Here’s how I feel about what happened at the Rose Garden on Saturday night: You can be forgiven for coming out flat against a very bad team, and you can be forgiven for losing track of a 23 point lead. You can be forgiven for both of those things, if at the final buzzer you walk off the court victorious. In the NBA it is imperative that no team goes overlooked. Although Toronto is one of the worst teams in the league, and they played AWFUL on Saturday night, they’re still a team of professional basketball players. If you sleep on them as you prepare for the best team in the league as the second night of your back-to-back, they can beat you. Fortunately the Blazers overcame their third period problems, and with a little help from a 1-for-17 night by the Raptors from beyond the three-point line, they got the all-important win.
The numbers that nobody wants to see the night before the team ships out to LA to take on the Lakers: 37 minutes from Brandon Roy, 33 minutes from LaMarcus Aldridge, 35 minutes from Nicolas Batum, and 34 minutes from Andre Miller. The only Portland starter that was on the court for fewer than 30 minutes? Marcus Camby, and there was speculation up until tip that migraine headaches were going to keep him out. Oh yeah, he logged 29:38. Of course the Blazers take a win over a loss, but don’t be surprised if heavy legs are an issue tomorrow night. You have to ask yourself: What looks better, a close loss in LA to the Lakers, or a close victory at home against the Toronto Raptors. Portland may have swapped one for the other Saturday night.
There were some highlights though. Miller played well, again, Brandon seems to have no problem taking games over on the offensive end, and as a team, the Blazers are getting better at getting to the glass on missed shots. Its hard to say if it was good defense or bad offense that keep the Raptors at 27% shooting from the field in the first half, but again, you take what you can get. One line that everybody has to like: Batum, Aldridge, and Roy each scored 20 points or more. Brandon led all scorers with 26 points, and picked up the offense many times when the other guys in Black and Red were chucking up bricks. Portland’s biggest lead of the night was 23, and although Toronto had the lead down to 8 three times in the third period, the Blazers trailed only for one possession. Regardless of how you felt about the offensive problems and the ball handling mistakes, the home team took care of business, and really, what more could you ask for.
Here are some thoughts I had about tonight’s game:
- Andre Miller put his stamp on Saturday’s game, and he did it without scoring many baskets. Miller attempted only four field goals, made only one, and added four free throws. His 13 assists, though, were a big factor in keeping Toronto at arms length. Miller runs the break, finds open guys, and most of all never looks like he isn’t at least two steps ahead of the play on the floor. Portland is struggling right now with its back-up point guard situation, playing extended minutes with three guards on the floor that aren’t point guards. Having Miller in the game doesn’t alleviate the problems that have been coming up, but having him give the first unit solid quality minutes does take some of the pressure off the guys coming off the bench.
- Late in the first half Brandon Roy passed Buck Williams for 15th on the all-time scoring list for the Blazers. After the game Roy said, a little sheepishly, that he had been told that he was going to pass someone on Saturday. He said he forgot about it until it was announced, then he looked over at Buck on the Blazer’s bench, as if to kind of say sorry, as in pretty soon all of those old records will belong to B Roy.
- LaMarcus Aldridge had a very interesting night. He was matched up for most of the evening against Andrea Bargnani. Drafted first overall the same year that Roy and Aldridge became Blazers, it was Bargnani’s $50 million extension that knocked the power forward market on its ear a year ago, and helped LaMarcus get the payday he got. Unfortunately for Aldridge, he and Bargnani have comparable games. They’re both big men that like to stand outside and shoot jumpers. Aldridge should have taken advantage of the slower, and terrible defender, Bargnani, but he didn’t. Aldridge finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds, but if he wants to elevate to the elite power forward level, he has to exploit a guy like Bargnani, not just sort of out play him.
- Speaking of Bargnani, he had two of Saturday’s more ridiculous plays, first he recovered a loose ball in the Raptors defensive end and tried to run a one-man fast break that resulted in a traveling violation, and second while posted up in the middle against Armon Johnson he opted for a fade away jumper that hit the front of the rim instead of taking the ball to the hoop. Johnson is listed very kindly at 6’3”, Bargnani is a legit 7-footer. I feel like there’s no doubt that that match-up should result in anything but a fade away jump shot.
- There’s no way to recap Saturday’s game without talking about the problems that Armon Johnson had. He turned the ball over six times, had only one assist, and didn’t attempt a shot. In one stretch he turned the ball over on three straight possessions. That was the same stretch in which Toronto briefly reentered the game. I’m not throwing Armon under the bus just yet. Rookies have bad games, this was his first, there will probably be more. He was lucky it came against a team that probably could only beat the Blazers on their very best night. Armon is the back-up point guard. He isn’t getting real back-up minutes right now, he very well could as the season progresses. He has to take his lumps, and for better or worse we have to take them with him.
- Wesley Matthews continued to struggle. In just under 14 minutes he scored only four points and missed four threes. Like Armon, he’s finding his way. He’ll get there. Not every night is going to be highlight stuff with Wes.
- Rudy Fernandez missed his second straight game with a sore back. The Blazers need him on the floor, and hopefully this isn’t something that is going to become a habit.
- The big news from Saturday. PATTY MILLS. The Aussie fan favorite played the final 3:09 minutes of Saturday’s game, coming in to a HUGE ovation. He knocked down one free throw for his first points of the season, and showed that he’s grown as a professional by letting the game clock run out when a three would have given the crowd a free Chalupa. At one point Patty, Sean Marks, and Toronto’s David Anderson were all on the court together. Two Aussies and one New Zealander, Kiwi for people in the know. I’m pretty sure that was a first in the NBA. Marks, of course, is the Blazer’s newest foreign big man, signed to replace the retired Fabricio Oberto. His job is to throw on a Blazer jersey and try to not get injured before November 26th.
Portland plays at Los Angeles against the Lakers Sunday night.