So far in the infancy of the 2010-11 NBA season the Blazers have proven they are capable of two things. First, they know how to make a game interesting; take bad shots, give up offensive rebounds, let speedy wings and ancient point guards beat you up and down the court. And second, they know how to take over a game in the fourth quarter. Tonight, like Tuesday night, had a fair amount of the former and just enough of the latter to keep Portland undefeated.
The Trail Blazers had the luxury of playing the spoiler Wednesday night, and although there weren’t any residual bad feelings against the Los Angeles Clippers like there were against the Suns, it probably had to feel nice knowing that the way Portland played tonight could easily set the tone for not one but two Western Conference teams this season. The Clippers rolled out a new coach, Vinny Del Negro; a revamped roster, minus former Blazers Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw; and arguably the best rookie in league, Blake Griffin. Around the league, and during the game, there was some talk that this could be the year that the Clippers climb out of the NBA basement. What ended up happening on Wednesday wasn’t the emergence of a new powerful contender, but basically more of the same. The Clippers were unable to capitalize on a late lead, and too many bad shots led to too many easy buckets for the Blazers. In the end, the LA crowd turned on the Clippers, what had begun as cheers, the very same cheers that fueled the runs in the second and third quarters that brought the Clippers back into the game and gave them that late lead, turned into boos as for the second night in a row Portland strung together a double digit close-out run. Opening night? Blake Griffin’s sparkling debut? Spoiled.
Give some credit to the Blazers though. On the second night of a back-to-back, in the second game of the season, they finally looked like they were starting to get the hang of everything. Individual players had spurts of excellence, and against a team like the Clippers that tends to be enough. Brandon Roy’s moments came in the second quarter, when he quite literally took over the game. Brandon finished the first half with 18 points, capping an 11 point second quarter with a crazy deep three over Andre Jordan at the half-time buzzer.
LaMarcus Aldridge started out poorly but regrouped down the stretch. Like Brandon, LA hit a buzzer beater from distance, this one to beat the shot clock in the fourth quarter, and managed to finish with respectable numbers. Aldridge stood out as a poor performer in the opener, and looked to be heading down that road a second time Wednesday night. Hopefully one good game is enough to break the seal, and it will be big numbers from LA from here on out. Marcus Camby was amazing, Andre Miller played consistently and took advantage of the poor defense from the Clipper guards notably Baron Davis, and Nicolas Batum proved that Tuesday’s breakout performance was just the first of many. Overall the Blazers should be happy with the result. They have yet to play a great game, and they still managed to win twice in their first two tries.
Here are some brief thoughts I had about the game:
- Blake Griffin, WOW! He had quite a night. The kid is athletic like you would not believe, runs the floor and handles the ball better than guys half his size, and cleans up under the hoop on offense and defense. During a stretch at the beginning of the evening three straight Clipper possessions ended in Griffin field goals. Griffin showed he has more skills than just incredible hoops and a nose for put backs, he ran an impressive fast break that finished with a threaded pass to a streaking Eric Gordon, and even stepped out and knocked down a 16-footer. Griffin finished his professional debut with a double-double collecting 20 points and 14 rebounds. If the Clippers can hold on to Blake Griffin they might have a real piece to build around for the first time, but that’s a pretty big if.
- Speaking of double-doubles, three Blazers finished the night with double figures in scoring and rebounding. Roy led the team with 22 points and added 10 rebounds, Aldridge scored 19 points and grabbed 10 boards, and Camby scored 11 points and snagged 14 rebounds. Camby grabbed 7 offensive rebounds, helping the Blazers win the battle of the offensive glass 21-to-14. Camby has talked about teaching the younger bigs to tip the ball out to the guards in situations where they can’t claim the rebound without turning the ball over. This strategy has worked for him for his entire career, and the extra possessions it creates will help Portland win a lot of close games. Overall the Blazers took 88 shot attempts to 79 from the Clippers. Don’t underestimate the importance of having Marcus Camby for a whole season.
- Along with offensive rebounds, a second stat jumped out from this game, technical fouls. Wednesday there were four, three on Portland and one on the Clippers. They all came from complaining about a call or from complaining about not getting a call. Armon Johnson, Aldridge, and Miller picked up the T’s for Portland, Eric Gordon got the one on the Clippers. Everyone who has been following the league at all so far knows that the refs are cracking down on complaining. I’m not going to say anything about any of the T’s, except to say that if the point of tightening the belt against complaining was meant to curtail the whining from the highest profile players in the NBA, dinging Armon Johnson in his second game as a pro probably doesn’t really meet that criteria.
- Speaking of Johnson, his second outing was not nearly as good as his first. Wednesday night he finished with only 2:40 played, didn’t score a point, and along with the T picked up three fouls. Johnson is going to play better at home when he has the crowd behind him, but games against tough guards like Baron Davis and Eric Gordon are going to be good lessons for the future.
- Wesley Matthews also struggled in his second Blazer game. Scoring only four points in just over 17 minutes, Matthews missed all three of his three-point attempts. To his credit, a few of his more awful looking shots came late in the shot clock when he was tightly defended. The second unit of Matthews, Roy, and Rudy Fernandez still didn’t look great, but if the first unit continues to battle the way it has the last two games, that shouldn’t matter all that much.
- A few random numbers: Fabricio Oberto scored his first points as a Blazer, finishing the night with a total of three points scored, and Nate McMillan picked up his 200th win as Portland’s head coach. McMillan is only the third head coach to reach that milestone after Dr. Jack Ramsay and Rick Adelman.
Portland continues its road trip in New York on Saturday against the Knicks.
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