So I guess every so often we get to have a game like the one we had Friday night. A performance that could be classified best as uneven through three quarters, then a furious comeback at the start of the fourth, followed by what seemed to be a dagger collapse, followed by 16 seconds of pure mayhem, and capped with a strong defensive effort in an overtime period. It wasn’t pretty, in fact the third quarter was down right ugly, and those that stayed to the end had to wait for the final shot to go up to exhale, but it was a win. Not only was it a win, it was a huge win. Not only was it a huge win, it was the perfect way to end the post Przybilla/Cunningham pre Gerald Wallace era. Also, a dude won a pickup truck. Rarely do crazy things happen in the NBA, regardless of what the commercials say, but Friday enough craziness went down to last a lifetime.
The big stories across the NBA for the last week or more have been trades. To be honest, the big stories all season have been trades, but the talk went into overdrive a few days ago as the season deadline neared. Trades, trading, and the trade deadline has been done to death, and I’m sure we’re all glad that it’s over. What we have now are teams trying to adjust to new personnel. Portland didn’t go wholesale like Denver, but Friday the Blazers still had to adjust to life without a center. For a good part of the first quarter it looked like Portland was going to have trouble. Starting three guards, and two forwards left four guys standing flat footed on the perimeter. The Blazers struggled early to get into a rhythm, but Denver fared little better. Without Carmelo Anthony or Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets are short the centerpieces of their offense. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are strong players, but for most of the first half Denver looked like a team that wasn’t running plays.
Portland capitalized on Denver’s early disorder, and took a ten-point lead into halftime. Unfortunately, Denver figured out most of their problems in the halftime locker room, and almost ran away with the game in the third quarter. Credit most of that to the play of Gallinari and Chandler. In the third quarter the two former Knicks combined for 23 of Denver’s 33 points. Gallo was 3-of-4 from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line. Remarkably, he didn’t shoot a single three during this stretch. Gallinari has shown a tendency to be content to sit back and bomb threes. That’s OK for some people, but you want a guy that’s 6′ 10” to get a little closer to the basket. With Melo gone, Gallinari and Chandler will most likely be the new focus of Denver’s offense, all things considered they could do a lot worse.
There were certainly stretches of Friday’s game where it looked like Denver was going to turn it into a blowout, none more obvious than the 33-16 third quarter rout, and it wasn’t until the final moments of the final quarter that Portland re-established themselves as a team that wanted to win. If you want to give a single person credit for how Friday’s game ended, I would say look no further than Nate McMillan. With 15.9 seconds remaining in the game and the Blazers trailing by five, Nate produced a simple in-bounds play that got Rudy Fernandez wide open for a three in the corner. Rudy drilled it, cutting the deficit to two, with barely any time running off the clock. A dubious foul call, and a missed free throw, and Portland was in a position to tie with 13 seconds left. Again Nate drew up a play to get the ball to Rudy, but that play fell apart, and we were left with something to which we’ve grow accustomed over the years, but which has been conspicuously absent for the bulk of this season. Brandon Roy with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. We know the rest.
Give me a minute here to talk about Brandon. I don’t want to say that his comeback has been amazing, because his comeback is far from over. This is his second game back, and who knows how he is going to feel when he starts logging 20+ minutes on a regular basis. He’s still a step slow, and his jump shot is not as true as it has been. Conditioning and shooting will come back over time. The question, of course, is: How will his knees hold up? Many skeptics, myself among them, know that there’s a good chance that two or three more games down the road Brandon could be back on the bench. I say this because I want to be cautiously optimistic. I love Brandon’s game, we need him on the court, and I firmly believe bringing him back is the right idea. I just don’t want to see him get hurt again. Having said that, I’m sure there isn’t a Blazer fan anywhere in the world that watched Friday’s game and didn’t absolutely lose their mind watching Brandon play. On Wednesday I wanted to see him take the final shot against the Lakers. It’s over now, but I think he would have made it.
Back to the game. Overtime is overtime, and Portland hasn’t played well in it over the last few years. There was a different feeling, though, going into Friday’s overtime than there was Wednesday. The Blazers fought and scrapped just to get to overtime instead of slipping and falling back on an overtime period. That final five minutes is all about heart, and more times than not the team that carries the momentum into the overtime is the team that wins. Portland had the momentum by a long shot, but needed big defensive stops to get the job done. They got the stops, they got the win, and now we get to all prepare for the Crash era of Rip City.
The Blazers are back in action at the Rose Garden Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks. Gerald Wallace WILL play in that game. If you can’t get to the RG make sure you watch it on TV. Wallace got a solid ovation when they showed him on the big screen, and it’s going to be a scene when he finally takes the court.
Just a few thoughts:
- With 2:06 left in the fourth quarter, Aaron Afflalo drained a three to put the Nuggets up 94-88, and fans started heading to the exits. I don’t begrudge those fans that decision. I know how much of a headache it is to leave the Rose Garden at the same time as 20,000 people. But those fans missed easily the best finish to a Blazer game I have ever seen.
- Andre Miller was one rebound and one assist away from a triple-double. On the second to last play of the night, Nene tapped a rebound off of Dre’s face that would have given him at least a double-double.
- Brandon Roy is still under doctor’s orders to limit his minutes per game to 15. Friday Roy played 24 minutes, finishing with 18 points. Post game Roy said McMillan was trying to give him minutes at the end of the second and fourth quarter so he could be on the floor to finish the game. Going into overtime, Brandon said he made it clear to Nate the he didn’t want to come out. In his post game remarks, Nate said that they will continue to follow the directions of the doctor, and continue to play Brandon limited minutes. It’s the right thing to do, and any push on Brandon’s part will clearly come from his desire to be on the floor.
- Gerald Wallace talked to Blazer television announcer Mike Barrett at center court following the game. Those fans that were still there, and to be honest there were plenty of fans that stayed around to the finish, got to hear Crash talk about how excited he is to play in the Rose Garden. Portland didn’t make the national headline grabbing trade, but Wallace is an All-Star and All-Defensive selection. He is going to make this team better, there is no doubt about it.