The Portland Trail Blazers garnered their 50th win of the 2013-14 NBA season and a shiny new playoff berth tonight with a 100-94 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. That makes this a watershed evening. We should pause for a moment and mark the glorious return to the post-season after a two-year absence and the Blazers' third 50-win campaign since 2002-03.
Done? Appropriately happy? Good. If you expect the game write-up to match the lofty milestones that followed in its wake, you're going to be disappointed.
The Blazers came out against a decimated Pelicans squad with all the urgency of a glazed bundt cake. The occasional sweet play got interspersed with a whole lot of sitting around or running in circles. Outside of the most obvious driving situations Portland's offense consisted of letting fly and waiting for the jumpers to fall. They did...eventually...somewhat...enough to keep the game close-ish. But Portland's threes weren't connecting, they turned over the ball, the Pelicans massacred them on the boards, bench play was unspeakable, and the defense was nonchalant at best. New Orleans played without Ryan Anderson, without Jrue Holiday, without Eric Gordon, and with Anthony Davis fighting back spasms. They still scored 55 in the first half to Portland's 48. Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Greg bleepedy-bleep Stiemsma looked like All-Stars. The Blazers looked like something the Pelicans left deposited on the dock.
Three things turned Portland's fortunes around in the second half.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge came alive, making Davis look much younger and less powerful than he had in the first half.
2. After 78 games the Blazers finally made a defensive stand worth talking about. They didn't pull their usual trick of picking the lane or the arc to cover and living with the results. They smothered New Orleans. Every layup and almost every jumper got contested. The Pelicans missed, moved farther out to avoid the defense, got covered anyway, missed more, moved even farther out, and so on. The third period of this game may have been Portland's most impressive extended defensive stretch of the season.
3 Coach Terry Stotts took the bench out to the back field and put them down like Old Yeller. He solved the massive headache they caused in the first half by not letting most of them back into the game. Darned if it didn't work.
Throw in a few forced turnovers, a commitment to driving as well as shooting the "J", and a halt to the rebounding leak and you end up with a nice victory. Davis moving in more measured fashion didn't hurt either.
But none of that really matters. The Blazers now have a little "x" by their name in the conference standings, joining the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, and Rockets as post-season inductees. Raise one to the second season and look forward to the BEST day of the year (absent a Finals victory): the first day of the first round of the playoffs, Blazer Fan Christmas.
LaMarcus Aldridge had a mushy first half but turned it on big time in the final two quarters, making Davis look foolish, cranking out rebounds, blocking shots, and plucking the Pelicans no matter which way they flew. He finished the game with 25 points and (excuse me) 18 rebounds plus (excuse me again) 4 blocked shots. I think maybe LaMarcus wanted the win. Wow.
Damian Lillard more or less followed in Aldridge's wake, making a nuisance of himself off the dribble whenever the Pelicans left the lane free. He scored 20 with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals with only 1 turnover (albeit a pass so ungodly bad that it all but mandated a conversion to shooting guard or nun).
Wesley Matthews scored 21 the hard way, 7-13 from the field and 3-7 from the arc. Who knew that Rivers, Morrow, and Tyreke Evans would be bad defenders? Oh wait...
Nicolas Batum continued his recent trend of having great games everywhere but the arc. He shot 2-7 from distance but hit every two-pointer he took, scoring 16 with 12 rebounds and 4 assists while guarding the hot hand on the other team.
Robin Lopez had a hard night. 5 personal fouls (and it really could have been 8), 3 turnovers, 2 rebounds in 23 minutes. It was a rare off-night from Robin against an opponent who wasn't naturally set to take advantage of him. But Aldridge and Batum had him covered.
Mo Williams went "Bad Mo" tonight, shooting 3-9 with 4 turnovers. Plus the Pelicans worked him like a second job on the other end.
Dorell Wright shot 1-4 but he did have 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block in 19 minutes. That rate made him a superstar in comparison to his bench mates tonight.
Thomas Robinson committed 2 fouls and several defensive lapses in 11 minutes.
Will Barton barely existed in 7 minutes.
The Blazers brain trust evaluating Meyers Leonard game tape:
I believe that might have been Meyers in front there. Sure defends like him.
Your Jersey Contest Scores and the form for the Sacramento game are HERE.
Yay! Playoffs! Jazz hands!