You know how we talk about getting caught up with running teams like the Warriors and Knicks, how in some cases it can become painfully obvious that the Blazers are losing simply by being out of their comfort zone and away from the things they do best? That’s what happened for much of Sunday night’s game, except instead of getting caught running up and down, they got caught forgetting about the concept of defense along with the Toronto Raptors.
Not that the Blazers are an outstanding defensive team and that a lack of defensive awareness is completely foreign to them, but no team — and I am taking into account an improved January and February — puts the capital “F” on futility quite like these Raptors. They induce such a startling amount of eye-rolls by pretending they can play defense with accurate vision that it’s hard to them seriously, even when getting within four after a Blazer cold-spell.
Before that, Portland had to gain a lead, and they did it with the three. While the Raptors’ aforementioned defense was improved, laterally, toward the end of the night, in the first half the most rudimentary drive-and-kick play had them discombobulated. The run that pushed the lead was a 7-0 3-dunk-dunk spurt to begin the second, but it was Portland’s nine first-half triples, seven of which were assisted. While Toronto’s early offense did not appear to be sustainable if the Blazers eventually elected to start moving their feet on D, Portland’s ball movement looked like it would carry them all night.
At this point, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Blazers dumped the girl they went to the dance with and started partying with isolation ball. Of 38 field goals, they assisted on 21 of them, but 17 of those assists came before halftime. It worked out OK because Jay Triano put Jose Calderon out there to begin the second half, which is just one step above asking Stephen Curry to guard Andre Miller for more than three possessions. Then, Portland just had to tread water until Brandon Roy ended Toronto’s half-hearted comeback with six-straight points in the fourth.
Nic Batum gets top honors for scoring 22 points on nine shots in 22 minutes. Other than a double-clutch jumper he hit late in the game, all the offense came from what you typically expect from Batum. He replaced offensive players fluidly as sets progressed, got himself open threes (5-of-6) and picked his spots when it came to attacking off-the-dribble. A couple nice blocks completed the night that consisted mostly of play finishing than play creating. Good as he was, it was against Toronto, so we can dispense with the anointing oil for this night.
LaMarcus Aldridge pulled down eight of Portland’s 19 offensive rebounds, with the caveat being that seven of them were in that defenseless first half and three in one first-quarter series in which he boarded two jumpers and one of his own tip ins before finally scoring. While he managed to draw a pair of fouls on Chris Bosh with his lean-in post-move, Bosh got the better of him overall when matched up against one another.
Nothing bad can come of victories in which Roy doesn’t have to shoulder a major offensive role. For some stretches of the game he was perfectly content to draw what defensive attention there was and just take the shots as they came, and only when the Blazers hit a rut did he flip the switch and begin forcibly drawing double teams. 39 low impact minutes for Roy = Gold, Jerry. Gold.
Marcus Camby played his part of Portland’s defensive issues, as his style of help-rotation — usually consisting of lurking on the block and not the assist — hurt a few times. Can’t complain, though, when he stuck with Andrea Bargnani on the perimeter well enough to hold him to 5-of-11.
Andre Miller had a similar night to Roy in that he mostly facilitated the usage of wide passing lanes until the right moment, which was that six-point burst at the expense of Calderon to open the second half.
Rudy Fernandez gave another performance which was at one point worthy of fist pumping and at another worthy of squinting and beard-stroking. He was great as usual with his feet underneath him on the perimeter, but evoked Martell Webster when he chose to dribble. While team’s don’t really have to double Rudy off-the-dribble because he can’t always beat his man — and when he does he can’t always finish — they are actually well served in doing so once he gets below the free-throw line extended because Rudy’s exit strategy is most often passing to the nearest Blazer behind him, rather than looking for the guy the double came off of.
Speaking of Martell, he ran a decent pick-and-roll in the first half where he curled off the pick and passed back for a possible jumper, so there’s that. Otherwise, he played five minutes. Teams are playing so up on him for the three that saying they are daring him to dribble is an understatement.
The Blazers are now 4-for-4 in the five-game stretch of opponents they should absolutely, positively beat. Beat Washington on Friday, and Portland can essentially play .500 ball the rest of the way to make the playoffs.