NBA seasons are stuffed full of twists and turns: tortuous victories, heroic defeats, nights where subtlety reigns and outcomes turn on a dime. Every once in a while you get nights like this as well...a simple, clean daisy poking up through the mulch of complexity. The 118-99 blowout the Portland Trail Blazers put on the Detroit Pistons was exactly what it seemed. The Pistons blew and the Blazers kicked them out. The explanation is neither deep nor indicative, but it sure is satisfying.
Game Flow and Analysis
Here's what you need to know about this game: the Blazers shot 57.5% from the field, over 50% from the arc, and averaged 32 points per quarter until the fourth period when the game was out of reach and the deep bench came in.
Portland probably could have continued averaging 32 as long as necessary. The Pistons defended like Wile E. Coyote. They put the effort in--bless their hearts--but results were lacking. Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy looks like he could double as an Acme sales agent, but I'm not sure that's the effect they were going for.
It's too bad too, because Andre Drummond is a beast. But Detroit can't begin to take advantage of him with 4 other players bailing out of rotations, standing around, or just giving up. You could see Drummond's spirit start high then flag as the game went on. In the first quarter he was beating everybody down the court on offense and diving to help in the lane on defense. After a while...meh.
Detroit did manage to stay close for a little bit. The Blazers tried to out-run the Pistons' bigs in the early going. The plan succeeded but Detroit gave it right back. As long as both teams were running and gunning, everyone scored. As soon as the offense transitioned to the halfcourt, Portland's three-pointers outclassed whatever Detroit could generate off of drives and post-ups.
Tonight turned into a classic case of an opponent playing percentages on defense, willing to single-cover LaMarcus Aldridge and let a couple perimeter passes go as long as they kept the Blazers out of the paint. Portland won't let you play that way. When the threes started falling, Detroit's defense spread and defenders started closing out with desperation. At that point the middle opened up too and the Pistons had to tap out. Neither their original plan or their emergency back-up worked. You could almost see the wheels turning in their heads.
"Ooops! There's a Lillard layup. Shut that off! Oh no! They swung the ball to the corner for a three! Shut that off too! Wait...who's watching Aldridge? Arrrgh! This isn't fair!"
And that was before Meyers Leonard started hitting threes on them, heading for a 6-7 shooting night.
Who knew the Road Runner was 7'1"? (He's got the hair right though.)
If you've seen Portland's offense functioning at its best you don't need much more description that that. The only difference between this and a normal game was the offense clicking for 38 straight minutes instead of in 7-8 minute doses. It doesn't happen often, but it sure is pretty to watch.
The only other moment of interest came with 1:05 remaining in the game when some of the deeper bench guys got into a scrum. It started with Meyers Leonard pushing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the back on a layup. Detroit's Shawne Williams objected and got in Leonard's face a little. Leonard just said, "Neep! Neep!" and slipped away but Joel Freeland took up the cause, jawing at Williams. Williams yakked back and threw a small-but-aggressive head butt, making slight contact with Freeland's forehead. Freeland then threw a large-and-very-aggressive British pub brawl headbutt right back. Had mugs of beer been involved, one would have gone upside Williams' face and it would have been on. As it was, the fracas died down before anything more serious happened. Upon official review both players were ejected from the final 65 seconds of the contest. We'll see if the league has more to say about it.
Besides Freeland's classic rowdy facial expression, the funniest part of the whole deal was that neither he nor Williams were involved in the initial offense.
You can see the video here.
With the win the Blazers move a full game ahead of Houston for the 3rd seed in the Western Conference, 2 ahead in the loss column. They remain behind the 2nd-seeded Memphis Grizzlies by 1 game but are tied in the loss column. Portland's magic number to clinch the Northwest Division title from the Oklahoma City Thunder stands at 10. Any combination of Blazers victories and Thunder losses totaling 10 will put Portland atop the division.
Citing too many stats tonight would be the equivalent of grade inflation. Everybody pretty much gets an "A" on that basis. 6 Blazers scored in double figures, ranging from Robin Lopez with 11 to Damian Lillard with 28. Of the players who attempted more than 1 shot, only Nicolas Batum (1-4) and CJ McCollum (2-9) failed to reach a .500 shooting percentage.
LaMarcus Aldridge took it relatively easy tonight, attempting only 16 shots and 3 free throws. He still scored 22.
Watching Robin Lopez match up against Detroit bigs was fun. Andre Drummond may have out-jumped him but there's something cool about Lopez hitting that sweeping half-hook. Still counts for 2 points. Drummond got 17 rebounds to 4 for Lopez, but Robin's 5-8 for 11 is actually a nicer stat than Drummond's 8-17 for 16.
(Kinda wish the Blazers had the guy, though.)
This game was useful in a couple of ways. It helped Portland gain some of the continuity they've been missing since Wesley Matthews went down and it helped Arron Afflalo get off of his offensive slide. AA shot 5-9, 2-4 from distance for 15 points.
Meyers Leonard, Dorell Wright, and Chris Kaman all had fantastic nights. Leonard scored 15 with 7 rebounds on 6-7 shooting. He had the Pistons commentators all but spitting into their microphones. Kaman shot 7-10 for 14 points with 6 rebounds and Wright played heady and under control. Dorell stepping up has been one of the quiet stories of the last 2-3 weeks.
Steve Blake had 7 assists and CJ McCollum 4. The numbers aren't as important as the role they indicate. McCollum in particular appears to be adding "facilitator" to his repertoire. 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, and 7 missed shots in a relatively easy game indicate he's not quite where he needs to be.
Detroit Bad Boys will probably think their team is bad for a completely different reason after this one. But seriously, the Pistons have some nice parts. They just need to put things together better.
Coming up later: the In-Arena Report!