“We just scrapped,” Roy said. “It was one of those games where it wasn’t pretty, but it was kind of one of those situations where I felt it was kind of a playoff-type of game and it was good that we’ve been there before to get that experience.”
The above quote from Brandon Roy was stolen from the Associated Press report of the game, but it was appropriate and I had to use it. Portland went into last night’s Northwest Division battle with Oklahoma City, playing some of their best basketball of the season. They had won 13 of their last 16 games but it felt like something was missing. Wins in late February/March are wins, but admittedly they came against some pretty weak opponents. Of those 13 wins, only Dallas carried a record above .500. If this was college hoops, Doug Gottlieb would probably be attacking our strength of schedule like they did the Pac-10 schools this season. Last night’s 92-87 victory over Oklahoma City was a huge one. Not just because of who it was against and where it was played, but how the game was won. It was not pretty, it was not easy, but Portland managed to grind out a tough victory, on the road, against a playoff contender. And honestly, what more can you ask for at this point in the season?
These are two teams that will be linked for the next decade or so because of the whole Durant/Oden thing. This is something I believe most Blazer fans are coming to grips with. They are somewhat linked because of the similarities in ‘young teams making noise’, GMs who built the team up through youth and smarts type thing. That intrigues me because the Thunder remind me a lot of Portland last year. And what Portland did to Oklahoma City last night, reminded me a lot of what the Rockets did to Portland in last year’s playoffs. I would say that the game against Dallas on Thursday and last night’s victory were probably the most mature basketball the Blazers have played all season. Not exactly the best basketball of the season, but just mature, we-have-to-find-a-way-to-win type of hoops.
The beauty of this game came in Portland always having an answer for Oklahoma City’s runs. Every single time the Thunder would make a run, Portland had an answer. After every Durant/Ibaka dunk that brought the Ford Center to their feet, Portland answered. Every time it looked like Durant had the ‘I’m about to score 26 straight points and there is nothing you can do about it’ look, Portland had an answer. Every time James Harden’s beard screamed ‘Rosssss’, Westbrook looked to go on a tear or that stupid Thunder theme song played the game to a commercial, the Blazers had an answer. Point blank, they just kept making winning plays. And at this point in the season, that’s what the good teams do. They make winning plays. At the end of the 3rd quarter when Kevin Durant was in the midst of his personal 8-2 run, closing the gap on the Blazers and driving their fans wild…Marcus Camby drilled a pullup J to put the lead back up to 3. Durant found Ibaka on that alley-oop to cut it to one, crowd is going wild….B-Roy hits that crazy banker to suck the energy out of the arena. Then LaMarcus comes out to start the 4th and scores in the post, boom 5-point lead. Then we OKC tied it at 84 in th 4th, Portland kept their composure and pushed it back to 5. If this was a boxing match, Portland was ready to go to the distance and just kept delivering body blows before it was time to take over.
(Sidenote: Maybe Coup will be able to pull it up when he watches film again, but does anyone remember Camby’s El Matador-esque Ole Defense on one of Durant’s drive and dunks in the third quarter. For some reason it made me laugh (and cry) at the same time.)
Any time you can win a road game when your stars are not playing their best basketball is a good thing. Brandon Roy scored 20 points on 22 shots and the Blazers found a way to win. Not only that but Roy also managed to stay involved despite not having his most efficient game of the season. Now you know I’m not the biggest fan of when Roy struggles like this, but I’ll take his 7 assists and willingness to attack the basket late instead of settle. LaMarcus Aldridge had 14 points on 14 shots and the Blazers found a way to win. The bench was nearly non existant, scoring only 12 points and half of those came from Juwan Howard (who made a huge shot by the way)…and Portland still found a way to win. (Sidenote, come on now Rudy/Martell/Bayless we need one of you to start playing). How? I give a lot of credit to Andre Miller. Not just because of his 26 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Oh no. But because of the way he won the battle against Russell Westbrook. I love Westbrook’s game, but it looked like he wanted no part of Miller at the end. You ever been in a pick-up game and see a guy just drop almost all of the points needed to win on one guy, and said guy quietly walks off and walks out of the gym. That’s how I imagined Russell Westbrook after last night. I will say this Dre…if I see you run an iso for yourself against Thabo Sefolosha after Roy’s been struggling with that exact same play all night, I might cut you.
I continue to like the Blazers defense. Not counting the New Orleans non-game, the Blazers have held opponents to the following numbers of late: 74 (Wash), 87 (PHX), 89 (Dallas) and 87 (OKC), Three of those four teams are headed to the playoffs and all of them can put the ball in the basket. I believe we’re starting to feel the impact of Marcus Camby and how much easier he is making it for everyone else on the defensive end. There is still work to do, but things are headed in the right direction at the right time. For example, we had no real answer for Kevin Durant. If he could have gotten some help from his buddies this might have been a different game. Credit Portland for making Green (14 pts, 6/14 shooting) and Westbrook (12 pts, 5/14 shooting) struggle but make no mistake about it he was ready to take over the game. And in the third quarter he basically did. It just felt like he was about to take over, his eyes were screaming it through the TV.
Portland has a couple of days to prepare for the Knicks before heading on the road for three games. Again, a huge win for Portland last night especially when you consider what was on the line. The win gave Portland a 2-1 advantage in the season series against Oklahoma City with one more battle to take place in the Rose Garden. Tiebreakers are huge around this time of the year, especially in the Western Conference where there is next to no such thing as separation. The win also moved Portland into a virtual three way tie with OKC and San Antonio for that 6-7-8 spot. Impressively enough it gave Portland their 21st road victory of the year, the third most road wins in the Western Conference behind LA (23) and Dallas (22) and sixth most in the entire NBA. That 21st road win also puts Portland one game ahead of their road record for last year and is their most road wins in a regular season since the 2002-03 season when they won 23. So kudos for improvement.
(Photo Source: Yarbarker.com)