portland Trail Blazers turned the best offense in the NBA into a quivering pile of goo tonight, surging ahead with an impressive third period and disposing of the Dallas Mavericks by a 108-87 margin in a game that was never close past halftime. The two teams looked similar in talent and desire through two quarters of play but Portland's adjustments and execution carried the day.

Game Flow

First Quarter

This game did not scan like a Blazers victory in the first period. While previewing this game in yesterday's guest spot on the Phil Naessens Show, I speculated that Dallas would prove a much different opponent than the Cleveland Cavaliers had 48 hours prior. Cleveland seemed intent on bullying the Blazers, breaking them down 1-on-1. Rick Carlisle is too smart for that. I told Phil that Dallas' coach would probably have his players screening half a dozen times on each set, trying to take advantage of Portland's weaknesses instead of driving the ball through the teeth of the defense.

That's pretty much what happened in the first two quarters of this game. The Mavericks set back screens, side screens, high screens...so many screens that your local mega-cineplex was shaking its head going, "That's just excessive." The Blazers covered well sometimes, but mostly not. Dallas was able to penetrate down the heart of the lane repeatedly, scoring 18 of their 24 first-quarter points in the lane.

On defense the Mavericks doubled LaMarcus Aldridge whenever they could. When they didn't send a second man Aldridge ate their lunch with a side of fries. (Now free when the Blazers score 100!) He scored 10 of Portland's 20 points in the period. But when the double-teams came hard the Blazers didn't have enough juice to compensate. They missed shots, turned over the ball...it wasn't exactly ugly but it was dicey. Dallas led 24-20 after one.

Second Quarter

The Portland faithful had every reason to be concerned entering the second period because the Blazer bench has not been...

Chris Kaman rebound.

OK, yes, we know Kaman plays well enough, but....

CJ McCollum three.

Wow. Nice, CJ. But you know consistency is...

CJ McCollum three.

Hmmm...this might be a little bit different than your usual...

Chris Kaman and-one.

OK, now we're just getting sill...

Steve Blake three.

Alright, already! Portland's bench didn't just keep the Blazers hanging on by a toenail tonight. They actually pushed the Blazers ahead by scoring 8 points in the first 2 minutes of the second period. The motif changed from lane scoring to distance shooting for both teams in the frame. Dallas canned 3 triples and converted a three-shot foul on another attempt. The Blazers hit 3 of their own. 20-footers abounded besides. Dallas got multiple open looks but couldn't seem to convert. You got the feeling that if Dirk Nowitzki could hit a wide-open three, they would have been up by 15. Instead when the shouting and shooting ceased Dallas still led by 4, 50-46, at the half.

Third Quarter

The Blazers had mixed up their screen defense in the second period to good effect. In the third they threw it into overdrive, switching like an 8th-place jockey. They didn't care if Robin Lopez ended up on Jameer Nelson. They just wanted a live body in front of the dribbler. For whatever reason, the Mavericks seemed unprepared for this. They didn't take advantage, instead settling for contested jumpers off of 0-1 passes. It felt like they were valuing quantity of attempts over quality, as if percentages would adjust automatically no matter what they did. That doesn't apply when you've got Nelson and Devin Harris firing 23-footers with a hand in their face. The result was an 18-point period in which Dallas hit jut 1 of 8 three-point attempts.

The Blazers, meanwhile, turned up the speed, trying to take advantage of the older legs of the Mavericks. Every rebound or turnover saw multiple Blazers running. Nobody held the ball long and nobody stood still when they did control it. The halfcourt, "you-shoot-then-we'll-shoot" pace of the first half was replaced by a torrent of net-ripping Blazers shots and opportunistic layups.

Dallas couldn't cover the floor defensively. Dallas didn't move men on offense. It was like watching air drain out of a balloon. Portland scored 35 in the period and led 81-68 after three.

Fourth Quarter

Dallas didn't get any better. Smashy-smash. Send in the bench. Portland walks off with a 108-87 victory.

Analysis

It looks like switching screens will become a semi-permanent part of Portland's repertoire. It's working now in part because opponents don't seem to think the Blazers will actually do it. You'd have to go back to Nate McMillan's tenure to find the team relying on that strategy. It didn't work all that well back then because the big men got hung out to dry...also a serious concern with this group. Then again their normal screen defense was a serious concern already. As long as they can mix it up and don't get Aldridge or Robin Lopez in foul trouble, they're probably better off utilizing the switch.

(Note that this may be another hidden benefit of having Kaman on the roster. They can take more risks with Lopez, knowing that him exiting early with fouls wouldn't mean immediate disaster.)

The starters did a fine job tonight but the bench stood out even more. They managed 42 points between them...two games' worth under normal circumstances. Bench minutes were higher because of the blowout but the blowout also transpired because bench play was good to begin with. If the Blazers can get production out of their non-Kaman reserves they'll be twice as tough to beat.

Hitting open three-point shots makes a world of difference for this team as well. You can just see their confidence surge when they make a nice pass and are rewarded with the three. It's like that make justifies all the moves that came before it, helping players to commit.

Fun With Numbers

  • We'll say it again: 42 points for the bench tonight.
  • 12-30 three-point shooting (40%) ain't bad either.
  • The Blazers held the Mavericks to 18 and 19 point quarters after the half.
  • No Portland starter played more than 32 minutes.
  • Portland shot 52% to 37% for Dallas. You'll win some games that way.
  • Even more so when you also hold the opponent to 22% beyond the arc.
  • Assists aren't the most reliable stat but notching 25 of them on 40 made shots is nice.
Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge ought to get himself a movie contract, some Samoan tattoos, and a championship belt because he is the rock for Portland right now. He shot 10-16 for 20 points, carrying the Blazers through a rough first quarter yet again. It's like Portland's offense wakes up screaming, "I had a bad dream!" and Aldridge says, "It's OK. I'm here."

Damian Lillard scored 18 on 6-13 shooting but only 1-6 from distance. He had 6 assists and 5 rebounds but also 5 turnovers. His defense was just as mixed...generally poor when the Mavericks were screening and driving, good when they held the ball and settled for jumpers.

Wesley Matthews shot 3-6 for 12 points. Monta Ellis shot 6-13 for 14 points. Yet Ellis seemed frustrated most of the night and Matthews looked like he dominated the matchup. That's Wes Power for you.

The Blazers ran the first play of the game for Nicolas Batum...perhaps to get him involved in the offense early and off to a good start. He airballed the shot. Things didn't get much better as he shot 2-8 for the game but he tallied 9 assists and 9 rebounds. It's almost as if he said, "Forget points. I just gotta be me." He also frustrated the heck out of Chandler Parsons in the first half, to the point where it looked like Parsons was seeing ghosts every time he put up the ball. "AHHH! What was that?" Another brick, Chandler. Another brick.

Robin Lopez brought his team 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks while holding Tyson Chandler to 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks. if Lopez doesn't dominate every night, at least the Blazers aren't losing ground with him.

Chris Kaman hit all 6 of his shots for 12 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes. The nifty thing about that was how few of Kaman's attempts involved him isolating his man. The ball moves around with Kaman in the game and he takes advantage.

CJ McCollum led the bench with 13 points, spurred by dual three-pointers in the second period. You could just see the swagger emerge after that. 4-8, 3-4 from distance, with 3 assists in 21 minutes.

Steve Blake hit a couple three-pointers himself, scoring 8 with 3 assists in 20 minutes.

Thomas Robinson was the big forward off the bench with 4 rebounds in 13 minutes. Once again he committed fouls (3) and turnovers (2) but at this point the Blazers are considering him an internet date: be happy for the good you get and overlook the blemishes you know are coming.

Dorell Wright and Meyers Leonard each hit a three.

very nice Boxscore awaits you.

Mavs Moneyball will not like this outcome at all.

Our Instant Recap gives all kinds of post-game reaction from around the 'net.

Also stay tuned for our In-Arena Report, coming soon.

Next Up: The Blazers play a Saturday afternoon game against the Clippers in L.A.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge