If you're looking for the NBA version of Picasso vs, Rembrandt, watching the Portland Trail Blazers play the Denver Nuggets is not for you. But if you're the kind of person who likes to visit modern art exhibits where the guy with the ironic mustache drops paint-filled water balloons off a six-story building before skateboarding over the splatter marks, Portland vs. Denver might be your thing. Tonight's game wasn't clean, let alone pretty, but it featured plenty of exciting moments plus stirring performances from a couple of budding stars. In the end, Portland's fresh legs and poise trumped Denver's...well...whatever it is Denver does besides let Will Barton shoot in the fourth quarter. The Blazers left the hometown crowd smiling with a 110-103 victory.
Portland and Denver spent the first period feeling each other out like teenagers parked by the roadside. There was plenty of groping and pawing; everybody scored; but the experience wasn't going on anybody's Wall of Fame. CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gary Harris, Jameer Nelson, and Barton all ran amok...which should tell you that the perimeter defense wasn't in prime form on either side. That would remain the story for most of the night. Both sides defended solidly within two feet of the hoop. Outside of that extremely limited radius, anything went.
Denver led 27-23 after the chaotic first but the Blazers upped their rebound-and-run attack in the second period, trying to take advantage of a slow, fatigued Nuggets frontcourt. For the most part it worked. Denver got strong contributions from Barton and forward Joffrey Lauvergne, but Portland's fast breaks and threes overcame them and the Blazers led 58-51 headed into halftime.
During intermission I pondered how Lauvergne was living proof that I would be an utter failure as an NBA General Manager because....
A. He knows what he's doing on the court and therefore looks totally out of place with the Nuggets. If I were a GM I'd want to rescue him the same way I want to rescue a doleful-looking puppy at the shelter.
B. Once I'd acquired Lauvergne I'd immediately sign 38-year-old forward Paul Shirley out of retirement to start alongside him. I'd be fired two games after, but still... #DreamFrontcourt
If Portland put the Nuggets on the ropes with their second-quarter running attack, the reprise in the third period all but knocked them out. Crabbe was brilliant, Meyers Leonard aggressive, Denver's defense awful. The Blazers outstripped the sluggish Nuggets by 6 in the period, pushing the lead to 84-71 after three.
Yes, I just said, "Sluggish Nuggets". Sue me.
The Blazers being the Blazers, they couldn't keep the lead secure in the fourth for a worry-free win. Denver scored 32 points in the period, 30 off them from guards and small forwards. (Did we mention the perimeter defense never really got much better for either team?) But Moe Harkless provided fireworks early in the frame and McCollum closed it down with ice in his veins, dueling Barton point for point. The margin shrank as low as 5 in the last minute but the Blazers would have needed some truly awful gaffes to give up the entire lead. They're capable of such, but not tonight and probably not against the Nuggets' random offense. Portland ended up winning 110-103.
With Denver playing their 4th game in 5 nights, Portland's running attack was a smart move. The Blazers accumulated only 10 fast break points but they put plenty of miles on Denver sneakers and it showed late in the game. Portland's rebounding effort matched Denver's...one of the serious points of contention since both teams are good with the boards. The Blazers' interior defense was surprisingly strong...full credit to Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Meyers Leonard there. Portland also forced 8 steals, led by Noah Vonleh with 3.
Despite the fast pace, the Blazers never got lured out of control. Denver's roster looks like 15 GM's came to a potluck event. They would have loved a rough-and-tumble, gym-rat outing. Portland managed to push the opponent into a brisk pace while keeping control of their own offensive attack. You wouldn't expect that of a young squad. For about the hundredth time this year, credit the resolve of Portland's players and the brains of their coaching staff. Barton ended up with 31 points in this game but Portland's team offense made them not matter.
CJ McCollum is approaching a Terry Porter level of cold-blooded now. He has a long way to go to match Porter's résumé but his fourth-quarter performances are even, icy, and downright devastating. McCollum shot an amazing 12-19 tonight with 3-6 three-pointers made on his way to 29 points.
Allen Crabbe wasn't far behind in the dagger department, scoring a timely 20 points on 8-14 shooting, 4-7 from distance. When the backcourt shoots efficiently Portland becomes a dangerous team.
Al-Farouq Aminu had a relatively big night, hitting 6 of 9 shots inside the three point arc (ignore the 0-5 performance beyond it) scoring 14 with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. The wide-open game suited him well. He looked like a duck in water being tickled gently by a fish. If you haven't already, check out these Amazing Aminu highlights.
Mason Plumlee's stat of the night: 3 blocked shots...none bigger than a late-fourth-quarter stuff of a Kenneth Faried dunk attempt after Faried had tagged him on the other end. 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 13 points didn't hurt but Plumlee's defense justified his time on the court tonight.
The faster game benefited Noah Vonleh as well. He was a steal machine in the first quarter. He netted a couple assists as well.
Moe Harkless continues his hot run. He stemmed the Denver tide in the early fourth period with a couple of threes and a nasty dunk. His 12 points on 5-12 shooting led the bench.
Meyers Leonard scored 11 on 3-9 shooting with 3 turnovers. Normally that's nothing to write home about but ten days ago we were lambasting Leonard for not doing anything on the floor except running away from the ball. This is much better.
Ed Davis has cooled down. He tallied 2 blocks, 3 rebounds, and 3 fouls in 16 minutes.
Tim Frazier only played 12 minutes but he committed but 1 turnover against 3 assists. That's a good night for him.
Gerald Henderson missed 5 of 6 shots in 19 minutes and...ouch. If he were any colder you could pour syrup on him and call him a sno-cone.
Links and Such
Denver Stiffs might think they have one or two of them in the frontcourt.
The Trail Blazers get no rest, taking on the Utah Jazz tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Pacific.
We're planning on sending 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th and we need your help. You can donate tickets to the cause through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.
PLEASE consider sending a child or two! Donations have been strong but we've had a LOT of requests and we're not to 2000 yet. Help if you can.