Blazers 107, Rockets 103 Re-Thoughts

In the wake of a Game 1 destruction at the hands of Houston, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge said all the right things in the media. On Tuesday night, they ended up doing all the right things on the court. Welcome to the Playoffs, fellas….we’ve been waiting for you.

Both of the Blazers young stars showed up in a major way tonight, having breakout nights on the biggest stage and leading the Blazers to a huge victory. The first playoff victory in the Rose Garden since a 2003 must-win against Dallas. LaMarcus Aldridge deserves a ton of credit (and he’ll get his later)…but there is no way these re-thoughts get started without talking about  Brandon Roy. What was that Kanye? Bow in the presence of greatness. What more can you say about Brandon Roy? It’s sad his performance got stuck on NBA TV, I feel like it could have used one of those Charles Barkley ‘he is ballin’ type endorsements. I also feel like a lot of people missed out on something, but then again they’ve been missing out on Roy’s game all year. One of the bigger question marks surrounding this Blazer team coming into the post-season was whether Brandon Roy would be able to follow in the footsteps of CP3 and Deron Williams and bring his game to the big stage. Some people pointed to the fact that he would be guarded by Shane Battier and Ron Artest and tossed around the words “shut-down” and “slow down”. To anyone who had any of those questions or doubts… Tonight was your answer. Roy officially took his game to another level in Game 2 with a phenomenal 42-point effort. That effort tied Clyde Drexler’s 42-point performance in the 1992 NBA Playoffs for the second most in Blazer history. Anytime you get your name up there with that man you’re doing something right. And in this, a must-win situation, the performance could not have come at a bigger time and on a bigger stage.  The series is even mainly thanks to Roy. His quarters read 10, 9, 11 and 12. He adjusted from Game 1. There were 12 free throw attempts tonight compared to 1 on Saturday night. But he also realized the type of buckets he would have to score. He went toe-to-toe with Artest and Battier and said ‘I’m winning this battle tonight’. Cross-overs left Battier helpless. Jumpers in Artest eyes.  Finishing through Yao. In simple terms, he went off.

Right by his side was LaMarcus Aldridge. Everyone and their mom knew he put up a stinker in Game 1. Tonight he responded in a huge way. We are talking J-Lo’s booty back in the day type huge. 27 points, 12 rebounds on 11-for-19 shooting. Nice enough. Even nicer when you consider that without Aldridge’s 12 point second quarter, the Blazers more than likely don’t win this game. He deserves just as much credit for Portland’s win as anyone else. He dropped nearly half of Portland’s points that quarter (25) and helped the Blazers stem an unreal push from Houston’s bench. Take that away and….yeah. Like Roy, he also made adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2. Not only an increase in free throw attempts as well (8 compared to 2) but he took what the defense gave him. He didn’t force it and his shot selection was much better. He found ways to get into the paint and nailed big jumpers. He played like he had something to prove and did exactly just that.

The third player I want to get to before I talk about the game. Ron Artest. Portland survived a few things tonight. The main event they survived was Ron Artest’s unreal performance in the first quarter. If you missed it, as Coup said in the Live!-Thoughts….he went B-A-N-A-N-A-S like Gwen Stefani. 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting…it was tough to watch on multiple levels. Everything was contested and the Blazers were playing well but because of Artest’s play they had nothing to show for it. It was also like deja vu with a Rocket superstar playing out of their mind to push them to the lead. On the other hand, said superstar was Ron Artest. The minute he started shooting fadeaways I smiled and knew the Blazers would be ok as long as they could whether the storm and keep it close. Why? Because Ron Artest is certifiably nuts. I knew if it got tight and he felt like he had it turned ‘on’ he was going to take some questionable shots and make some questionable decisions. More importantly he wasn’t going to think about looking at Yao Ming. Sure enough, in that first quarter he looked to score everytime he had the ball. Like Coup said he started dribbling forever, looking like Corey Maggette in a blowout. He wasn’t looking to pass unless he absolutely had to. No surprise that he went 1-for-12 the rest of the game. Also no surprise that Yao Ming finished with 6 field goal attempts. Credit an improved effort from the Blazers D but if you have 5 reasons why Yao only got up 6 shots, 3 of them are Ron Artest. Also no surprise that as Von Wafer was slicing and dicing the Blazer D in the fourth quarter I was begging for Adelman to put Ron-Ron back in to disrupt the offensive flow. Sure enough he did and the Blazers went on their game-winning run.

Now that I’ve gotten all of  that out of the way….what a game this was. And I’m not just saying that because the Blazers won, more because it was truly a great game to watch. Pick a cliche analogy: chess match, 15-round heavyweight boxing match, UFC fight, steel cage match, drinking contest or slobberknocker. They all applied to this game. To me it just felt like a big game of tug-of-war. Everyone makes fun of commentators who call the game a “game of runs”…well tonight proved those guys right. It just never felt like either team fully ever had momentum. Ever. I mean all night it was run after run after run. Both teams had an answer for each other all night, right down to the wire. Everytime the Rose Garden exploded and you felt like the Blazers were going to pull away, Houston was right there to answer. And everytime it looked as if Houston was starting to pull away and the crowd was anxious, Portland answered right back. Playoff basketball at its finest if you ask me. My best example of what I’m trying to say is this:  Houston’s largest lead was 7 was 7:41 left in the third and Portland erased that with a 16-6 run over the next 6 minutes. Portland was up 72-65 with a little over a minute left in the third. The game was tied 72-72 at the end of the quarter. It was just a night like that.

One of the biggest keys to winning in the playoffs is the ability to make adjustments and take things away from your opponent. And luckily when you take a butt-kicking like the one the Blazers received on Saturday…you have a lot of things you can adjust. Portland made clear adjustments on both ends. Offensively, there was a concentrated effort on aggression, fluidity and ball movement. It was clear all game long that Nate was not going to put up with Houston dragging everything down. It wasn’t perfect but it was much improved. The first 4 field goals went Roy, Blake, Batum and Aldridge. Definitely more balance and movement which was lacking in Game 1. Defensively, they tried a lot of things. They keyed in on Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks. Yao got fronted, doubled, pushed and shoved. They switched a lot of screens on Brooks and concentrated on keeping him in front and out of the paint. They even tried a couple zone looks (which did not work at all, apparently Carl Landry = zone buster). They even went with Coup’s favorite tag-team, the Colossal Connection of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla out there for defensive purposes. Some things worked and some didn’t, but you have to give Nate McMillan an A+ tonight. He wasn’t just going to sit back and let things happen, he went out and made things happen. He was going to give his team the best chance to win. He played chess with Adelman all night. And not only that but he also had this team ready to go. Hats off to the coach.

Sticking with talking about defense, things were a lot better tonight. Again, there was nowhere to go but up…but still. The energy and activity showed early and carried on throughout the game. Batum set the tone right off the bat by blocking Artest’s shot to start the game . Looking at the Rockets’ shot chart, it looks as if they got very few points in the paint which is an encouraging sign for Portland. There are still some holes that need to be worked on. I still am a little wary about Yao Ming. Sure he only had 11 points but he only shot the ball 6 times. Portland did a better job defensively but let’s be honest a lot of Yao’s low-point total had to do with lack of touches. I guarantee that doesn’t happen in Game 3. Also if anyone noticed the Houston offense before Ron-Ron came back in. It was throw it into Yao, watch the defense rotate and kick it out. We were at Houston’s will early there in the fourth. Wafer got at least a couple buckets because the defense had to rotate to him. Also, Aaron Brooks still scares me. I don’t want him touching the ball in the last 12 minutes in their building. His 23 points are a bit inflated because of his late explosion but the fact that we’re still going under ballscreens with him just makes me scratch my head. More than anything, Portland has got to work on not fouling. I’m not saying any words about the officials, but Portland can’t afford to let the Rockets be in the penalty all night long. Portland was in the penalty 5 minutes into the first quarter and  less than 4 minutes into the second quarter. Not to mention that 8 of Houston’s first 17 points in the 4th came from the free throw line. There is already enough of a challenge ahead, no need to give them easy buckets like that. Personnally I feel like the free throws had a lot to do with Kyle Lowry and Von Wafer’s ability to have success in the second quarter. They just put their heads down in that 2nd quarter and got to the line.

 Speaking of Von Wafer….sheesh. Portland survived him trying to get revenge like The Bride in Kill Bill. 21 points for Von Wafer? Portland can’t let him get in double figures, let alone get 20. It was a struggle to keep Wafer in front as he marched to the line. And of course that allowed him to get into a groove the likes of which no one could have seen coming. I guarantee that Wafer’s strong play and Yao’s lack of offense will be things that Houston Rocket fans lean on in the upcoming days. If it weren’t for LaMarcus, Wafer may very well have ruined our season. And I would have had the unbelievable task of writing “Von Wafer ruined the Blazers season”, a sentence I would have bet a pretty penny that I would never write in my life.

Really liked the resiliency of this Blazer team. Outside of Roy and LaMarcus, no one really had a spectacular game. But they all performed. Greg Oden’s box-score will not do him justice. Behind the 6 fouls, 4 points and 4 rebounds were 2 very important plays in the fourth quarter. The tip-jam and deflection/steal of a Yao Ming entry pass. Very big plays from the rook. Travis Outlaw struggled mightily but also came through in the clutch with that big jumper and his steal/breakaway jam that (should have) sealed the game. Obviously both Oden and Outlaw have things to work on. Oden has to stay on the court and Outlaw has got to find a way to be effective. But despite their struggles both found ways to contribute which is always important. Big Joel was active all night and had some key hustles (*ahem*andflops*ahem*). Steve Blake tried his best to keep Brooks in front and had that big layup in the fourth. Rudy Fernandez was able to get free and hit big shots, kicking the fourth off with that three after Houston had closed the gap. Just a great team effort and a way to respond down 0-1.

All of this being said, tomorrow this game will officially be in the books. So soak it in while you can. The reality of the situation is this. The series is 1-1. I can’t believe I’m about to quote Kobe Bryant but every game is indeed a completely new slate. The season lies in Portland’s ability to win a game in Houston and if you remember the road record against playoff teams…yeah. They have to win a game in the Toyota Center to win this series. We’ll see how they come out on Friday night. Remember, all they need is one win in Houston. And after tonight, you’d have to believe they have the ability to do it.

Last but not least….

“For me, basketball is over.” – Dikembe Mutombo

One of the tougher moments of the night was seeing Dikembe Mutombo go down, stay down and have to get carted off on a stretcher. He’s been playing in the L since I was 4…and never have I seen him like that. It’s a shame his career didn’t end on his own terms. I also found it interesting that we all know and love that moment of Dikembe in Seattle after Denver pulled the upset, lying on the court, holding the ball in his hands with the giant grin. And his career will end with the imagery of him lying on the court, screaming in pain and agony. You’re a legend and a great human being.

Yeah, it’s bedtime.






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