How do you define a big win? Of course wins like the one last season in Game Four of the playoffs against the Suns and the win two seasons ago at home against the Boston Celtics were huge wins. Definitely Tuesday’s win in Memphis isn’t on that level, Memphis is not a title contender like Boston and it’s not the playoffs like it was against Phoenix, but for my money, this win was freaking crucial. Maybe not crucial to the rest of the season, but crucial to the morale of this team as it heads forward with the health of its All-Star and franchise player up in the air to say the least.
Nobody wants to see a three game-losing streak, and with games upcoming against Denver, Utah, and New Orleans, Tuesday night had all the makings of the beginning of a serious skid. Throw in the pre-game scratching of Brandon Roy, and I’m sure everyone was a little nervous prior to the tip. The Blazers were able to respond to the adversity, though, and thanks to a career night from Wesley Matthews they can head home feeling better about this road trip than I’m sure they did a day ago.
Memphis has the pieces to be a playoff team. Start with their collection of talented guards and wing players led by OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay, throw in their front line of Marc Gasol and stalwart former Portland PR nightmare Zach Randolph, and the Grizzlies can play with any team in the league. There are a lot of teams they won’t beat, but they’ll hang around, and if you let them hang around long enough they can make you pay. Memphis didn’t start out to hot though, scoring only 17 points in the first quarter, and that ended up being enough for Portland. The Blazers were never dominant, but also never trailed by more than two and didn’t surrender a lead after the 4:03 mark of the fourth quarter. Tuesday felt a little like both Oklahoma City games, the difference being that Memphis doesn’t have a player they can go to that can get them over the hump.
Tuesday night Portland didn’t have a player that could do that either. Instead they relied heavily on two players, but got help from everyone. Matthews was the leader early after getting the starting nod in place of Roy. Wesley finished the first half with 22 points, getting 14 in the second quarter. Memphis tightened the screws on Matthews in the second half, he managed to reach a career high of 30 points but wasn’t nearly as potent after halftime, but Andre Miller was there to pick up the slack. Supplying some useful lessons to newly rich Mike Conley, Andre kept Portland’s head above water, and iced the game with a couple of big made free throws. In between, the Blazers got big defensive plays from Dante Cunningham and Marcus Camby, timely offense from Armon Johnson and Rudy Fernandez, and a little bit of both from Nicolas Batum.
Following his career night, Wesley Matthews got the privilege of being the subject of Mike Barrett’s post-game on-court interview. The genuinely affable Matthews gave credit to every other member of the Blazers for participating in Tuesday’s win. It wasn’t false humility, he was praising his teammates for coming out and giving a full team effort. Unfortunately it takes the injury of Brandon Roy to force Portland to play like a team. Hopefully when Roy comes back the team-first attitude and play won’t disappear.
Portland returns home on Thursday to face the Denver Nuggets.
Some quick thoughts on Tuesday’s game before I let you go and enjoy that winning feeling for the first time in AGES:
- Wesley’s three-point stroke came back on Tuesday. After a masterful preseason in which he couldn’t miss, Matthews has look dreadful at times from deep. Tuesday Wesley hit 5-of-10 treys. Wesley obviously benefited from the increased minutes, and the Catch-22 is that when Brandon comes back Wesley will head back to the bench and back to playing in the neighborhood of 20 minutes a night. I don’t have a solution to the problem presented by Matthews needing minutes to be productive, but I hope somebody on the Blazer’s staff does. Here’s a hint, trading Brandon Roy is not a solution.
- Speaking of trades, prior to Tuesday’s game Twitter was alive with speculation about the Blazers chasing after Andre Iguodala of the 76ers. I think Iguodala could be a good fit with the Blazers, but only if Brandon is going to miss significant amounts of time and Portland doesn’t give up too much. The Blazers I wouldn’t trade for Iggy greatly outnumber the Blazers I would. This might be one of those deals that looks good on the Trade Machine, but fall short of real life application.
- Andre Miller didn’t practice before Tuesday’s game after getting banged in the knee against New Orleans. Miller is the active leader in consecutive games played, so don’t expect him to be missing time any time soon. Also Andre has been easily the most consistent player on the Blazers thus far. Imagine what this team would be like if Andre had been run out of town last season. It would not be good.
- Marcus Camby rolled an ankle in the middle of Tuesday’s game, but managed to only spend a few minutes on the bench. Camby provided a huge jumper late in the fourth quarter that came on feed from Andre Miller. Blazer fans will remember a few years back when Portland was one of the youngest teams in the league and we all scoffed at the so called “need” for veteran leadership. I wonder if that attitude has changed at all? Camby also played excellent defense on El Tanque in the closing minutes Tuesday. El Tanque is Marc Gasol, by the way, and for those of you that don’t speak Spanish, it means the Tank and is a pretty fitting nickname.
- Here’s an article from One Man Fast Break proving that Marc Gasol’s nickname is El Tangue.