I was all ready to write this one off as another discouraging loss in a far too long line of recent discouraging losses. But then Joel Przybilla stayed out of the foul trouble in the second half and the Blazers came alive in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter. Roy happened. Bayless happened. It was like the awkward three-hour middle school dance that depressed you after weeks of anticipation right up to the point she said yes and you got to put your hands on thatgirl’s hips for three minutes and 37 seconds.
Everyone got what they wanted. Andre Miller started, Jerryd Bayless played more and Portland got a win. All in all, we’re left with the most encouraging Blazers night since before Thanksgiving.
That being said, the patterns that have killed Portland reared their heads more than can be allowed against better teams. Shooting jumpers? Blazers fell behind. Passing, cutting and scoring in the paint? Blazers roared forward.
The Miller move began just as everyone hoped — albeit from the perimeter — with Portland’s first five buckets coming off of assists and seven of their nine first quarter baskets being assisted. Then Joel picked up some fouls, Dre sat down and, well I’ll let the shot chart speak to the rest of the half:
Not too pretty, is it? Especially not against a Sacramento squad that is third worst in the league in interior D. With the roster as is, I’m not expecting a ton of improvement in the paint. That’s just not going to happen. But the fact remains that whenever Portland’s offense looks like it does to the left, it’s going to take an incredible shooting night to remain in the thick of things. Moving on.
Things got better in the third quarter. There was balance. And there was Aldridge. After disappearing for most of the first half, Aldridge — backed by Przybilla in all his feisty glory — parked himself on the block and went to work.
Fast forward through some remarkable play from Tyreke Evans and a smattering of Jason Thompson, and we’re minutes into the fourth quarter.
A quarter that shall otherwise be known as Terminator Rex.
What was most impressive about Bayless’ final-period run was that he didn’t take over. He didn’t catch fire — ala a 24-point Webster quarter — nor did he need a lot of touches. He was steady and he blended in, with his first big contribution being a nice find of Blake on a break for an open three.
Then he gave the Blazer backcourt exactly what it had been lacking outside of Roy. He drove the rim once. Layup. Twice. Free throws. Sacramento was keeping pace scoring on its own, but Portland became the aggressor. Six of the final seven baskets were not only in the paint, but were right at the rim. Add eight Bayless free-throw attempts over that period and you have yourself the fourth quarter you’ve been waiting weeks for.
Cram all Blazers fans into a city square after this one and they’ll form a mosaic of one great smile.
@_BlazerNation_: Great energy on the court tonight! Jerryd Bayless got more minutes and used them well, got to the line 10 times #TEAMJBAY
@tmundal: Bayless unleashed, Miller may not look all that amazing, but he makes passes nobody else on the team even sees. #giveittime
@adamosgp: Pryzbilla dominated at the center position. Ridiculous +/- of 27, second best was +12 from Roy. Spencer Hawes worst at -24.
@alexjsteele: with the current healthy roster, blazers aren’t going to be putting any team away early that they normally would
@hurrakane212: Bayless plays, Bayless draws 10 fts. Blazers win!
And finally, SJ, somewhere in the snow drifts of Utah, via text: Yeah this ish is violent, this is the death of Blake’s PT moment of silence…na na na na hey hey hey gooooodbye.
I’ve already said enough about Bayless so we won’t overdo it. He looked fluid on both ends of the court, patient with the ball in his hands and had a couple nice plays with Roy. The best of which was the game-clinching drive, when Roy got past his man at the arc, drove and upon finding little resistance in front of him, appeared to look for Bayless on the opposite wing rather than force something inside. The result was a pump fake from Bayless and a finish at the rim that left plenty of people saying “I told you so” to nobody in particular, not to mention Roy being credited with an admittedly ridiculous 10th assist for the kick out.
I’m sure Brandon Roy enjoyed not having to do all the outside-in work for once. He played a very balanced game, bailing the team out during that horrid first half and managing things in the second once Aldridge and then Bayless turned up the heat. Exactly what you want from him.
Gameball goes to Przybilla, who returned from foul trouble to administer a healthy dose of chaos. Rebounding here. Blocking shots there. Taking charges and diving on the floor everywhere. This is the Joel the Blazers need to make the playoffs.
This was one of those games where Aldridge should watch the first-half tape to remind himself how not to play, and then the second-half tape to remind himself how to get into the All-Star game. The Kings don’t have great interior defenders, and Aldridge made them suffer for it. He also deserves credit for going back to the boards in the third period and for some mobile defense apart from a couple lazy fouls.
Everyone thought this would be Andre Miller’s big day but he had a very quiet night shooting 2-for-10 and sitting in the fourth when Nate went for a Roy-Blake-Bayless backcourt. But the starting unit still looked more fluid with Miller in and he should continue to help things from that perspective. Not the great night some people may have wanted, but nothing that said he isn’t in the correct place in the lineup.
It’s a tough position that Steve Blake is in right now, but its so very commendable how professional he has been about everything. He still had some rough shooting moments — though going 2-for-4 — but hit that big three from Bayless and looked fine in the fourth quarter with Roy and Bayless since he didn’t have to handle the ball so much and could be more of a spot-up shooter. Not a lineup that will work against every team, but one that hides Blake’s weaknesses and can accentuate his strengths if he fully recuperates his stroke.
Martell Webster had a decent night, hitting 2-of-4 threes, but didn’t make much of an impact outside a monster weakside dunk that probably took everyone by surprise.
Juwan Howard made all three of his field goals and continued to do what he could. He might not get to the spots very quickly any more, but I can hardly remember ever seeing him out of position.
Dante Cunningham played six minutes and hit a nice jumper.
It’s important not to forget the recurring Portland problems amid the Bayless hoopla, but nothing has been so singularly exciting since Oden went down as Bayless getting more minutes and contributing to wins. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, his development is the key to the season’s success, and now we’re one great dance farther down the path to goodness.