This was a weird game that the Blazers sort of won by default because they were the only kids in class who raised their hands when the teacher asked, “Who wants to play some defense?”. I don’t say that to diminish the efforts of Portland, but other than a 15-1 run through the middle of the third, they weren’t particularly sharp. Good teams are capable of putting a game away with one second-half good run on their not-so-good nights, so good on Portland for that, but lets not give them credit for winning on the “road” when Memphis had less fans in the building than a Saturday night Summer League game in Vegas.
The Blazers got caught up in some first-half messiness, with all sorts of passes being deflected for both teams and those home-run fast-break passes not providing the results. The Grizzlies dunked more and thus won the battle in the paint, 46-30, but with time and space on Portland’s side for most of their jumpers you can’t really get after them for spotting up.
Oden was in foul trouble in that half — rather, Nate just benched him after two fouls — which might have led to Portland trying to force the running game too much, and Memphis was all too happy to oblige them an up-and-down game. When Oden came back in the second half and possessions became more important, the Blazers executed, the Grizz went cold and that was all Angela Lansbury wrote. The first-half Grizzlies had the spark of a team that could just stay hot and cause trouble, but the second-half Grizz showed off their Team-of-Individuals-ness and never appeared to be on the verge of gettin’ down. Minnesota has excuses for that because they are fielding a borderline D-League team, but Memphis has much deeper issues.
Once things settled down in the third, the ball movement was good as everyone stayed involved in the offense without too many extended isolations. You can’t say the Blazers put their foot down and went Elite Mode, but they did take control of the game just enough to cruise to the finish line — which seemed to be all they wanted to do in the first place. They can probably do the same thing and win tomorrow at Minnesota, but that always leaves the door open for flukes and head-scratchers.
He only played four minutes in the first half — possibly because the Memphis stat screw had the foul situation miscalculated — but Greg Oden was the man of the night. He was very much in control of the defense and managed to play both aggressively and smart. Don’t read too much into his offense as the Grizzlies would have been better off with Bill Bayno out there with those tall football pads, but you would much rather see Greg outclassing these guys than having some of his traditional issues. He also played Marc Gasol well in the second half and was impressively patient taking what the defense gave him. His dunk around Z-Bo — who passed the ball tonight more than I’ve ever seen him do — was nice to see as well.
Both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge had efficient nights and did exactly what they had to do. The Blazers probably could have posted up Aldridge five or six more times, especially when Oden was out, but they didn’t consistently seem to have the killer instinct to completely abuse their mismatches. Memphis doesn’t have the most athletic frontcourt — Thabeet sadly broke his jaw early in the game — but Aldridge did a commendable job on the boards, doing work often in traffic.
I thought tonight might be the end of the Blake/Miller experiment if O.J. Mayo went off, but that’s the lineup that put on the hurt in the third and Nate will probably trot out the same group tomorrow. Blake shot well (4-of-6 from three) but after the early turnover fest he really didn’t seem to have a role other than shooter in the half-court offense. Miller had some very nice moments with Oden in the third, particularly the alley-oop and a deep post feed or two.
Travis Outlaw forced things a little in front of much of his friends and family, but he did almost end Rudy Gay’s career with one of his cocked-back shotgun dunks. The most impressive part of the dunk? It was his second leap after grabbing an offensive rebound and standing still for a moment.
When Rudy isn’t playmaking this year, there’s not much of a difference between him and Martell Webster, who also didn’t have a great night.
Joel fouled out and didn’t play much once Oden started puffing his chest out. The first half was far from his best half of basketball.
Bayless got a handful of minutes at the end of the half and didn’t do much to stand out.
You’d like things to be cleaner, crisper and to taste better going down, but the Blazers strung together enough goodness to put away a bad team. We didn’t learn much about them tonight, but there was also nothing to worry about. You don’t want to begin a back-to-back with awful teams by taking an awful loss, so it’s a success, nothing much more, nothing much less.