Take a moment to appreciate and be proud. The Blazers gave you a special moment with this win, and they didn’t have to. They could have been like the Raptors or Celtics, teams that have routinely not shown up to play and, in Boston’s case, used health as an excuse, but even after learning of Brandon Roy’s right meniscus tear, they earned a win.
No need to be any more lyrical than that, just know that this is a team worth savoring, if for nothing else than all the little smiles they put on your face.
Things started out a little dicey, as the Thunder jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the second quarter after James Harden gave Martell Webster the Sweet Chin Music on a fast-break facial. The officials went back and forth on whether they were going to allow Nic Batum and Webster to be physical with Kevin Durant, so the defense suffered, and the early offense looked unsustainable as it relied on Marcus Camby and Andre Miller to create while LaMarcus Aldridge dealt with foul trouble and incessant double teams. The Blazers were forced to run out awkward offensive lineups with Dante Cunningham, Rudy Fernandez and Webster and the Thunder capitalized by getting to the line and keeping Portland shooting jumpers.
Down eight at the half, the Blazers needed a lift or they were going to get out-talented. With a 10-0 run immediately after the break, I’d say they got it.
The run was made possible both by Portland defense and the Thunder ditching the girl they took to the dance by drifting back towards the perimeter on offense. Just look at the sequence: Thunder turnover > Blazers layup, Thunder missed three> Blazers assisted jumper, Thunder missed three > Blazers assisted layup, Thunder turnover > Blazers assisted dunk. Spot the pattern? Portland finished with 60 points in the paint, and more than half of those came in the second half. The pushed the ball (16 transition points), they cut in the half court and they passed their way to easy buckets. Especially without Roy, that’s the only way to survive.
The defense won it, though, with an Omega Swarm eight-minute period in the fourth quarter reminiscent of the effort in the last Dallas win. Put simply, every player on the floor during that stretch was covering his own man and ready to help on at least two others at all times. Occasionally the Thunder moved the ball swiftly enough to create an open look, but Blazer defenders were always hot on their heels. Durant broke the sequence with a pullup three to get within nine with 2:18 to play, but the snowball effect Portland started with that third-quarter run had effectively swallowed up all hope of a comeback by then.
What does this mean for the playoffs? The Lakers are going to play the Thunder and the Blazers could get any one of Phoenix, Dallas or Utah. No, that’s not what I meant. What does this mean for a possible playoff series without Brandon Roy? You just saw the blueprint for how Portland is going to have to win. They will have to adapt to and use the added defensive attention to LaMarcus Aldridge, find those easy looks and play elite-level defense for sustained periods. They’ll also need big moments from unexpected places, and tonight the Blazers got 30 points and 13 boards of big moments from Marcus Camby.
Larry Miller, I hope you’ve started evaluating Kevin Pritchard early.
Fantastic. Amazing. Wonderful. Spectacular. Bloody brilliant. All those apply to the performance Camby put on tonight. He rebounded, he hit jumpers, he helped on D, he dunked, he dove, he did everything you could possibly want a basketball player to do. One rebound he tipped to himself inspired Mike Rice to say it was the best Blazer rebound of the last 100 years. One game of oozing determination inspired the entire crowd to chant MAR-CUS CAM-BY at the end of the game. In fact, I’m going to stop describing his game to you and leave you with that. Camby played so well, he had a crowd that has only known him for eight games at the Rose Garden chanting his name like he was an eight-year veteran.
While not quite on the level of Camby, Andre Miller was still superb with 22 points and 7 assists. The Thunder couldn’t figure out how to keep Miller out of the paint and Miller orchestrated an aggressively patient offensive game, accounting for a large share of those fast-break and paint points. His greatest feat was bottling up Russell Westbrook (5-of-14) and nabbing four steals in the process. During the second half it seemed like every Blazer had to switch onto guarding Durant at least once, and Miller held his ground. What I’m telling you is, the man has defense that’s needs to be appreciated.
In year’s past, LaMarcus Aldridge (15 points) might have faded from this game. The Thunder took his post offense out early with double teams and eventually got him into foul trouble. But he picked his spots in the second half and created shots whenever the defense wasn’t leaning two defenders on him. The four assists don’t fully depict how patient he was with his offense — he was essentially the anti-Zach Randolph of 2006. The defense was there, too, and tonight I got the sneaky feeling, watching Camby interact with Aldridge, that LaMarcus is learning quite a bit about help defense from the vet.
Nic Batum created some early offense and had some nice finishes in the second half, but his impact was on Durant. As we mentioned, the refs were giving him mixed signals on how physical he could be which led to Durant getting some easy lanes to work with in the first half, but in the second Batum bodied up and used his length to deny and hinder just as he did with Kobe Bryant the day before.
Rudy Fernandez got the start for Roy as was just OK, if that. He actually managed to work with a dribble in the mid-range early on but didn’t create much with the space. If not for two threes and some good energy on recoveries and closeouts, well, we wouldn’t have much good to say about him.
Martell Webster scored a little (9 points), but he was given almost 30 minutes on the court because of his defense on Durant as a fill-in when Batum picked up fouls. In the first quarter, he actually drove the lane, spun and finished with a foul. If you’re familiar with Webster, you were surprised to read that last sentence.
Juwan Howard had a little trouble keeping up with an energetic and versatile Thunder frontline, but he did what he usually does on defense in staying home and reducing collateral damage.
Jerryd Bayless’ greatest impact was taking a rebound and going coast-to-coast at the end of the third to beat the buzzer. Definitely a “More, please” moment. Otherwise, the offense stagnated when he came in for Miller, but the dropoff wasn’t as severe as it has been on some nights.
Dante Cunningham got five minutes thanks to Aldridge’s foul trouble and did a youthful impersonation of Howard’s “Stay Safe” philosophy.