The victory came from the hands of an unexpected face in the rotation, a hot-shooting reserve, and a player who provided a timely tip-in.
Those guys were not Justise Winslow, Shaedon Sharpe, and Drew Eubanks. That's a real shame, too.
Rather it was Ben Simmons with a balanced contribution, Yuta Watanabe, and Royce O'Neal, nailing down the W for Brooklyn with just a few seconds left on the game clock. The final score was 109-107.
That result insists that we ask: can the Blazers start doing a better job of defending their home court now, rather than in January when their schedule starts to become more favorable?
- BEdge recap
- BEdge analysis
- Associated Press recap (check that byline, basketball fans, and prepare to rejoice)
- Previous analysis: Game 14 vs. SAS, W 112-117
- Next analysis: Game 16 vs. UTA, L 118-113
Bigger was better
Make no mistake: the Nets played with an advantage throughout the game because at least four—if not all five—of their players on the court at any given time were sure to be taller and longer than the men assigned to keep them from an open shot. ("Taller and longer" also describes Brooklyn's cap situation, but that's not relevant to this game in particular.)
Part and parcel of the Blazers' post-Mac defenses has been a feeling of resignation that maximum effort was neither expected nor required of players brought in to generate offense… but that feeling of resignation never took shape during this game. Guys got snookered, got maneuvered out of place, but there were only a few times during the game that they gave up out of dismay—and always after guys were taken out of plays by switches. Closeouts at the three-point line were regrettably too often half a step behind, but they still happened. Damian Lillard in particular managed a successful closeout on the far corner during the first half that offered evidence of how well he has applied lessons learned on the other side of the ball.
In spite of the improvement on defense, and more than a few breathtaking plays by several Blazers, Brooklyn's length proved to be too much. Those long arms turned the low post into a meat grinder, and with frustrating regularity those long legs shortened closeouts on shooters farther out. The full roster mismatch delivered gaudy differentials in shooting percentage and total rebounds: 51% vs. 39% and 47 to 39, respectively. Finally, all that length doomed Portland's effort to convert on their last possession.
If there's a bright side, we get around to it when we consider what the Blazers did well.
Fresh out of the oven!
The Blazers took better care of the ball this time around, turning in a genuinely good performance. This accomplishment gets even brighter when you consider how many long arms were ready to disrupt the Blazers' passing, yet strangely did not.
…But this good news comes without any accompanying context. Did the Blazers commit to take care of the ball in this game? If so, that probably slowed down their offense. Did Brooklyn lay down their hustle in places other than the passing lanes where the ball is in the most danger? It looks that way, but it's probably not fair to the Nets to leave it at that. Were the Blazers more deliberate about who passed, who caught, and who dribbled? This writer's intuition says yes, but without any stats at all for corroboration. If they did, injunctions must have been limited to a few specific cases, for the sake of avoiding confusion.
A thought about rotations
It does not appear that Chauncey Billups kneels before the altar of utility to nearly the extent demonstrated by Terry Stotts. Questions abound about minutes given to guys back to the rotation immediately after illness, and brief efforts to investigate—yet again—schemes and plays previously revealed to be harebrained.
It's a mistake to dismiss rejection of utility. Last night's result notwithstanding, it explains the success that the Blazers have enjoyed at closing out close games, and at times their success in transition. Those sorts of successes rarely come to players who do not know themselves well. If from time to time the Blazers offense falls into a crater—like it did in this game—or the defense gets caught out of position repeatedly, consider carefully the possibility that the guys are out in the world, learning things the hard way. It will make them better players, and the Blazers a more capable team. The process might make for rough sledding now, but will yield lineups better able to adjust and prevail in playoff series.
- The early-game scoring drought was the worst thing that could have happened to the Blazers. For the Blazers this game was going to be put away early, or it was going to turn out more or less like it did.
- What's up with all that bitching and moaning about Simmons being afraid to score? That didn't appear to be the problem in this game. We shouldn't think much of Simmons' antics, but if he's closer to the end of his struggles than to the beginning, that's a terrific outcome for the game.
- The Blazers lost a game of basketball last night, but they also lost a game of King of the Mountain. These things happen.
- Take heart: the Blazers have now done their thing against bigger lineups, against an opponent both willing and able to show them where they're lacking. The pending arrival of Gary Payton II should go a long way to fixing this trouble, and now the Basketball Operations staff can start looking at trade and callup candidates.
- The Blazers need to crack the code on this one. The Nets just handed Denver and Minny a handbook on how to beat the Blazers. That's seven unwinnable games, unless the Blazers are both thoughtful and a bit lucky.
The Blazers get a day of rest, then host the Utah Jazz for what is sure to be an entertaining game. The Jazz are another of those clubs that's built a roster of overachievers on the fly. The good news for the Blazers is that they'll be coming to Portland after playing Phoenix at home tonight, while Portland gets to take the night off.
The game broadcast is scheduled to start on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. PST. Portland will then be playing four games on the road, though it's actually six; the last three games of the month will be played in four nights, and that brief stop at home makes a "break" from the roadtrip.