Before I write this, remember that the Blazers won this game. Now then, their first half was incredibly lifeless, the effort a far cry from what we’re accustomed to and the Blazers just looked every bit the team playing their fifth game of a road trip. That they regrouped to score 41 points in the third quarter and beat the team chasing you in the playoff race, well, it shouldn’t surprise anybody at this point, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t surprising. Tip your hat, take a bow, buy them a drink, do whatever it is you do.
Of course, the other side of this discussion is that the Blazers never should have needed a massive quarter to get into such a crucial game, that they should have been ready to defend the 8th spot in the West from the get go. That carries some weight, but most teams have their slow(wwwww) starts, fewer resist the easy path, which is to fold.
It was a pretty awful half, mind you. Everything the Grizzlies do well, they did without hindrance. Rudy Gay was streaking down the court and dunking before the Blazers even realized they were on defense, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were having their way on the boards with few actions resembling a box-out to be seen and the three-point line was left undefended and ignored. You could visibly see the players dragging their legs up and down the floor, but however understandable that may be, it’s little excuse for mistakes that require mere feet of lateral movement.
By the break, the Blazers felt like they were down by 20 but were factually only behind by 12, in large part because of a second-quarter sequence when LaMarcus Aldridge followed up consecutive Dante Cunningham dunks with a slamma-damma-ding-dong of his own.
At halftime, something happened. Maybe someone tossed a tub of ice. Maybe Nate gave everyone the silent treatment and had his assistant coaches instruct them to figure it out for themselves. Maybe Brandon Roy gave a rah-rah speech. Maybe a shaman appeared and performed an ancient ritual of spiritual healing. Or maybe everything was just business as usual and everyone just got their ‘ish together (most likely). Whatever the cause, the second half was the exact opposite of the first, with the Blazers scoring 14 points in the opening 2:49. From there, the Blazers got hot and worked the inside-out game to the finish line.
The standout, again, was Nic Batum, who hit 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and had both a steal and a block in the final minutes to keep the Grizzlies two possessions away. While his final stat line of 21 points and a little bit of everything else wasn’t nearly as eye popping as the LeBron-esque numbers he put up in the Minnesota blowout, his impact in this game, and on the season, was much larger tonight. But just like the other night, Batum didn’t have to do anything outlandish to succeed. He stuck mostly to the wings and corners on offense, making the defense react with a couple probing cuts but otherwise letting Roy, Miller and Aldridge open things up for him. And in the open court, he owned the open court, on both sides of the ball.
The victory and the 4-1 road trip, along with other happenings around the league, helped extend Portland’s grasp on the 8th playoff spot to four games.
Brandon Roy got hot along with the rest of the team in the second half, putting up his steady brand of 27-7-5. He scored 21 in the half but also dominated the ball quite a bit, as the team went to the 1-4 spread once they got a double-digit lead. This lead to him forcing a couple drives into the lane on a night when the refs weren’t rewarding his various yells and complaints.
We touched on Batum already.
LaMarcus Aldridge shot 6-of-11 but the team went away from him in the second half when the perimeter players started stroking it. He seemed perfectly content being a decoy on offense, but his two-rebound performance was one of his two worst jobs on the glass since 2010, the other being last week at Toronto. The Grizzlies are one of the league’s very best offensive rebounding teams, but Aldridge’s occasional propensity for non-committal box outs was a sizeable problem against Randolph and Gasol, even though the box score says Z-Bo didn’t have an offensive pulldown. You can hardly blame the first half on Aldridge, but between him and Camby, things might’ve been within single digits with a little more physicality underneath.
As mentioned, Camby do very well with a poor matchup. He didn’t have a ton of opportunities for weakside help, especially given some inspired ball movement out of the Grizzlies. There was one sequence, I believe in the second half, when he caught the ball in the high post, found a cutter, got the ball back and immediately tried to find another player in the paint before the pass was intercepted. That’s something the Denver Nuggets used to ask him to do, and it’s worth exploring a little in the next month.
Andre Miller had six assists during the big opening run in the second half, and deserves credit for keeping the momentum flowing. Not a ton else stood out about his game, just a solid night.
Jerryd Bayless provided a nice boost off the bench with nine points and even ran the offense with some efficiency with three assists in 18 minutes. Almost all his positives were erased when he opted to go iso-motion at the end of the third and launch an ill-advised jumper, drawing the ire of McMillan. He crawled his way out of the doghouse, taking a risk by crashing the boards on a Rudy Fernandez desperation three and converting an and-one. Still, he was on Roy’s bad side, as Roy completely ignored him late in the game when he drove the lane and Bayless was sitting in the corner with nary a defender in sight.
Juwan Howard was -16 and couldn’t handle either of Memphis’ two primary big men…Rudy Fernandez picked up his energy with everyone else, but was relatively ineffective…Dante Cunningham had that exciting stretch in the second quarter, dunking twice, but for some reason he was only good for three and a half minutes…I’m not sure what is going on with Webster, but he played six minutes and I had to avoid thinking about him. Nate stuck with the guys who began the run in the second half.