Difficult as it is to believe, that just happened. The Blazers, without half their cast of characters, beat the Nuggets, without one half of Chauncey Billups, on Christmas Day. It was like the Disney lineup thrashing the Looney Toons with Disney missing Goofey, Donald Duck, Mufasa, Genie, the crab from Little Mermaid and Buzz Lightyear while the Toons just had Daffy riding second-half pine. Of all the recent wins — Phoenix, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio — this was easily the most surprising.
I’m not sure I would believe anyone out there who said they hadn’t winced at the thought of Denver’s front line going up against the Oden- and Przybilla-less Blazers. Even with the past couple games in mind, it was a terrifying notion. But lo and behold, the Blazers took all of their antics in stride and turned what was potentially a sobering reminder of the troubles Portland would have in the physical playoffs into the cherry on top of one of the most memorable weeks in the team’s recent history.
Things began well enough, as Portland was blacksmith-coals hot, hitting five consecutive long jumpers during an early stretch. Predictably, the jumpers soon went cold enough to allow Denver a run of its own, and at the end of the first quarter, for one of the few times in the game, the Nuggets used their size as an advantage and beat Portland’s bigs for a pair of putbacks giving Denver a seven-point lead after 12 minutes. At that point I was nodding my head in agreement, but hardly approval.
Holding onto the apparently strange notion that their side of the front-court scale had a grand piano sitting on it, the Nuggets got their usual dunks and free throws while Jerryd Bayless had one of his worse quarters since the “promotion” and soon Denver was up 10 with 4:34 in the half. At this point I’m cradling my head in my right hand and lightly massaging my temple. It was expected all the way through, and the Nuggets were poised to take a firm grasp on the game. Then Roy happened, scoring 10 points in those final minutes, slicing the lane for a layup, earning four free throws and hitting two nasty jumpers. The game might not have been saved in that period, but Roy definitely kept the team in the shallow end of the pool.
With Billups sitting, the third period was played even-steven, highlighted by an eight-point burst from Martell Webster, who finished off his brief solo with a bombastic block of an Anthony Carter transition layup. Denver began the quarter up two, they finished it up two. At this point I’m thinking, “Holy Toledo, Denver doesn’t want to put this one away, their offense has stagnated and Melo isn’t bringing enough wrath of god type stuff to carry the team by himself. Let’s Grill ‘Em! (TM George Foreman)”.
The fourth was Maestro Roy’s true masterpiece, his life made so much easier because he was allowed to play off ball by Bayless, who at some point during the second half read The Book of Basketball and figured out The Secret for himself. OK, splitting the lane for a momentum-swinging dunk in the first minutes of the quarter helped, but suddenly Bayless was penetrating and dishing, his best play coming when he drew a double team way outside, getting himself a hockey assist on an Aldridge dunk. The rest was Magic. Blake hitting. Roy hitting. Bayless icing. Howard and Aldridge securing possessions. Of Portland’s 13 baskets in the quarter, 10 were assisted. Further analysis not required.
@_BlazerNation_: what an amazing 4 game win streak we have. this team is proving they’re still a threat despite the odds! we’re still in it!
@NWSports_Fan: actually I celebrated like I was birdman, puffing my cheeks up and breathing like a fish.
@bustabucket: It felt like a fight, jab jab jab for 3 qtrs, then Portland landed a huge left hook. Nuggz don’t deal well with adversity.
Roy is going to get a ridiculous amount of love from the mainstream media next week, unless their attention span has been shortened by the holidays and everyone forgets 41 points and a career-high 16 field goals on a bum left shoulder. Any coaching buzzword you can think of, drape it over this man.
Though he wasn’t called upon for much offense — 10 points on 10 shots against a troublesome Kenyon Martin — Aldridge racked up 13 boards, many of which came in traffic and were made possible by feisty box-outs. Coaches love to tell players that it doesn’t matter how big you are, it’s how big you play, and LaMarcus played like a prototypical wide, bruising rebounder at times.
Bayless still had an up-and-down night, and by that I mean he was walking along the bottom of the ocean for most of the game until he came across an undersea volcano in the fourth quarter, slipping up only with a love/hate pullup jumper and an airballed three. Jerryd’s biggest contribution was not his offense, but that his ball handling allowed Roy to set himself up, allowed Bayless to create better than Blake would and allowed Blake to catch and shoot better than Bayless would. Synergy.
Andre Miller was off the court for crunch time again, but he was still very efficient with 14 points on nine shots and eight assists. He has been a strong tone-setter as a starter and appears to be blending in with the styles of his teammates better than he had as a bench player. Almost no matter what happens with him down the road, I can guarantee I will write a post titled “Why I loved Andre Miller as a Blazer”.
I will probably also write a post named “Juwan Howard can be my Blazer any day”.
Martell Webster had his hands full with Melo, but that third-quarter stretch was hugely important in establishing anyone other than Roy as a scoring threat during the second half.
Steve Blake has essentially become a shooting guard for all intents and purposes, and I think that’s just fine by everyone involved. The pressure is off him to be a primary ball handler and playmaker and 5-for-7 from beyond the arc reminded us all what he can be when allowed to be a shooter. Blake probably benefited the most of any Blazer from Billups being out of the game.
The only time I really noticed Jeff Pendergraph was when he grabbed a couple big rebounds and when Portland gave him the ball on offense in a place he shouldn’t have the ball. Don’t underestimate what it means to a young player to being your pro career as part of a winning streak like this.