There is going to be plenty of talk following the Blazers’ win on Tuesday in Miami, and none of it is going to be about Portland. My guess is the national media will focus on the problems LeBron James and his cronies are having against teams over .500, about the problems the Heat are having finding their identity, about how they have the tools but they just can’t put it all together and a result of that is losing to inferior teams. Let them talk. Because for the most part all those things are true.
Miami has been struggling against good teams, and they do seem to be at loose ends at probably the absolute wrong time in the season. When comparing teams across the Association, Miami is certainly the more important team, and likely the better team, but when looking at two teams, as you do when they are playing each other, Tuesday night Portland was the better team. Miami may make the Conference Finals, they may even make the Finals. Portland may not get out of the first round for the third season in a row. But Tuesday night they out played Miami. Period. End of sentence.
Where do we start breaking down the biggest win of the season? We can start with turnovers. The Blazers took care of the rock. Or at least Portland had fewer turnovers than Miami. Limiting turnovers and forcing turnovers are effort stats. The Blazers undoubtedly knew that it was going to take maximum effort to beat Miami on their home court, and maximum effort, or at least as close to max is any team can get on the second of a back-to-back 64 games into what has been a marathon season, was what they gave.
How about rebounds? Again, rebounds are effort stats. Portland won the overall rebound battle, 34 to 31, and more importantly won the offensive rebound battle, 12 to 6. Crashing the defensive boards limits possessions; crashing the offensive boards can be the difference between wining and losing.
Free throws. Those are important right? Portland missed only one free throw, shooting 18-of-19. Miami was right on the Blazers’ heels, shooting 15-of-19, but what’s more important is that only four of the free throws attempted by the Heat were credited to LeBron James. LeBron hasn’t exactly made his living at the line, but keeping him from getting to the stripe limits his overall effectiveness.
Two more important numbers: 38 and 31. Those were the scoring numbers for Dwayne Wade and LeBron James respectively. Here’s one more number: 10. That’s the number of points scored that only a single other Miami Heat player reached. Yes LeBron and Wade are two of the best players in the league, you’d have to be out of your mind to dispute that fact, but it’s pretty clear that those two guys all by themselves can’t beat good teams.
Portland has won and lost since the All-Star break, and really all season, based on how well they were hitting jump shots. Tuesday, Portland knocked down a lot of jumpers. More importantly they hit important jumpers. There’s plenty to go around just in the night’s final period. Starting with Rudy Fernandez. Thirty seconds into the fourth quarter, Wade blocked a meek jumper from Brandon Roy and went coast-to-coast for a big dunk tying the game at 77. The next trip down the court Rudy stepped up and drilled a three. With a team like Miami, with a disinterested fan base and two electrifying finishers that can basically raise the dead, keeping the crowd at bay is important to say the least. Wade’s dunk got the crowd going, and Rudy’s three shut them down. When trying to hold a lead against a great team in their building, that’s not small feat.
After Rudy, every Blazer that played in the fourth quarter hit a big shot. Andre Miller drained a deep two after picking up a fumbled dribble, Brandon Roy and Wesley Matthew knocked down clutch threes, Gerald Wallace converted at the rim and in the paint, and LaMarcus Aldridge hit a clutch nine-foot to put Portland up nine with only slightly more than two minutes to play. Clearly that’s basically every shot in the final 12 minutes, and in a sense that’s the point. Miami didn’t go quietly, and Portland matched their intensity and their scoring. This season Portland has had their fair share of costly dry spells. Nobody would have cried too hard if Miami had come back Tuesday night and Portland’s shooting had gone south. But Portland stuck to their game, got their players into the right spots, and most importantly hit the shots they needed to hit.
Portland can do no worse than a split of this final four-game road trip, and although a 4-0 road trip balances out the 0-4 road trip in November and December, a trip that I feel like I bring up way too much, I feel like these last two wins might be good enough to not be too worried about the games that are left. Atlanta is a hard read. Some nights they are good; some nights they are terrible. Charlotte should be a win. The odds of a 4-0 road trip are probably not much better than 50%, but in reality this team probably will not be satisfied after these last two games with any thing less.
Portland has two days off before taking on the Bobcats in Charlotte on Friday.
Just a few quick thoughts:
- One of the knocks on Miami during their recent struggles is that they have the ability to build leads, but they can’t hold them. Tuesday Portland trailed for only three minutes in the second quarter. Miami can shake their heads and cry all they want about giving up games late, not knowing who to pass to on the final possession of a close games, and all the other things that have made headlines across the nation. None of that is relevant Tuesday night.
- Eight Blazers played basically 20 minutes or more. Patty Mills got a nice run in 15 and a half minutes. This is the rotation. Again, Gerald Wallace was not a starter, but in 34 and a half minutes, Crash scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The only Blazer that played more minutes than Wallace was LaMarcus Aldridge. Starter or no, Wallace has seemingly found his place with this team.
- Brandon Roy’s minute watch seems a little beside the point right now. He’s playing well and Portland is winning. More importantly, he’s not doing anything that is breaking the rhythm the Blazers have going. Roy played 23 minutes, scored 14 points, and hit all three of his tree-point attempts.
- Portland has won seven straight road games. Their best streak since 1991.