Look at the Blazers.
Now look at how the Lakers played in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Now back to the Blazers.
Now back to how the Lakers played in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Sadly, the Blazers have not yet played like the Lakers did in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But they could, if they were to grab 23 offensive rebounds and win one of the most grueling basketball games I’ve seen in a decade, despite shooting 32.5 percent from the field.
It’s a remarkable achievement, what the Lakers did. They could barely move the ball because the Boston Celtics were swarming them so, and when they could get a shot, they couldn’t shoot. But they just kept playing and moving, in exactly the same style of game which defeated them so thoroughly two seasons ago. Ron Artest moved off the ball for easy buckets, Kobe Bryant grabbed 15 rebounds, Pau Gasol delivered late in in the post with Kevin Garnett dogging him the entire way and they won a well-earned win.
We’re talking about the Lakers and not the Celtics because the Blazers aren’t and can’t be the Celtics. They could, someday, play as effective defense as them, but it will not be the same because they won’t have an intensely destructive like Kevin Garnett. He gave that team an identity and the Blazers just don’t have anyone with his unique brain type to duplicate it.
No, the Blazers are close to the Lakers blueprint. They’ve got the star perimeter scorer, the maligned power forward, the young injured center and a do-it-all forward. They lack the bulldog, again, in not having Artest, but the familiar pieces are there. It’s just that the Lakers’ pieces fought in a way the Portland puzzle has yet to do.
Perhaps they’ll never have to either. Perhaps that Boston team was so unique, it’s brand of basketball bringing out something different in the Lakers — the second time around — that the Blazers will never be tested in quite the same way. But in watching that contest, if you were being honest, you saw mental heights that Portland will have to reach. It’s been so long since Brandon Roy has been healthy that you might find it hard to imagine him handling such rough defense and still coming out with 15 rebounds, but he probably can. It’s been so long since Oden has been healthy that it’s tough to see him gutting out a series like Andrew Bynum did, but Oden can be even better than that. And Nic Batum can offer much of what Artest and Odom do.
But the difference last night was Pau Gasol, and you hope LaMarcus Aldridge was watching. The relentless work on the glass, the following up of ugly, weak-looking misses with ugly, strong-looking makes. The fights Gasol made just to get position, and then to earn his way into the paint. Those are things Aldridge needs to do, and can do, just as Gasol folded two years ago and improved, mentally, after it.
Then there’s a team. Despite positional weaknesses and a weak bench outside of Odom, you don’t win a game like that without being collectively strong. And that comes back to the accountability and leadership we’ve talked about so often here during the offseason. Without consistent scoring, the Lakers still had consistent workers. Guys working to get position, to get the opponent a bad shot, to put a hand up in the passing lane and to just run the wing, even behind the break, to provide a threat, to make things a decimal easier for his teammates.
And in the end, they won by using their advantage: size. They trusted their size, and their size rewarded them. The Blazers have the same size to utilize, but as we said with Aldridge’s Summer Reading, it won’t be enough for the team to run through sets just because they were called by the coach. They’ll have to believe that if they want to have a chance at a title, they have to work the ball inside, which leads to individual instincts, and not just “Doing your job” instincts.
It doesn’t have to be the same as the Lakers. But the Blazers had an example set for them in Game 7 of what it takes. And while the path will be different, they have the internal tools to make the results the same.