Blazers 122, Bulls 98 Re-Thoughts

Amen.

This game covered every positive superlative in the book. It was Portland’s most impressive win of the season. It was the most fun to watch game of the year. The Blazers dominated the paint and showcased their most balanced offense of the season. Almost nothing went wrong, and the things that did were quickly erased by things that were super cool.

And that Greg Oden guy. Well, at times it looked like a high school senior playing against the freshman squad. He ticked Joakim Noah off so much that Noah full-on catapulted the ball at the basket support to earn an obvious technical. No argument with the refs. No dirty play. All Oden did was muscle Noah and grab an offensive rebound. Again, he frustrated an opponent into a T just by grabbing an offensive rebound.

Like I said before the season began, Oden is “The Big Credibility Check”. Going to be keeping an eye on how many scribes, the ones which labeled Greg so very early, backpedal, how many make excuses, how many pull the “I knew it all along” and how many just fess up and say they were wrong.

But Oden was only the star of a night that belonged to the entire team. I spent much of earlier today going through points in the paint numbers — the Blazers had a negative average scoring margin in the paint before tonight — and Portland blew all those numbers out of the water. They finished with a 50-32 advantage inside, but unlike other nights where they let teams back into games by getting jumper heavy, they were committed to the inside-out game. Eight of Portland’s first 13 points came in the paint while their first two jumpers were assisted, and the pattern continued throughout. Better yet, when Chicago closed it to four in the third, the Blazers responded with three layups.

Just as impressive was the rebounding, a 47-27 difference with the Blazers pulling down 14 offensive boards. The Blazers were looking to run and with Oden and Alridge controlling the paint, they were able to. Sure, the Blazers only had four fast-break points due to poor break execution, but the tempo was there early and those breaks all started with the bigs controlling things. Oden you expect this from, but I’ve been harping about Aldridge’s rebounding this season — in a good way — for weeks but this will probably be the game that opens some eyes.

Really, just about everything was clicking, and not just the shooting, though Portland shot 57.5 percent. Every team has nights where shots just can’t stay out of the rim, but the manner in which each Blazer contributed to the offense made it something more than that. There was the steady and usual diet of Roy and Aldridge and plenty of Oden, but everyone was getting touches and making plays when it was their time. And everyone was on the attack, a mentality which I’m starting to notice is helped by Oden’s mere presence, either because he takes defensive attention away from the drive or because ballhandlers are getting used to him being a safety valve on the pass or on the short rebound.

For once, no disclaimers are necessary. The Bulls are talented, and though they are in the midst of a brutal road trip, had every incentive to steal one after their previous two losses to Denver and the Lakers and that 42-point blowout last year.

You wish every night could turn out like tonight, but even though they won’t there was just so much good beyond simple shooting percentages that the carryover should be great. Perhaps for the first time all season, the Blazers were a 48-minute team, and they  showed everyone what they can, and will have to, be.

Individual Performances:

Can’t say enough about Oden and his 24-12 tonight (in just 26 minutes). He was supremely patient in the post, passed well, moved his feet on defense, took no bull from Noah and deserved every moment of the crowd chanting his name. You’ll see Noah’s dunk on him in the highlights — credit Oden for trying to block it and Rose’s jam at least — but what you should remember is that Oden came down on offense wanting the ball. Andre Miller got it to him and Oden calmly went to work on Noah, turning away from a double team and hitting a right-handed hook shot. He didn’t try to beast his way inside to get Noah back and pick up an offensive foul, he took what the defense offered and made sure the memory of Noah’s dunk would be short lived. Then there was his pick-and-roll defense, with Oden doing a good job using his size to show on the ballhandler while keeping with his man and cutting off the passing lane. Only Rose truly got around Oden coming off a pick tonight. His rebounding should be no surprise, but I want to point out that part of why he is so good down low is because every single time the ball goes up, he is looking for a man to box out. That’s fundamental. Getting to the line 12 times was a nice bonus, but its probably more of a sign of the future rather than something we’ll see every night.

But maybe the best part of Oden’s night wasn’t Oden himself, but the way the team looked for him, dispelling, at least temporarily, the notion I had brought up that their chemistry with the big guy wasn’t quite where we thought it was at. Blake and Miller get highlighted here, but Roy, with a good all-around performance, gets a big mention for Oden-awareness. We should also point out Miller posting a raw +30, which is only notable for being by far the highest +/- of the evening.

UPDATE: Had to put in this quote from Oden on Miller, from Jason Quick’s story:

“He’s a big breath of fresh air for me,” Oden said. “When he comes into the game, he’s like, ‘G.O., we are going to run a play for you so you can try to get the other big man in foul trouble.’ That definitely puts a big smile on my face. I turned my head and had a big smile.”

As mentioned, Aldridge did work, posting a 24-13, the rebounds just as important as the points. He took some long two’s and even hit a three, but I don’t remember him taking a single long turnaround off a post-up. This was a night to get inside and he did just that. Aldridge still has to work on his consistency, but his best games this season have been much more impressive than his best of year’s past. His nights aren’t reliant as much on shooting nearly as much as they used to be, which is a sign that he’s rounding out his game.

Boys and girls, Rudy Fernandez is starting to bring it. He overcame two early fouls to do a little bit of everything in the second half. Nice to see him cutting hard to the basket and being rewarded for doing so. He shot 5-of-7, but I wouldn’t have minded if he only hit one or two shots.

Martell Webster was the only Blazer to really struggle, but he still had some good moments, finishing off two oops and getting an and-one off a baseline drive to the bucket. He still looks like he’s in his own head a bit too much, but we’ll lay off him tonight.

It looks like Dante Cunningham has earned some minutes as the primary backup four and he looked fine playing defense and hitting some mid-range shots. One of those shots was when Chicago was still in the game and he shot it with no hesitation — after traveling with the ball rather than shooting earlier in the game.

Jerryd Bayless made some nice moves but didn’t create many shots for others while he was in.

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Tags: Blazers Brandon Roy Bulls Chicago Derrick Rose Greg Oden Joakim Noah LaMarcus Aldridge

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