We can take away a few things from Portland’s victory Thursday night against the emerging Los Angeles Clippers, but let’s be honest, this game was about one thing: LaMarcus Aldridge versus Blake Griffin.
Because it’s late and TNT games take forever, I’m going to try and be as brief as possible, so before I get into the LA/Blake story let me run a few things down. Wesley Matthews: 28 HUGE points. Inside shots, layups, threes, Wesley was big timing all night long. Nicolas Batum: Only 10 points, but a couple of monster threes, solid defense, great energy. Andre Miller: 15 points, as solid as a rock, clearly the backbone of this Blazer team. Dre is the most soft spoken player I’ve ever had the chance to talk to off the court, but on the court he gets fired up. Thursday in the closing seconds he was screaming, hollering, and hugging his teammates; just a guy that wants to win basketball games and doesn’t give two shakes about anything else. Andre also got one of the top plays Thursday night, a slick show-and-go to the rim that left Blake Griffin dead on his feet. Rudy Fernandez: Besides LaMarcus Aldridge, Thursday was about Rudy. His energy is infectious, his hot shooting stretches leads, and the dude is basically fearless on offense. With the offense more open and fluid, and the Blazers’ regulars becoming more and more familiar with one another, Rudy has flourished. Look for that to continue. Rudy finished with 17 points. The big number: he hit only one three, meaning he attacked the basket most of the night.
OK, now on to the real meat of Thursday night. Blake Griffin is far and away the most exciting rookie of this season, and he may be one of the most exciting rookies ever. He’s a highlight reel, he can actually play, and he’s turned a perpetual basement team into a league-wide must watch. Griffin dropped 47 on the Pacers earlier in the week, and at that point most people, including me, basically conceded that he was bound for the All-Star Game. Now one good game does not an All-Star make, but neither does one bad game unmake. If Griffin becomes a lock due to a few weeks of hot play, why doesn’t LaMarcus become a lock for the reason. My theory is two fold. First Griffin plays in LA. Yes he plays for the other LA team, but it’s still LA. Reason number two, the dude is a SportsCenter highlight machine. The NBA thrives on player recognition, the league would be missing out on one of its most marketable players if it leaves Blake Griffin off the All-Star team. But I digress. Here’s the truth LaMarcus and Blake Griffin are firmly in the All-Star conversation; neither has made the team yet. Thursday was a chance for either guy to get traction.
You saw what happened if you watched the game, and hopefully those East Coast assistant coaches at least have TiVo. It wasn’t straight up domination by LA, but it was a pretty stark example of one player being better than the other. The Clippers basically were only looking to get Blake lob passes, and when they went to his back-to-the-basket game, Griffin’s moves were not impressive. One thing, too, that made my opinion of Griffin slide slightly was that he didn’t come back on defense. On more than one possession, Blake stayed in the back court, or was slow to get up the floor, obviously interested in the leak-out for a fast break. The Clippers play fast, and can score a ton of points, and Portland is a team that tends to parrot their opponent. Because of that it makes sense to prepare for fast breaks, but it just felt like the whole team was looking for the highlight dunk instead of building a functioning offensive set.
Thursday wasn’t about the failures of Blake Griffin though, he had a nice line with 20 points and 18 rebounds, it was about the successes of LaMarcus Aldridge. LA’s been building up to a game like the one he had Thursday. He didn’t score as many points as he did against the Timberwolves, 28 instead of 37, but he combined his new found low-post game with his old standard top-of-the-key jumper. If LA can go inside and outside on a regular basis, he is going to be basically unstoppable. Also one thing LaMarcus showed was that he has the ability to take over a game. In the third quarter Thursday LaMarcus went off for 12 points, hitting 6-of-7 from the field, and helping Portland to a 13-point lead, their biggest of the night at that point.
Clearly this isn’t a fad for LaMarcus, the playing well and dominating his position. The All-Star game may or may not be that important to him, but being selected will be a validation of every thing he and this team has accomplished since losing their franchise player. Also, if LA doesn’t go and Blake Griffin does, we’ll be able to point at Thursday’s game, and say that yes there was an All-Star on the court that night, and no it was not Blake Griffin.
One interesting note that will likely leave Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro scratching his head: Portland trailed by 14 in the first quarter, and won by 15. The Clippers looked good for stretches, Eric Gordon especially, but for the most part, when the Blazers starting building a lead at the end of the fourth, the Clips fell apart.
Portland is back in action Saturday night against the Indiana Pacers at the Rose Garden.
One really quick note:
- I mentioned this on Twitter when it happened, but I want to quickly say something about it again. Thursday night former national team goalkeeper Kasey Keller was in the Rose Garden, and when he was shown on the big screen he was booed. I understand the dude plays for the Seattle Sounders, for those of you that don’t follow professional soccer that’s the MLS franchise in the city to the north owned by one Paul Allen. I understand that Portland and Seattle will become rivals when the Timbers’ season starts, but come on there isn’t a rivalry yet and this guy is one of the greatest American soccer players EVER. Plus he played his college ball at the University of Portland. I bet he would have played for the Timbers when he decided to join the MLS, leaving the English Premiere League, the NBA of international club soccer, if the Timbers had been in the MLS at the time. Come on Portland, you should love this guy. Of course all bets are off when the Timbers do start playing.