That’s a little more like it, no?
Less ball watching on offense, ball movement was crisper leading to team scoring contributions and the term “help defense” actually existed on the court. A lot of the problems of the last few games weren’t problems anymore. They weren’t perfect, either, but much closer to what the Blazers need.
The little disclaimer is that we caught San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back and they lost Tony Parker for the second half. That helped last night but it didn’t have much to do with most of the positives we saw. The best of which was the offense, previously full of stagnant, one-on-one play, was now fluid, with a good amount of off-ball movement and guys making plays for one another.
The Steve Blake/Andre Miller combo in the starting lineup was interesting and effective. San Antonio has a lot of jumpshooters in their lineup so it limited the defensive worries of allowing too many easy forays into the lane. Miller was still the primary playmaker — or at least the standout one because of the fast breaks he started — and I couldn’t help but wonder how much different that lineup would be with Martell Webster in it. Is having one extra ballhandler out there so important? Well, it helped keep the pace up early and get Oden the ball with decent position, but way down the road it doesn’t seem like a viable option for a playoff series. For now, if it gets the ball moving like it did last night, the unconventional lineup should work fine, but you have to wonder if it’s the beginning of Blake being moved out of the starting group.
Sidenote: On first watch, it seemed that the Blazers were working so hard to get Oden the ball on the block that Aldridge never got into an early rhythm. But Aldridge did get plenty of touches in the first six minutes, he just wasn’t converting. A key game to watch for this season is the one where LMA and Oden both get off to good starts and have equally strong games offensively.
The Blazers were on cruise control for much of the second half, which led to a horrid sequence midway through the fourth when turnover after turnover led to gimmies for San Antonio, who cut the lead to three. That’s the type of moment that separates the playoff teams from the lottery-bound folks, and it was a great sign that it wasn’t only Roy that stepped up to stabilize things but Oden doing the same in the paint. We’ve been hearing a lot about players giving speeches about accountability and such, and you only get so many chances to back up your words. Roy almost always does, but this is new to Greg and other than a couple bad turnovers forced by Duncan, he did too. Kudos to them.
That’s one game up after a couple down. Still plenty of progress to be made, and we know as long as the two-point lineup is starting we aren’t going to fully grasp this team, and now the name of the game becomes consistency.
Considering he did it all against Timmy Duncan, this was Oden’s best and most complete game with the Blazers. On his two early fouls he was trying to play straight-up D and would not have been whistled has his arms been straight in the air. But, one arm was dropped and the other bent despite good body positioning, and Duncan earned those fouls. Nothing to complain about there, especially after Oden kept giving Duncan trouble in the second half by staying on the ground and moving his feet. And finally, we saw the offense, against one of the best defenders in the league (still). We saw a face-up jumper from outside the paint, two smooth jump hooks, a drop step layup and a power move, all on Duncan. The best part of it all was that for the first part this season, Oden was making this look natural and easy. When he scored, nothing was labored. Of course, he still had a couple janky moves and the Spurs gave him the benefit of isolations until the final period, but Oden proved his progress to a lot of people last night, and that counts.
Steve Blake was on, and he probably had to be otherwise Miller could have taken a firm grasp on the starting role. As the Blazers ran, he did well being a steadying presence and keeping the ball moving. Nothing spectacular other than a late three, but he did, and kept, his job.
Jerryd Bayless had some nice moments on offense, but I want to highlight his defense, particularly toward the end of the first quarter. Yes, he played some “Look at me playing D” full-court defense on George Hill, but he was still hunkered down in his stance and moving his feet well enough to stay in front of Hill as the ball was brought up. Bayless got jobbed on a push-off arm brush and didn’t look nearly as intense playing team defense, but when it came to stopping Hill one-on-one, he showed some defensive capabilities our other two point guards don’t necessarily have.
Roy had his shot going a little better and left much of the playmaking duties to the point guards, leaving him with plenty to to his thing when the Spurs made their push. Teams are still packing the lane on his drives, though, and I’d still like to see him counter that by finding his big men more on the rotations. That will come as Oden stays on the floor more. Truth is, without Roy, the Blazers probably don’t win and the Spurs mount a successful comeback. That’s what he means to this team.
As mentioned, Aldridge never really got anything going despite a couple nice moves in the post and easy dunks. He’s running the floor very well, though, and stands to benefit the most of any player if the pace of that first half keeps up. He does seem to be positioning himself quite well despite the low rebounding total (5) and he wasn’t tested much defensively.
Martell Webster seems to be hit or miss in the eyes of Nate, and it’s not always readily apparent why. His energy on the court has been fluctuating and he wasn’t the most fluid cog in the offense, but he’s obviously still got plenty left to prove to Nate, and we can’t exactly pretend to know what that is.
The Blazers just look different with Andre Miller on the floor. The bigs are looking for him for longish outlets and Miller in turn is looking downcourt. Things got ugly when he was left with the ball in his hands beyond the arc and the shot clock winding down, but that’s on the team as much as him to make the correct decisions. I liked how he directed things and fed Oden in the post, but we’ve yet to see the BING, BANG, BOOM from his offensive direction.
Joel was a monster on the first-half boards, grabbing 13 total in 18 minutes. You can’t ask for anything more from him.
Travis Outlaw had a better night than Martell, but he also dissapeared at times. He did have a beautiful up-and-under move in the lane and was very in control of himself, though, it just wasn’t his night to play the hero.
Rudy, that bounce pass you weaved between two players to a cutting Aldridge for the slam, how about some more of that? More of everything, really. We can’t just assume his back is bothering him at this point, but he has yet to be EL RUDY we expected. Maybe Sergio meant more to him than we realized. Then again, maybe not.
Hubie Brown called a killer game. The man had his fastball going all night, and it’s 5,000 times better listening him talk intelligently about Oden rather than listening to Reggie Miller.
Minnesota on Sunday. Blazers should be out for blood and Oden could have his first field day of the year. Someone buy the balloons.