Here’s the thing, you don’t win a lot of basketball games when you spot a team eight points, stake them to a 14-point first quarter lead, give up 11 threes in the first half, and basically preemptively shoot a second-half run in the foot by playing your worst quarter of basketball in the third 12-minute frame of a blowout. Through 10 games Portland has proven two things.
Thing number 1: This is a talented group of basketball players that when they put their mind to it and try as hard as they can and get a little bit of luck they can play with any team in the league.
Thing number 2: They are not immune to the good old fashion beat-down.
For the sake of the first part of this recap, I’m going to pretend that the fourth quarter didn’t happen. I’m not going to ignore the game’s final period. In fact, because the last quarter differed so much from the three that came before it, I feel like the fourth quarter deserves a recap of its own.
So, let’s begin at the beginning. Portland did what they have done before on the second night of a back-to-back. They came out flat. I asked pregame what two days off would do to the Magic, well apparently it would make them sharp, very sharp. Orlando’s first four scores went like this: Ryan Anderson lay-up, Jameer Nelson lay-up, Jameer Nelson fast-break driving finger-roll lay-up, Jason Richardson dunk.
Portland’s first four possessions went like this: MISS Gerald Wallace lay-up, MISS Marcus Camby 15-footer, MISS Wesley Matthews 14-footer, MISS Raymond Felton 25-foot three-pointer. And just like that the Magic led 8-0. But it wouldn’t all be lay-ups and dunks. Oh no, this Orlando team was built to gun, and gun they would. Five out of the Magic’s final eight scoring possessions in the first quarter were threes. After 12 minutes, Orlando had hit 14 field goals, six of them were treys. Giving up 36 points in a quarter is never something to aspire to.
It would get worse before it got better though. Orlando pushed their lead to 20 in the middle of the second period, and again the damage came from beyond the arc. Not to put too much emphasis on what I said in my pre-gamer, but Wednesday was a showcase on how a Dwight Howard led team can be effective without Dwight doing much of anything. As big and as mobile as Howard is, it’s imperative to at least try to defend him. When the focus of Portland’s defense turned to Howard, Howard managed to get the ball out to the wings. Once on the wings, the ball was moved quickly around the perimeter as guys made cuts through the lane–using Howard to get free of their man–until it ended up in the hands of an open shooter. When that happened, said shooter let it fly, and Wednesday 59% of the time it went in.
God forbid Portland would send the double team to Dwight. In that situation the ball wouldn’t even have to rotate around the arc. Dwight could just pick out which ever guy was left undefended, and deliver that guy a gift wrapped, wide open, three-point shot. There were two guys on the floor in an Orlando jersey on Wednesday that weren’t three-point shooters, Dwight Howard and Glen Davis. Coincidentally, they were also the only two Magic who played and didn’t knock one down from deep.
It seems silly to have a team that is built around one guy that stands in the key and four guys that don’t get within 25 to 30 feet of the basket. But when that one guy is Dwight Howard, and the four on the perimeter believe they have never taken a bad shot in their lives, it’s Stan Van Gundy who gets to have the last laugh.
Through three quarters, Orlando had outscored Portland 85-68, had hit 14-of-22 from three and 34-of-55 from the field (64% and 62% respectively), and held the Blazers to 43% from the field and from deep. Wednesday’s game was over. You know how I know? Luke Babbitt played 4:25 in the third, that’s how I know.
But obviously this game wasn’t over, which brings me to part two of this two-part recap. The fourth quarter. Let me preface this by saying, if you are a Blazer fan–and I mean a real Blazer fan–you have probably reached the point in your life where you know you should never leave the Rose Garden early. Not because leaving early means you’re a bad fan, I understand wanting to beat the traffic I also have a day job, but because if you leave early you will miss something amazing.
I know there is somebody somewhere in Blazer-land that bailed on Game Four of the Portland/Dallas Playoff series early in the fourth quarter. At some point, probably following years of intense psychotherapy, that person will likely even come forward and talk about the time in their life they decided to get a head start on their Saturday afternoon errands and walked out on the most amazing thing in the history of professional sports.
So the preface to this fourth quarter synopsis was a bit exaggerated, Wednesday wasn’t that afternoon in late April, but it was another exhilarating, and ultimately frustrating, Rose Garden special, the fourth quarter comeback. With 10:58 remaining on the evening, Orlando lead by 20, with 2:38 they led by three. Jamal Crawford kept Portland close through three quarters (if by close you mean still on the score-board) but in the fourth everybody got involved offensively. The Blazers’ balanced offense and a combination of Orlando missing shots for the first time and Portland stepping up their defensive effort turned Wednesday’s fourth quarter into a kind of microcosm of how this Blazer team wins games.
For the fourth quarter run, Portland’s lineup was Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jamal Crawford, and Wesley Matthews. That’s five guys that have to be defended on offense, and can play good and sustained defense. By taking advantage of miss-matches, using the pick-and-roll to a T with LaMarcus and Jamal, and finally, finally knocking down some shots, the Blazers were able to make this a game. If Portland had played the whole game the way they played the fourth quarter, they would still be undefeated at home.
As it is, Orlando plays spoiler again and ruins the Blazers’ perfect home record. I know that some fans are going to break out in a cold sweat when they think about this upcoming road trip. I’m right there with you, but only because I remember Portland’s win-less road swing early last season. But this is a different team. There are a couple of easy wins on this trip (Toronto and Detroit, less so New Orleans and Houston), and teams do get a good chance to bond on the road, something that this team needs.
Yes Wednesday was disappointing. We all knew that Portland had a run in them, but this one felt a little different. They made it early, they had a really good chance to get level, NOBODY LEFT, and a few empty possessions at the end of the fourth kept it from happening. But take heart in the fact that this team didn’t roll over. And also remember, Orlando had to have an incredible shooting night to beat the Blazers by three. Those are positives.
Portland’s first road game on this long trip is Friday in San Antonio.
Couple of quick things:
- You want to look at a nice box score? Check out Orlando’s. Nine guys played, eight guys scored (everybody but former Blazer Von Wafer who played only three minutes and got called for charging on his one drive to the hoop), seven guys reached double figures, four guys took nine shots, three guys took 11, basically every player aside from Chris Duhon and the aforementioned Wafer had the same shooting percentage (Duhon hit his only shot attempt and it was, of course, a three). Probably the most balanced box score I have ever seen. One number does stand out though: Dwight Howard 3-of-12 from the free throw line. Ouch. Portland should have really fouled him every time he even looked at the rim.
- Jamal Crawford got the monkey off his back a little bit, leading all scorers with 24. Jamal added to his best in NBA history four-point play total in the second quarter, which made it all the more frustrating when with the Blazers down four in the fourth quarter he couldn’t get a second four-point play (according to the Wikipedia entry on the four-point play, Jamal holds the record for four-pointers in the fourth quarter). All kidding aside. Jamal had a very nice game, he did play a few more minutes Wednesday than Tuesday, so that probably helped. He also knocked down a couple of shots in the first half. That definitely helped.
- On my way out of the Rose Garden tonight, Sean Meagher, Oregonlive’s Blazer blogger and consummate professional, chased me down in the parking garage. Naturally I assumed he was planning to stab me and take all my money, but instead he just had a question. “Who’s that guy,” Mr. Meagher asked. “He used to play for Cleveland with LeBron…Larry?” “Larry Hughes?” I said. “Yeah, Larry Hughes. Did you know he was on this team?” I did. And did you know that in 2004-05 Larry Hughes led the league in steals while averaging 22 points a game? Larry’s line on Wednesday: DNP. Too bad for Sean, he would have really loved to see some Larry Hughes.
- Patty Mills was in the Rose Garden for the game. He got Wesley to flash the three goggles, although I bet after the way the Blazers played with him in the stands for the first time this season he probably won’t be invited back. As far as Patty joining this team, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Somebody would have to be cut, and I just don’t think it’s in the cards. Sorry.
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