I’d be lying if I said this one didn’t hurt. You can say whatever you want about tonight’s 107-100 overtime loss to the Heat being a moral victory because the Blazers were able to hang with the hottest team in the league for 48 minutes before the game got away, but man, it would have been cool to pull this one out. What better way to put this banged-up-but-resilient team on the national map than by knocking off the most unlikeable juggernaut in recent NBA history? They came damn close, that’s for sure. A questionable no-call on a LeBron double dribble in the final minute and an even-more-questionable final regulation possession for Portland that featured two bricked jumpers from Andre Miller are what ended up swinging this game. But just as the Blazers can’t afford to pat themselves on the back for simply sticking with the Heat, they also can’t act like nothing good came of the night, because there’s some stuff here to build on.
Given the opponent, tonight was probably LaMarcus Aldridge’s best chance to strengthen his All-Star case, and he did not disappoint. He put on the kind of display tonight that we’ve grown accustomed to in recent weeks–31 points, 14 rebounds, 52 percent shooting, and some impressive post moves. He hit a couple of clutch shots late in the game to keep the Blazers in it, and against any other team he would have probably put Portland over the top. But not every team has LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to defend. Miami’s Big Three–the “Heatles,” if you will–combined for 96 of the Heat’s 107 points, including a season-high 44 from LeBron. All you can do is hope to get lucky and catch them on an off-night, and that simply wasn’t happening tonight.
Nicolas Batum played LeBron about as well as anyone could hope to, at least until James went into assassin mode starting in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter and carrying over into overtime. For most of the game, Batum was extremely effective in keeping James out of the paint and forcing him to rely on his jump shot. But, again, this is the problem you face when trying to guard the Heat: even if you can limit LeBron’s effectiveness, there’s still a high likelihood that Wade will go off, which is exactly what he did. I watched this game thinking there was a small possibility Portland could actually pull out a win, even as the air of inevitability creeped in towards the end.
Marcus Camby didn’t do much offensively, but he pulled in 14 rebounds, meaning he got 14 more than his primary opponent at center, Joel Anthony, whose straight-zeroes-in-29-minutes line I thought was a typo when I read the box score. On that note, it’s almost comical how much of a non-factor every player on the Heat not named James, Wade, or Bosh was tonight, and not just from a scoring standpoint. All night, it was the Big Three doing much of the legwork for Miami on defense and on the boards. Leading up the the start of the season, James and Wade repeatedly told reporters they were focusing on defense and rebounding, and that was clearly more than just talk. These guys’ offensive prowess isn’t the only thing that makes it hard to outscore them.
Patty Mills had another big fourth quarter for the Blazers, as Andre Miller once again sat late in the game. I’m still not sure how I feel about this–Mills has played well, but putting him out there in the fourth instead of the more experienced Miller seems counterintuitive. Then again, it was Miller’s two misses at the end of regulation that sent the game into overtime. It will be interesting to see how Nate McMillan handles the point-guard minutes as the next few weeks play out.