Amid the turmoil of the last week, or maybe the last two weeks, or hell the WHOLE season, there is one thing that has remained constant, and that is game day. The NBA doesn’t care that Greg Oden lost his season, and that Brandon Roy’s is as of right now in question. So what can the embattled Blazers do? They could take a night off, or two or three, and who would really forgive them. But what have they done? They’ve come out and played. They’ve played like a team, they’ve played like they want to win, they’ve played like they have something to prove. They have flat out played. It hasn’t always been pretty, but after 48 minutes winning is the only thing that matters. And here’s the kicker, enough wins, with whatever team Portland can field on any given night, and some of the sting goes out of all those non-game things that take up so much of our attention.
Thursday night was a big win, maybe even a huge win. It’s a big win for a few reasons, the most obvious being that Portland needs to win, especially with Roy relegated to the bench. The second, and equally as obvious reason, Thursday was a big win: it was a division game against a solid opponent. Portland needs to win in the North West Division, and there are no two ways about it. Maybe the most fulfilling reason, and quite possibly the least obvious, that Thursday night was big, and the reason that Blazer fans will be smiling a little going into Saturday’s game against Utah, is that Portland didn’t play very well. For stretches they were straight up bad. From the free throw line they were AWFUL. Thursday’s was a game of runs, and Portland had the right runs at the right time, and that was enough.
The Blazers tried to give this one away on multiple occasions. Denver turned a five-point deficit into a 12-point lead with a 17-0 run in the first quarter. Portland pushed back with a 10-1 run of their own in the second quarter. Wesley Matthews sparked the Blazers’ run with three straight threes. Then it was Denver’s turn to counter, scoring the first eight points of the second half, pushing their lead to 55-45. Portland got the final run, a 9-0 spurt at the start of the fourth quarter that was punctuated by a three from Rudy Fernandez. The final six minutes of the fourth quarter was a battle of attrition, and it was in the very last few seconds of the contest that Portland really tried to let this one get away. Missed free throws from LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby, and an and one for Nene, and it was Denver with the ball down three, with Chauncey Billups looking for the tie. For the first time in this season the round-ball deities gave Portland a break. Billups’ tie attempt drew iron, Aaron Afflalo’s heave was blocked, and Portland got their biggest win of the season so far. Here’s the crazy thing. Denver went down with two unused 20 second timeouts. The Blazers were unbelievably close to adding insult to injury, literally.
Portland is back at the Rose Garden to take on yet another division rival, the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
Here are some quick thoughts I had about this game:
- Lots of great numbers jump right off the stat page from Thursday. I’ll just throw them out there and let you mull them over for yourselves. Second chance points: Portland 17, Denver 2. Points in the paint: Portland 40, Denver 16. Total rebounds: Portland 48, Denver 35. Offensive rebounds: Portland 16, Denver 7.
- Here’s a number that was down right ugly: 11-of-22 from the free throw line, an even 50%. Portland won on Thursday by three points after missing 11 free throws. The math is simple; the Blazers should have won by 14.
- Wesley Matthews had another career night, collecting his first double-double as a pro. Matthews had 20 points and 10 rebounds, providing the scoring early in the game when nobody on the home team looked like they wanted to play. The things I liked most from Wesley were his effort on defense, he was not afraid to take some punishment from Carmelo Anthony, and that when his J wasn’t true he put his head down and attacked the hoop. Wes wasn’t immune to the free throw woes though, hitting only three of eight attempts from the stripe.
- Wesley was only one of three Blazers with double figures in rebounds. LA grabbed 1o, and not to be outdone Marcus Camby snagged 14. Camby was the only Blazer starter not to score in double figures. Nicolas Batum scored 14, LA 24, Matthews the aforementioned 20, and Andre Miller chipped in 16.
- Speaking of Batum, he turned in the sequence of the season, at least in my mind. With 4:18 remaining in the game, Billups passed the ball to Anthony out near mid-court. Nic was playing Anthony for the steal, and came in hard, catching a fair amount of Carmelo’s shoulder and sending him the line. Two Denver possessions later Carmelo was isolated in the key against Batum and made a hard spin move, hitting Nic squarely in the chest. Anthony was called for the offensive foul, and his night was over. After the game I asked Nic if he set up Anthony’s final foul by giving him a hard foul on the other end. He didn’t say yes or no, but he did say that part of his defensive strategy was to get in Carmelo’s head. Nic is a thinking defender, the best kind, and he is hell bent on being one of the NBA’s very best defensive stoppers. He is well on his way.
- One final thought. Talk around the Blazers is once again about who’s going to step up and run this team without Brandon. I think that question has been answered emphatically. Andre Miller. Thursday night, Miller simply took over in the third quarter, scoring 10 points in the period. Andre has all the tools of an elite point guard, and he thinks two or three steps ahead of everyone else on the court. With every passing day you can see Andre becoming more and more comfortable in a leadership role. He wants to be the man, and right now there is no doubt that he is the man. Blazer fans should be happy about that.
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