The Portland Trail Blazers finished off the Indiana Pacers 95-85 tonight, completing their 5-game road trip with a perfectly passable 3-2 record. Portland's record now stands at 18-6, 8-4 away from home.
For fans of our usual detailed recap, we're going to take a break and be slightly less detailed tonight. I couldn't get to the game until hours after it was completed and impressions of Game Flow and such have a shelf life which is now expired. So let's just get to the heart of it.
The Pacers started out trying to probe Portland's defense using Roy Hibbert matched up against Robin Lopez. Hibbert found enough early success that the strategy might have worked had his teammates been able to hit a bucket around him. Sadly for Indiana, this wasn't the case. They forged a 23-point quarter out of an opportunity for 30+.
That opportunity was there because Portland's starters looked like they were playing the 5th game of a 5-game road swing after having lost an emotional and hard-fought contest the night before. You don't notice how little the Blazers walk the ball down the court until they actually start walking the ball down the court. It just looks weird. But Portland did in the first period. Other signs of fatigue included jumpers falling short, not closing out on shooters, and a lack of quality drives. In an exact inversion of recent games, Nicolas Batum was the only starter with energy and impact in the first shift of the evening.
That inversion would continue in spades as the first period melted into the second. All of those bench players who laid eggs last night against Chicago were making omelettes tonight. Portland's reserves came in crisp, energetic, played quickly, and did everything the starters didn't. Like a one-gear bike, the Pacers kept plodding along. Meanwhile Portland's bench moped zoomed by them. When the starters returned they picked up the second unit's energy. Wesley Matthews hit outside. Damian Lillard and Robin Lopez scored in the lane. The Blazers posted a 36-15 advantage in the second period. They led 58-38 at halftime and never really looked back. Indy made a run in the late third and early fourth as the Blazers' energy flagged again but they had too much ground to cover and missed way too many open shots. Portland's 10-point win may not have been the prettiest of the season but it was serviceable, made more impressive by the lesser-known players standing up for the big wheels for a change.
LaMarcus Aldridge finished the evening 8-23 from the field, Damian Lillard 7-22, Wesley Matthews 4-11. But Nicolas Batum picked up the slack with 6-11 shooting and the bench shot 11-18 overall. (By comparison Indy's bench fired 6-21.) Batum racked up 14 points and 5 assists, Chris Kaman 10 points and 6 rebounds, Steve Blake 8 points and 7 assists.
This kind of win once again highlights the texture of this year's roster. We're used to the Blazers living or dying with the performance of 1 or 2 players. If Plan A isn't going right, the evening will be a struggle. This year the opponent peels back one layer only to reveal another...if not quite as effective at least enough to give them a fight. On a tough night for the team by most standards, Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland and Allen Crabbe combined for 14 points on perfect shooting with 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover. Those were your lowest-minute starters and bench players and they lifted the team tonight.
Granted, the Pacers are challenged offensively and contributed mightily to their own demise. But nobody would have blamed the Blazers a bit had they mailed in this game citing fatigue. A few guys may have felt that way, but a half-dozen others propped them up. That's teamwork.
Long story short, there's reason to celebrate this win beyond just the tick mark in the win column. The Blazers won in semi-unusual fashion and revealed something about their character while doing so. It was a good night in Indianapolis. Let's see if they're now ready for a return home to face last year's nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs.
Our Instant Recap has more info about this game plus reaction from around the web.
Indy Cornrows will give you the Pacers' side of the story.
Our next Blazer's Edge podcast with Phil Naessens comes out Tuesday. If you have a question to submit, you can call it into voicemail at 234-738-3394. We'll try to answer it during the show.
You can help underprivileged youth see Portland's March 30th game against the Phoenix Suns by contributing tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here. Please help with a ticket or two (or 10!) if you can.