How fitting. Two days after blowing a double-digit lead to the Sacramento Kings, the Blazers come back from a double-digit deficit to beat the Golden St. Warriors in Oakland for the first time since the Lord of the Rings movies were still in theaters. Sounds like a perfect time for a companion piece to the breakdown of the near-collapse against the Kings.
We’ll be picking things up in the fourth quarter, but know that until that quarter was well underway, the Blazers had been thoroughly outplayed by the smallball Warriors, again. LaMarcus Aldridge was again confused with what to do against Corey Maggette in the post and had four points through three periods. Portland couldn’t take care of the ball, couldn’t rotate fast enough against Golden State’s speedy cutters and, worse than anything, flat out couldn’t shoot. Luckily, they had Roy scoring 44 percent of their points until the fourth quarter.
The Blazers had previously shrunk the lead to five, but four straight Reggie Williams points took it back to nine. This is when the 17-3 run began, so this is where we will start tracking. The lineup at this point is Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller and Marcus Camby, the latter two having just been subbed in for Jerryd Bayless and Juwan Howard. Off we go, from the 6:48 mark in the fourth, with the score 102-93. Take heed, the pace was high in this game, so there are a lot of possession to get through:
- Offensive Possession One: Miller brings the ball down left side, eventually entering the ball into Aldridge in the post. Two dribbles, Aldridge passes back out to Rudy top key and sets a pick for him. Rudy goes left, passing back to Aldridge, who swings it to Roy on the right wing. Roy, who already has 40 points at this juncture, drives left into the paint, stumbles a bit and collects himself to take a left elbow jumper. It misses long and Camby, being well boxed out by Anthony Tolliver, chases it down on the baseline. 6:17.
- Offensive Possession Two: Camby gives the ball to Rudy right wing. Roy calls for the ball, with a body on him, at the free-throw line, then puts his head down and charges into three Warriors, drawing the foul and a call which probably sets a bad example for Bayless. He makes one of two. 102-94, 6:11.
- Defensive Possession One: C.J. Watson brings the ball up middle and uses a pick from Corey Maggette. Though the Blazers had been mishandling these situations most of the night, they did well here. Rudy fought through the screen, with Aldridge showing long enough — possibly too long — to cut off the lane and get back to Maggette, who gets the pass. Maggette drives right with Aldridge in front of him the whole way. Roy, playing off Williams, steps in and strips the ball from Maggette. 6:00.
- Offensive Possession Three: Upon stealing the ball, Roy pushes immediately, going down the middle slot and passing ahead to Miller on the right side around mid-court. Miller goes straight to the rim, splitting Stephen Curry and Watson and drawing the foul on Curry. He makes both shots. 102-96, 5:56.
- Defensive Possession Two: Monta Ellis replaces Tollier. Curry walks the ball up the floor. The Blazers switch to either a 1-2-2 or a 3-2 zone, evidenced when Curry passes to Maggette, watched by Camby, and Camby releases Maggette to Miller — who was on Curry — so Camby can get Curry in the right corner. Watson cuts through the paint, followed by Roy (the right arm of the zone), and Maggette throws the ball in. Roy tips the pass with his left hand, and Miller comes up with possession. 5:41.
- Offensive Possession Four: Miller pushes the middle, flanked by Rudy on the right and Camby on his left with two Warriors ten feet ahead of the break. Miller takes the ball to the free-throw line, forcing Curry to step up, and passes to Rudy, wide open. Buckets. Don Nelson makes an angry face and calls timeout. 102-99, 5:35.
- Defensive Possession Three: Watson is replaced by Morrow. Portland is still in zone, leaving the paint open. Curry gets an isolation in the right corner, drives left and has a kick-out pass tipped away by Roy. No double came on Curry. Warriors resume by getting the ball right back to Curry in the right wing. Curry misses with Roy contesting. 5:15.
- Offensive Possession Five: Miller walks the ball up left side, cruising below the free-throw line until Curry meets him. Miller posts up, moving Curry into the paint. Strangely Morrow, who was guarding Rudy on the right wing, decides to step in and help on Miller five feet from the basket when two Warriors were in position to make the same play. Pass to Rudy. Another triple. 102-102, 4:58.
- Defensive Possession Four: Almost exactly like D-possession two, Curry gives the ball to Maggette on the right elbow and retreat to the corner. Camby releases Maggette to Miller. Maggette tries to back down Miller, spinning middle after a dribble, and Miller takes the charge. 4:46.
- Offensive Possession Six: Miller repeats the last play, taking Curry into the left post. No double comes and Miller takes a turnaround jumper, which hits back iron. Camby tips the rebound out, but it’s collected by Curry. 4:31.
- Defensive Possession Five: Curry pushes a 3-on-1 break with Rudy defending. Curry passes left to Maggette once he reaches the paint, but Rudy tips the pass, collected by Ellis. Ellis drives the middle and throws a . . . lob off the backboard, going to Portland. 4:23.
- Offensive Possession Seven: Miller gives to Roy on the left wing. Roy slow dribbles into the middle, drawing help from Aldridge’s man, Maggette. Rudy’s man, Watson, moves over to Aldridge, leaving Rudy open on the right wing. Roy finds him, but the three is off. 4:03.
- Defensive Possession Six: Curry runs a pick and roll with Maggette again, Miller releases a dribbling Curry to Camby in the right corner. Curry throws cross-court to Ellis, but Roy tips it out of bounds. Off the inbounds, Ellis drives from the right wing and misses an off-balance jumper with Aldridge contesting. 3:41.
- Offensive Possession Eight: Miller brings it up and lets the set develop, which involves Roy curling off Aldridge on the left block, into the paint. Roy is not open, so Miller enters it into Aldridge. Aldridge spins baseline, drawing contact from Maggette on the jumper. He makes one of two freebies and Roy grabs the miss. 103-102, 3:24.
- Offensive Possesion Nine: Balls goes back to Miller up top. Roy makes to curl off Aldridge again on the left block, but steps out to the three-point line. Miller hits Rudy on the right wing instead, who passes back, and Miller finds Aldridge with good position again in the paint. Aldridge power dribbles into Maggette, who falls back and draws the foul. 3:09.
- Defensive Possession Seven: Ellis comes up left side with Portland in the 3-2 zone. Ball swings around to Morrow in the right corner, who misses a three with Aldridge contesting. 2:55.
- Offensive Possession Ten: Miller immediately drives right side before the defense sets up and is fouled on the floor by Ellis, who fouls out of the game. Miller makes both free throws. 105-102, 2:46.
- Defensive Possession Eight: Watson subs for Ellis. Play starts with Curry again on the right wing, who looks for Maggette in the middle and opts to pass to Williams top key. Williams and Maggette run a pick-and-roll, “forcing” Miller and Aldridge to switch men. Aldridge stays in front of Williams on the drive, with help from Roy looming, and Williams passes to Curry in the left corner. Roy closes out quickly, forcing Curry to double-clutch and miss. 2:26.
- Offensive Possession Eleven: Rudy holds the ball on the left wing, waiting for Miller to set a cross-paint screen on Roy’s man. As Roy comes across, Aldridge is whistled for three-in-the-key, despite being on his way out of the key as the call was made. 2:13.
- Defensive Possession Nine: Watson has the ball right wing with Roy defending. He tries to give it back to Curry top key, but Miller plays the passing lane. Watson takes a pick from Maggette, losing Roy. As Watson curls towards the left elbow, Camby immediately switches on the pick and follows to contest a Watson pullup jumper. It misses. 1:59.
- Offensive Possession Twelve: Roy brings the ball up. The Blazers go into their 1-4 spread offense, with the four flat along the baseline. Roy dribbles right, drawing the attention of Curry, cheating way off of Miller. Roy passes to Miller in the right corner. Miller drives baseline, getting the edge on a helping Morrow. Maggette is in position to help, but never commits, only turning his head away from Aldridge. Curry helps down from Roy. Miller jumps from the right block, double clutches and finds Aldridge across the paint. Aldridge draws the contact from a recovering Maggette and finishes the layup. Camby gives Aldridge a serious shoulder bump while Aldridge flashes a big smile. Maggette fouls out and the freebie is good. 108-102, 1:39.
- Defensive Possession Ten: Curry hits a mildly ridiculous pullup three over Camby with 15 seconds on the shot clock. Camby had switched onto Curry after Rudy tried for a steal on the pass to Curry and stumbled. 108-105, 1:30.
- Offensive Possession Thirteen: The Warriors start playing aggressive defense after getting a shot to fall. Miller holds the ball for 12 seconds on the right logo near half court while Curry hops around like he’s doing something. Miller hands off to Roy, who replaces him in the same spot. Roy holds for three more seconds, eventually driving right and drawing the help from Curry. This leaves Miller open in the right corner for three with five seconds on the clock. He dribbles about and takes a predictably bad jumper with nowhere to go. 1:06.
- Defensive Possession Eleven: Williams pushes the ball, passes to Tolliver who gets it to Morrow on the right wing. Blazers are probably still in zone but it’s difficult to tell with the offense spread out. Morrow drives left and is stopped in his tracks by a helping Rudy. This leaves Tolliver open under the bucket, but Aldridge slides over quickly to cover for Rudy. Morrow passes out to Williams, who is open because Roy gambled on the pass. Roy recovers quickly to contest, and Williams misses. 50.9.
- Offensive Possession Fourteen: Miller brings it up left side and calls timeout. Roy gets the ball on the inbounds and the Blazers go 1-4 spread. Roy wastes no time in driving right on Williams, drawing help from Tolliver. This leaves Aldridge wide open for an 18-foot baseline jumper that strikes back iron. Camby, with Watson trying to box him out, tips the rebound to Miller, who resets. 27.9
- Offensive Possession Fifteen: With three seconds between shot clock and game clock, Miller dribbles around near mid-court, bumping with Watson. Inexplicably, Watson fouls Miller with 9.2 seconds left in the game. Don Nelson shoots lasers shaped like cigars out of his eyes at Watson, while Miller hits both free-throws and ices the game. 110-105, 9.2.
- Defensive Possession Twelve: Nate McMillan makes his first substitution of the sequence, bringing in Batum for Aldridge. Curry pulls up for three off the inbounds, contested by Camby. Shot misses. Game over, man. Game over.
So, for the five of you that made it this far, this is what we saw. Over the last seven minutes, the Blazers won the possession battle, 15-12, thanks to some timely offensive rebounds. Of Portland’s 15 offensive possessions, 10 resulted in free-throws or a quality shot. That number should have been 11, had Aldridge not committed a charge and just taken a five-foot hook.
Though Roy carried the offense until this run, the catalyst here was largely Miller, who had six points and three assists over this span. The numbers don’t matter so much as the decisions Miller made. He pushed the ball when there was an opening — but never at the breakneck pace of Golden St. — and took advantage of a mismatch with Curry on two consecutive possessions, resulting in an open three for Rudy and a missed turnaround jumper. Miller also recognized Ellis’ foul trouble in the open floor and drew a foul on him just by pushing the ball into the paint.
The ball was almost always in the hands of Miller and Roy. On Roy’s part, he didn’t force any offense, taking just one bad shot after stumbling, and worked to draw the defense away from open shooters every time he got the ball. And every single time he made a move, the defense reacted and Roy made the correct read, resulting in quality possessions.
Defensively, the 3-2 zone gave the Warriors the lion’s share of trouble, mostly because it rendered the Magette-Curry pick-and-roll mostly ineffective, but in large part because it freed the Blazers — and this is more of a mental freedom than anything else — to play the passing lanes. By my count, the Blazers tipped four passes and stopped as many more just by overplaying their men. The Warriors failed to counter with backcuts, going to the same play with Curry and Maggette on the right elbow at least three times early in the run, and running picks with Maggette five times in total during the run. With Miller guarding Curry, the Blazers simply switched men, with Miller having enough size to defend Maggette. On the few times the pick appeared to work as it was meant to, Camby did a fine job hedging out on the ball handler and recovering to his man.
And that was the biggest change in Portland’s defensive effort. In a zone, you have to be acutely aware of the ball and the passing lanes at all times. We know the Blazers were aware because of the tipped passes, and because they showed help whenever the ball was in the area. This doesn’t mean they committed to double teams, merely that they threatened potential drivers with the help. As big as Miller’s and-one to Aldridge and Camby’s tip-out were, the play of the game may have been Rudy stepping up to stop Morrow with the Blazers up three and under a minute to go, with Aldridge covering Tolliver in Rudy’s stead. It was a perfect display of team defense, and an accurate microcosm of Portland’s 17-3, game stealing run.