For a few weeks now I've been joking that this year the Trail Blazers are going to lead the league in pointing.
Many of the images from workouts and training camp showed the players pointing: across the gym, at each other, at themselves, down the court. Pointing makes a lot of sense when you have a brand new line up of guys who are still raw and getting to know each other. Pointing is a direct and straightforward way to communicate and quite efficient in a fast-moving game.
Pointing has been useful in tough games against tough opponents like Golden State and against disorganized opponents like Sacramento.
Tonight didn't start off with a lot of pointing.
After missing two games, team leader Damian Lillard returned to the court tonight so maybe the guys felt like they could relax a bit and let him create all of the offense. In addition, the Jazz held off three of their starters, perhaps creating a lack of urgency for the home team.
In any case, the Blazers dug themselves a nice big hole in the first half. The press of the forwards that we have seen in the first four games and the guards' penetration into the open space just didn't feel the same. It felt like they were running the plays but not paying attention to each other. Unforced turnovers, stepping on the line, missed screens--these were all errors that could have been avoided if they had been looking up and pointing the way for each other.
For the first three quarters, they appeared to be wandering instead of walking in step. And while they were wandering, the Jazz were hitting just about every shot that presented itself including three-pointers which had heretofore eluded them this pre-season. Having gone 21-77 from beyond the arc over the first 4 preseason games, Utah managed 12-17 tonight including a blistering 6-8 in the third quarter.
Of course, when you've been a Blazer fan long enough, you know the game is never over till it's over. After falling behind by 21 points, someone shook the Blazers awake. They seemed to take notice of their surroundings and connect with each other again.
After half time, I noticed Meyers pointing at Plumlee and then back at himself. An effort to indicate who was responsible for setting screens while the other spread the floor. And then Damian was pointing into empty space for Crabbe to see where he was going to throw it.
With the communication channels reestablished, things started working for the home team. While CJ McCollum and Lillard's shooting heated up, the big guys started communicating with each other on defense. Ed Davis had been flying in with some tremendous blocks and grabbing rebounds, but he seemed to be tangled up with Vonleh or Plumlee half the time. In the fourth quarter, particularly down the stretch, Vonleh and Davis found a rhythm in which each knew where the other was going to land. Instead of stepping on each other, they backed each other up. They combined to confuse and confound the Jazz on one end, while McCollum, Lillard and Crabbe matched stops with buckets on the other.
CJ scored 18 of his 26 points in the 4th quarter.
The Moda Center crowd loved it. With 4 minutes left to go and the Blazers closing the gap we all forgot it was a preseason game. The crowd was nowhere near a sell out but it felt just as loud as a regular season game. While most of the Jazz starters rested, the Blazer's starters pushed the game into overtime.
With Damian well rested and in a groove, coach let him stay in and tally up minutes. Blazers scored the first 10 points in overtime. The Jazz crept closer but with 40 seconds left I was screaming from the 300 level to take out Lillard, McCollum and Crabbe. A victory is great, but we don't anyone getting hurt! Finally, a timeout was called and the three of them subbed out. Connaughton caught the ball with about 8 seconds to go and remembered the classy thing to do was dribble it out.
No streamers for a preseason game, but lots of high-fives from the arena staff.
I still think that the Blazers are going to lead the league in pointing this year. Watch for it, you will see that it's a sign the team is communicating and connecting and focused on executing the plan.
This guy just shook off an ankle tweak and returned to the game. pic.twitter.com/slRIU9YxWX
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 6, 2015
Lillard finished with a game-high 32 points in 42 minutes. When asked about minutes distribution in his post game interview with Brian Wheeler, Stotts said "I'm glad it worked out."
CJ McCollum scored 26 points but he also had 9 assists. And that was with Phil Pressey playing most of the backup point guard minutes.
The Blazers had 8 blocks and here's why. Ed Davis hates balls about to go into the opponent's basket. And he will do everything in his power to stop them from going in. He has fantastic timing and somehow manages to come flying over a crowd to smack the ball away like it's a big, hairy spider about to land on his wife's head. That's how much he hates a ball about to drop into an opponent's net.
The Blazers out-rebounded the Jazz 57-46 and here's why. Noah Vonleh loves balls about to go into the opponent's basket. And he will do everything in his power to grab them before anyone else can. He leaps over opponents with his giant hands outstretched to grab the ball and never let it go because he wants to take it home and dip it in bronze and keep in a trophy case forever. Or he hands it off to a friend to take care of it.
It was great to see Moe Harkless start and contribute right away. With Aminu out resting a muscle strain, he slid right into the lineup and almost had a double double with 8 points and 9 rebounds.