Sunday’s game was one of the more highly anticipated games of recent memory, and because of that there will undoubtedly be an inordinate amount of frustration from Blazer fans, vis-a-vis the outcome. On the night that All-Defensive Team selection Gerald Wallace made his Portland debut, we all wanted to see a big win. What he got was a performance that was at times lackluster, and underwhelming through and through. Blazer fans have a right to be frustrated, but let me try to stall that frustration by saying, Sunday was one game, and what should be taken away from Sunday’s game is not how poorly Portland shot, rebounded, and took care of the ball, but what a healthy Marcus Camby, a healthier Brandon Roy, and a fully integrated Gerald Wallace means for the rest of 2010-11.
Coming off back-to-back overtime games, it was evident from the start that the Blazers had some heavy legs. The first thing to go when the legs get tired is the jump shot. As we all know Portland is primarily a jump shooting team, or at least a team that needs its shots to go down in order to establish its low post game. No legs, no jump shots. It’s a fairly simple equation. Yes there were things that Portland could have done to counteract their failures to hit shots, unfortunately the Blazers didn’t really do any of those things. Portland lost the rebounding battle, 49-to-34, and gave up far too many fast break points, 17. Rebounds and fast breaks are indications that one team is working harder than the other. Atlanta is a big, strong, physical team, and Sunday their size and length, coupled with Portland’s fatigue and rotation issues, were enough to tip the scales away from the Blazers.
As far as positives though, there are many. No more evident than the minutes situation. Adding Gerald Wallace and returning Camby and Roy will allow Nate McMillan to cut his rotation players to under 40 minutes a night. Over the last two months of the season LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Andre Miller have been logging serious minutes. Some nights that’s OK, like when LA goes for 42, but most nights those guys need some rest in order to be effective. When Wallace is fully integrated, and it will be sooner than later, hopefully we’ll be seeing Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Wesley play more effective, limited minutes. At this point there are times when the players hold back a little, LaMarcus admitted as much following a game not too long ago, because they know they are going to need their energy in the final minutes of the night. You can’t fault them for being aware of the bench situation, but you don’t want to see Portland run out of games because guys aren’t playing at max effort. With Wesley and Nic’s minutes cut down to high 30s there should be no reason for them to not go all out when they are on the court. They will, and the Blazers will improve because of it.
The second, and equally obvious positive from Sunday was the defense. It wasn’t great to start the game, as can be expected when a ]player is re-introduced to the starting lineup and then a completely new player is added to the rotation, but in the final portion of the fourth quarter, the Blazers really began to establish themselves defensively. For the second night in a row the defense sparked a furious comeback. It wasn’t enough this time, but it was an indication of things to come, there’s no doubt about that. Portland is going to be able to provide a wide range of defensive sets that are going to be hard for opponents to handle. The Blazers can go big with Camby at five, LA at four, and Wallace at three. In that set Nicolas, Wesley, Brandon, Rudy, and Andre can basically guard perimeter players of all size. Portland can also go small, moving LA to the five, Wallace to the four, and throwing Nicolas into the three spot. Again, in this set, any combination of Wesley, Rudy, Brandon, and Andre should be able to handle the guards. Both units have their different upsides, and both units seriously elevate Portland’s defense.
As for the Portland’s comeback that fell short. Give a full court press a lot of credit, give Atlanta some of the credit for getting sloppy and playing the clock, but also check the stat sheets. The Blazers were able to come back and make Sunday’s a game late because they made their shots. In the second and third quarters, when Atlanta was able to build out their lead to its largest margin, Portland shot 29% and 19% from the field respectively. From deep the Blazers were worse. Portland was 1-of-6 from three in the second and 0-of-7 in the third. By contrast, the Blazers were 3-of-6 from beyond the arc in the night’s final 12 minutes, and 12-of-21 from the field. It’s no coincidence that in Portland’s best offensive quarter their shooting percentages were 57% from the field and 50% from deep.
Sure it seems simplistic to say that Portland should make their shots, but there’s a little more to it. Teams are keying in on LaMarcus, as they should be, and when the ball goes it to the post, as it does and should on almost every possession, the standard defensive reaction is to send a double team. LA, being a savvy baller and a good passer, finds the one guy that’s left open, or finds the guy finds that guy, and they knock down a shot. The next time down, if the ball gets entered into the post, the double team isn’t going to come as hard allowing LA to dominate his one-on-one matchup. So, maybe I’m wrong, it is simple. The Blazers were doing their best to get open looks, and they got plenty. Hitting 32-of-82 from the field and 4-of-21 from three doesn’t beat anybody.
The final positive, and the one that we as Blazer fans should really hold on to is this. We’ve been here before. We’ve had poor shooting nights. They happen. What we haven’t had before is Gerald Wallace. What we haven’t had since December is Brandon Roy. And finally what we haven’t had in nearly a month is Marcus Camby. We have all those things now.
The Blazers are back in action Tuesday night at the Rose Garden against the Houston Rockets, now featuring Hasheem Thabeet.
Just a couple quick thoughts:
- Brandon Roy’s minutes: 17:45. Still more than 15, but not nearly as many as Friday night. Brandon again looked pretty good. He was 3-of-9 for six points, which isn’t a great stat line, but he definitely looks like he’s moving better.
- Gerald Wallace got a fantastic ovation when he first checked into the game, and though his stat line wasn’t great he did have a few moments that stood out. He had a nice drive right at the hoop during Portland’s fourth quarter spurt, and he played hard nosed defense the whole time he was in the game. Post game Wallace said that he appreciated the ovation, but it didn’t help calm his nerves. Expect him to play better Tuesday, expect him to be in the starting lineup before too long, and also next time he takes the floor expect him to be wearing a headband.
- Friday night featured Brandon Roy, Jamal Crawford, and Marvin Williams, all Seattle area prep athletes. Seattle and its surrounding suburbs are extremely well represented in the NBA, especially in Brandon’s age group. If you want to know why, ask Kevin Pelton.