The Blazers proved a couple of important things Sunday evening. Those things in order of importance: They can win without scoring 100 points, they can win when not playing very well at all, they can beat a very clearly inferior team, home court advantage isn’t just a saying in the Rose Garden. I put home court as the least important basically because we all knew that already, and if Portland wants to finish the season at the top of the table they need to win on the road too.
Sunday felt a lot like Friday’s game in Phoenix, especially at the beginning. After one quarter the Blazers’ were shooting 27% from the field, 14% from beyond the arc, and clung to a one-point lead 18-17. That’s right, the team that put up 30 in the opening frame against the Denver Nuggets and 27 against the Lakers couldn’t break 20 against the Cavs. The second quarter wasn’t much better, save for a short burst at the end that helped the Blazers carry a seven-point advantage into the locker room at halftime.
While watching Portland’s losing effort to Phoenix, I remember thinking that the Blazers just needed a run to level the score and get back into the game. That run never showed up. Sunday I felt the same way. And again, that run didn’t materialize. However, Sunday the Blazers had the backing of the home crowd, and their opponent lacked a back-to-back MVP winner. Portland didn’t so much as speed away from Cleveland in the game’s second 24 minutes as they let Samardo Samuels handle the ball on the block and Omri Casspi fire away at will, and a bit like Chinese water torture, this game slowly dripped away from the visiting team.
The Blazers tried hard not to, but with a pair of LaMarcus Aldridge free throws at the 1:53 mark in the third quarter, they reached their first double digit lead of the night. This lead would balloon to 24 before Byron Scott threw in the towel in the form of Luke Harangody and Semi Erden–Harengody rushed to fill up the stat sheet, grabbing two rebounds and airballing a three in roughly 30 seconds–finally settling at 20 as the remaining fans, trying to suck the last bit of excitement from the weekend, screamed for Chalupas that, sadly, would not be coming.
Matt Calkins of the Columbian took a break from cracking wise on Twitter (best examples here and here) to ask coach Nate McMillan why he left his starters on the floor in an obvious blowout until there was only two minutes and 59 seconds remaining in the contest. Nate’s response: “Give me a break on that. Bottom line is to win the ball game.” Very clearly this was an important win for the Blazers, not a “must win” in the traditional sense, but a “must not lose.” That probably doesn’t make any sense. Here’s as good as an explanation of what I mean as I can come up with. The negative of losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers at home when the team is trying to establish an identity and retroactively earn some of the praise they’ve received early in the season greatly outweighs the positive earned from a win.
With the win, the Blazers move to 6-2, 5-0 at home. But more than that, they get past this little bump where they’re matched-up against lower-level competition. Portland has always been saddled with the title of a team that plays to the level of their competition. Against bad competition that can be a kiss of death. The next two nights are against good to half-way decent teams. Hopefully that means that the team will step up their game as a whole. Shooting 41% from the field is apparently good enough to beat the Cavs, but it probably won’t be good enough to beat the Los Angeles Clippers. The next two are at home, which means the Blazers will still have the advantage of playing in front of a crowd that really wants them to score enough points so they can get free Mexican food. If they can go two-for-two on Chalupa games they should get two wins. Heading out on their first extended road-trip knowing that they still haven’t lost one at home could be a big boost to this team.
The Clippers bring their KIA-sponsored air-attack to the Rose Garden Tuesday night. Should be a good one, and hopefully another good win.
Couple of quick notes:
- Kyrie Irving showed why he was the top pick in the draft. He’s quick, he handles the ball very well, he’s smart, and he can score. Irving finished the night 21 points and four assists. He would have had a couple more dimes, except that as a team the Cavs couldn’t find the basket, shooting 29-of-79 from the field, and an absolutely atrocious 3-of-24 from distance. Post game I asked former running mate at Duke Nolan Smith what he thought of Kyrie’s game. He had this to say: “He was a huge part of my development at the point guard position. They (Cleveland) need somebody like him, he can run the show, he has the demeanor and the character to be a leader on that team.”
- Jamal Crawford struggled once again with his shot, ending the night with four points shooting 2-of-10 from the field and 0-of-4 from three. He made up for it some, though, by handing out three assists and grabbing two steals. It’s hard for me to say that Jamal shouldn’t be getting minutes. There isn’t really a back-up PG, or maybe I should rephrase and say HE is the back-up PG. And he is going to have a night when he comes out and absolutely lights up the other team. Hopefully it will be soon–after a dozen games or so it’s going to be hard to justify his shooting woes by saying he’s just trying to get his rhythm back–and hopefully it will be against a good team.
- Pre-game Cleveland head coach Byron Scott mentioned that he thought LaMarcus Aldridge should have been an All-Star last year and is now one of the best power forwards in the game. Sunday LA carried much of the offensive load, leading all scorers with 28, and looked good in the low block against Anderson Varejao. Look for Portland to start settling into an early half-court offense that includes a lot of LA catching the ball low and trying to pound it inside. It works.
- Minutes watch: 2:59 Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith, and Chris Johnson. As I said earlier, Nate waited until nearly the last possible minute to empty his bench. Elliot hit a three, Nolan knocked down a long jumper, CJ swatted a ball into the first row, or and picked up three fouls. “I didn’t agree with a few of them,” he said post game. “That’s just the way it happens, just trying to be aggressive.” As a fan, you like to see that. They get six fouls a night, why not use them. Nate did say, in his post game remarks, that the subs gave up 10 points in two minutes. Far be it from me to say that wasn’t true, however, CJ, Nolan, and Elliot checked in with the score at 91-69. Sunday’s final score was 98-78, by my count that’s only nine points.
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