“What if your enemy is three inches in front of you, what do you do then? Curl into a ball? Or do you put your FIST through him? It is the wood that should fear your hand, not the other way around.” – Pai Mei, Kill Bill Vol. 2
What does me reading subtitles from Kill Bill Vol. 2 have to do with this game? Everything. The one thing I have learned from the 2009 NBA Playoffs is that whichever team is the aggressor is going to win the ball game. Don’t believe me? How many blowouts have their been this post-season? Exactly. Take a look at this one for example. In Games 1 and 3 of this series, Portland has essentially curled up into a ball with their opponent three inches in front of them with shy and tentative play. And in both instances they received beatdowns, getting punished in Game 1 and finding themselves down 17 in Game 3. In Game 2, they came out focused, ready and most importantly aggressive. They put their fist through them and won the game. One thing has to be clear, for Portland to even think about winning this game tonight they will have to be aggressive on both ends of the court. We’ve seen what the shy and tentative Blazers can do. A whole lotta nothing. Aggression is step #1 to success.
Houston is in the driver’s seat, on their home court and up in the series 2-1. To win this series and advance, all the Rockets have to do is find ways to win on their home floor. That’s it. They don’t have to dominate, literally all they have to do is find a way to squeak out two wins on their home-court and the Blazers will be going fishing. A win in Game 4 will put them up 3-1 and one win away from advancing. You don’t think they want to put Portland away? So while tonight may not be a ‘traditional’ must-win situation for Portland…if they want to win this series, they are going to have to win in Houston and win quick. Of course a loss tonight doesn’t end the series, but you’d rather not have to be in three straight must-win situations or be in a must-win situation on the road in Game 6. It’s important that Portland show off that trademark resiliency that was on display all season long if they want the season to continue.
By the time you get to Game 4 of a series, there is that sense of familiarity for both fans and players. Give or take a couple tweaks, you know what to expect from your opponent. There aren’t as many surprises since you’ve been focusing and playing against one team. The challenge when you get to Game 4 is finding ways to execute. Offensively, you have to find ways to score against a team who is hell bent on making sure you can’t. Even if at times it’s similar to trying to invade a circle of 10 girls dancing on ‘Girls Night Out’. Defensively, you have to do your best to take your opponent out of their stuff. You know Yao is going to post and Houston is going to look for him. You know Von Wafer and Kyle Lowry are putting their heads down and driving to the bucket relentlessly. You know Aaron Brooks is looking to penetrate and that Luis Scola and Carl Landry are prepared to make you pay for taking away Yao. You also know that Portland can play with Houston. The challenge is for Portland to find a way to put together a complete 48 minutes.
Keys to success:
- Be the aggressor, be physical. I cannot stress this enough, Portland has got to go out and win this game instead of hoping something good is going to happen. We know by now that if the shy, tentative and scurred Blazers show up to play this Houston team they will get a beatdown. Portland has to take it to Houston. Attack the basket and get to the free throw line. Go at Yao, get him in foul trouble. When he’s not in, go at the basket even harder. Pick and roll. There is no need to settle for jumpers. Portland has got to be the aggressor if they want to win. They have to. They have to win the battle of the boards and free throw attempts. Just go out and play instead of hesitating.
- A third scoring option must show up. Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, Nic Batum, Greg Oden. I’m staring directly at all of you. Houston has drawn a line in the sand and said ‘Brandon…LaMarcus…we’re not letting you go off. We’re not letting you get in the paint, we’re going to make someone else beat us’. And so far it has worked so I highly doubt they will be switching things up. If any one of you can establish yourselves as an offensive threat it makes life so much easier offensively. Go back to Game 2 and recall how 4 different players scored the first four buckets of the game. That puts so much pressure on Houston’s defense because now they have to pay attention to their man. That’s less help towards Roy and LaMarcus. Someone has to show up in a big way because Houston is not giving the stars anything. Travis Outlaw is due. Blake and Batum are going to get open J’s, they have to knock them down. Oden is going to get chances against a smaller lineup and against Yao. Again, the better these guys play the better the Blazers will play.
- Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge must make the adjustments. I don’t expect both of them to struggle like they did in Game 3. For Roy, keep attacking and maybe hit the roll man on the pick and roll a couple more times. His jumper should not be off like it was on Friday night. For LaMarcus, prepare for the double-teams and be stronger with the ball. Show a determination to get to the paint and take it to the Rockets.
- Make life tough on Brooks and Yao. The last two games Portland has played these two very well. Not well enough to make me think they are under control. Yao seems about ready to burst and Brooks always has the ability to turn it on to another level. It’s the same story, Portland has to keep these two in check if they want to win. Yao may have struggled over the past couple of games but he is still priority #1 on defense. Houston with Yao going and Houston without Yao going are two completely different teams. Houston can’t get that kind of production from Scola and Landry night-in and night-out and if they can, then hot damn watch out NBA. As for Ron-Ron? I want him shooting early and often. Fire those fadeaways up.
- Be ready for Houston’s first quarter run. Every game of this series the Rockets have put in work in the first quarter. Seriously. To steal from the lyrical genius known as Pitbull in the first quarter The Rockets they get crazy. Game 1 Yao Ming went crazy. Game 2 Ron-Ron went crazy. Game 3 Scol-a went crazy. Damn…that’s crazy. And yes I just sang all of that in tune to that song. Anyways…who is it going to be this time? Aaron Brooks? Portland has got to be ready to weather the storm and not get in too big of a hole.
- Protect the paint. In Game 3, Houston was just all up in our business. I don’t want to see uncontested dunks for Von Wafer. If he makes the crowd go crazy with a dunk and looks up to them with swag, I will vomit. I don’t want to see Aaron Brooks getting uncontested layups. Someone….hit him. Just hit him once. One time. Knock him to the floor hard. Send a message. I also don’t want to see Scola and Landry putting up post moves on Big Joel. The more the Blazers can get Houston to settle for jumpers the better.
- Shut the Rockets bench down. Houston has been getting big production from their bench this whole series. The more production they get from Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry the better this team becomes. And those three are playing with a ton of confidence right now. Portland has got to figure out ways to stop them from scoring, it puts too much pressure on the defense to keep playing well when these guys are scoring.
This game is Portland’s for the taking, the big question is are they going to take it? There is a lot of basketball left to be played. We’ll have a better clue just how much after tonight.
(Fun fact: Houston’s lost the last four Game 4′s that they have hosted. I’m just sayin’…)
Topics: Aaron Brooks, Blazers, Blazers Rockets Game 4, Brandon Roy, Carl Landry, Greg Oden, Houston Rockets, Kill Bill Vol 2, Kyle Lowry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luis Scola, Nate McMillan, Pai Mei, Pitbull, Portland Blazers, Portland Trail Blazers, Rick Adelman, Rockets, Ron Artest, Rudy Fernandez, Shane Battier, Steve Blake, Yao Ming