Even the most die hard fans probably did not see this coming. San Antonio rolling into the Rose Garden with 40 wins and seven losses, and rolling out with 40 wins and EIGHT losses. I certainly didn’t. I thought, for sure Portland would get up for Tuesday’s game. They weren’t exactly embarrassed in their last two outings, but they were well on the way to erasing all the good they’d done with their recent five-game winning streak. A couple of days off, a chance to reflect on their recent struggles, and likely the Blazers would be able to put up a good fight. But even a good fight probably wouldn’t be enough to beat the best team in the league.
There was at least one person in Portland that didn’t give San Antonio a free pass Tuesday night. That person was none other than LaMarcus Aldridge. With the All-Star reserves set to be announced later this week, Tuesday’s game was yet another opportunity for LA to make his case for being added to the roster. Unfortunately, according to Mike Tokito from the Oregonian via Twitter, the coaches have all ready locked in their All-Star reserve ballots, which means that LaMarcus’s career night might not have been the clincher the Rose City felt it was.
Tuesday started slow for the Blazers, who managed to score their first bucket with just over eight minutes to play in the first quarter, but that made the show LaMarcus put on all the more impressive. Portland recovered from the flat start, and ended the first quarter leading 24-22, on the back of 16 points from LA. LaMarcus brought a little bit of everything in the first quarter, mixing in a six-foot hook shot, with a twenty-footer, and a couple of nice dunks, and showed more than anything that he was ready to lead the Blazers to an unlikely upset. And where LA led, his teammates followed.
Portland struggled in the second quarter, entering halftime behind 52-47, but managed to find a solid groove in the third period, mostly by tightening up on defense. The Blazers limited the Spurs to 40% shooting from the field in the third quarter, and San Antonio only managed to keep the game close by knocking down threes. Portland ratcheted up the defense even further in the final quarter. In possibly the best quarter of 2010-11, the Blazers held the Spurs to 15 points in the final frame of the evening, allowing San Antonio only five made field goals in the final 12 minutes.
On the other end, LaMarcus and Wesley Matthews simply took over in the fourth quarter. The Blazers almost doubled-up the Spurs, scoring 28 points in the final quarter. Of those 28 points, only four were not scored by LaMarcus or Wesley. In what was probably Portland’s best 24 minutes of basketball this season, the Blazers outscored the Spurs 52-34. What’s most remarkable about Portland’s second half Tuesday night was that the Blazers did all their damage while spotting San Antonio four made three-pointers. Portland spent much of the evening working the ball into the low block, outscoring San Antonio 22-to-10 in the paint in the second half, and 44-to-38 for the game.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews lit up the stat sheet Tuesday night, but after that it almost seemed like business as usual for the rest of the Blazers. If there’s one thing we as fans should take away from this win it’s that Portland, when executing at a high level, can compete with some of the best teams in the league. LA reached career highs in scoring, with 40 points, and field goals made, with 16, and Wesley poured in 21 points, 17 coming in the second half. Andre Miller contributed a nice game, finishing with 18 points and nine assists, but beyond those three, no other Blazer reached double figures in scoring. Rudy Fernandez, Patty Mills, and Dante Cunningham scored 3,4, and 3 points respectively, adding a ton of hustle and defensive energy that didn’t make it into the final box score.
LaMarcus was as dominant as he’s ever been Tuesday night, and if he doesn’t make the All-Star team, which at this point would be a travesty, he can at least find comfort in knowing that he is establishing himself as one of the best players in the league at his position. Tuesday the Spurs were doubling LA on defense, making him the clear focus of their defensive strategy. They made LaMarcus work all night, but at the end of the evening they simply could not stop him. Coach Nate McMillan has said before that when Portland doesn’t make their shots they struggle. The Blazers were not on from deep Tuesday night, and really never really made San Antonio pay for leaving shooters open. Where Portland excelled, and why they won on Tuesday, was in recognizing who was hot and getting him the ball. In the only down quarter of Tuesday’s game, the second quarter, LaMarcus attempted only two field goals. In the first quarter he took 10 shots, in the third quarter he took six, and in the last quarter he took and made five. LA doesn’t need to take 10 shots a period, but he needs to get the ball a lot. Portland got him the ball a lot Tuesday night, and they walked away with easily their biggest win of the season.
The Blazers travel to Denver to take on the Nuggets Wednesday night, kicking off a three game road swing that hopefully will not be disrupted by Snowpocalypse 2011 Mid West Edition.
Just some quick thoughts:
- Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before game time, it was announced that Wesley Matthews had been selected to participate in the Rookie/Sophomore game during All-Star weekend. Wesley spoke to the press before the game, and was gracious and excited about his being included. As an un-drafted second year player, Wesley often talks about having to prove himself every night on the court. No doubt Blazer fans have come to appreciate what Wesley brings to this team, and his All-Star nod will give him a chance to show his stuff on a national stage.
- A perfect example of the kind of effort we’ve grown to expect from Wesley Matthews came early in the fourth quarter when he drew a charge under the hoop against Antonio McDyess. Post game when I asked Wesley how it felt to get hit by the 6’9” 220 pound veteran of 14 years, he said, “it hurt.”
- The LA to LA campaign was in full effect at the Rose Garden, and post game in the locker room. LaMarcus mentioned getting a hand shake from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich following the final horn. Popovich will be the head coach of the Western Conference All-Star team, but LA was reluctant to say the handshake meant anything more more than just a congratulations on a career night.