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