Great win tonight. Made a rookie mistake at the end. Didn’t mean any disrespect to the Bulls. Much respect for that team.
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) November 19, 2012
He’s learning. He’s learning fast, but he’s still learning. The lessons he’s learned so far are that he can play in this league, he can excel in this league, and he can lead the Blazers to victories. The lesson he learned Sunday night, veteran teams like the Chicago Bulls, short one super star and looking less and less like a serious threat to the Heat or Celtics in the East, don’t like to get beat and they don’t like it when a young guy, only 10 games into his career, doesn’t play by the unwritten rules and dribble out the clock when the game is over.
The he in that paragraph is of course Damian Lillard. And you know what I say? Let them fume and say whatever it is that Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and whoever else (I think Nate Robinson’s name was mentioned) said to Damian at half court after the buzzer, and let there be some understanding among the best basketball players in the world that the biggest sin a player can commit is to do something at the end of a lopsided win that could be construed as disrespect. At the end of the day Lillard’s actions were exactly as coach Terry Stotts described them in his post game remarks: A lot to do about nothing.
Damian, for what it’s worth, handled the situation like a pro (courtesy of the estimable Danny Nowell of Portland Roundball Society) just as he’s handled everything that’s come his way so far.
One thing that came his way Sunday, way before his dunk to set off the streamers, was the Chicago Bulls. Sunday’s wasn’t the statement win that it could have been if Portland would have hung onto the 15-point lead they established early in the third quarter, but with the Blazers’ limited resources, I would say a quality win against a quality opponent is a statement of sorts. It says that this team can put together 48 minutes of winning basketball, and it says that even when things fall apart a little and a big lead becomes a small lead all will not be surrendered.
It also says that on a given Sunday night Ronnie Price and Jared Jeffries can actually have a positive impact on a game. An unlikely statement considering that preseason Price and Jeffries were thought of as non-factor add-ons. Jeffries has already shown that in limited minutes he can affect a game’s outcome. He does that through solid defensive rotations, taking charges, taking care of the class, and sometimes scoring inside. Sunday, Jeffries proved that he doesn’t really have diminishing returns as his minutes stretch into the double digits then into the 20s. Sunday it was Jeffries playing down the stretch, not J.J. Hickson who played well but did more harm than good or Meyers Leonard who had his first night since preseason where he couldn’t stay on the foul because of fouls.
But Jared wasn’t just a space filler down the stretch. Jeffries grabbed an offensive rebound with 5:37 left in the fourth and Portland ahead by nine that led to a foul and free throws (he split the pair). Two and a half minutes later with Portland up eight, he grabbed another offensive and although Nicolas Batum was short on his three attempt on the extended possession, Wesley Matthews didn’t miss his put-back on Nic’s shot. Still further, Jeffries converted on a lay-up with 1:11 remaining to push Portland back to a double digit advantage, and then he went one of two from the line with 21 seconds to play making sure that Chicago needed at least two possessions in 20 seconds just to have a shot at overtime. Big plays and big contributions all.
Jared Jeffries is an unlikely hero, and to be honest he wasn’t really the hero Sunday, but an even unlikelier almost hero was Ronnie Price. This season Price has looked decent at best and not deserving of playing time (if only his back-up wasn’t the woefully incapable Nolan Smith) at his worst. Sunday was hands-down Ronnie’s best night. Forget the scoring (10 points to become the first Blazer sub of the season to reach double figures in scoring), forget the five assists, and forget the 20 minutes of solid defense with only one foul (remember a few games ago he picked up six personals in about 15 minutes), if Ronnie Price can play 20 minutes without leading Portland into a scoring sink-hole and if he can achieve anywhere near his +18 on close to a regular basis, there is hope that Damian Lillard can finish this season without his wheels falling off completely.
The purpose of a back-up is two-fold. Their first duty is to come into a game and limit the drop-off. Their second duty is to play effectively enough so the man they are coming in for can get some rest. Unfortunately the second part of the job, the giving of rest to a player of higher value, can not be done without the first part. A back-up who allows for too steep of a drop-off cannot be trusted with enough minutes to effectively rest their starter counter-part. I would say up to this point, Ronnie Price, using my aforementioned statement of purpose as a guide, has been an ineffective back-up. Tonight, as evidenced by the combined +18 and the season-low (by about 30 seconds) 32:15 minutes played for Damian Lillard, Ronnie Price did his job. Hopefully he can do it again in Portland’s next game.
The story that will be told about Sunday’s win will be that Portland played well enough to win despite playing bad enough to lose at the end of the the third and fourth quarters. In a sense, that’s true. There’s another story here too, though. Sunday the Blazers found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They were playing with a lead that was flirting with blowout territory and they were getting tangible contributions from a bench that for a few moments was starting to look like that great white buffalo call “A ROTATION.”
A young team on new ground can make mistakes. Those mistakes were made, and a veteran team such as the Bulls capitalized on them. Portland had the fortitude, and a big enough lead, to hold off the charge. Coach Stotts said after the game that Portland will be addressing and probably working on closing out games. What he didn’t have to say though, was that in time, when this Blazer team is 10 games older and has likely seen a few more late-game leads, those kind of mistakes, both the kind that turn an 11-point lead to a six-point lead in the span of three minutes and those that draw the ire of a “no nonsense never do anything to upset or disrespect an opponent” player such as Joakim Noah, will cease to be an issue.
Portland travels to Phoenix to meet the Suns on Wednesday.
Couple of quick things:
- During the post-game locker room session Will Barton (who had a nice nine minute stretch in which coach Stotts admitted he had no idea what was going to happen when Will had the ball) and Eliot Williams (who is out for the year and will be a free agent at the end of the season) got in a argument over who was better Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. Actually, the argument was about whether or not Kobe has fallen off, as Barton claimed people were saying. Will Barton was born in 1991. Eliot Williams was born in 1989. Jordan won his last title in 1998. You can understand that two guys might be wrong about who was better considering that they were infants when Jordan took over the NBA in the early 90s.
- Also Sunday’s post-game locker room session seemed to include almost no press for LaMarcus Aldridge. LA finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds in a very solid performance against the defensive minded Joakim Noah. However, the attention was being paid to Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews who co-lead the game in scoring with 21 apiece and Damian Lillard who is becoming the go-to guy media-wise. LA is a good quote, but he is known to be a little gun-shy with the local press corps. I’m sure he appreciates not having to be the center of attention all the time.
And as a post-script:
On a more somber note, Jason Quick dropped this tweet only a few minutes after Portland’s game ended:
Brandon Roy will not make triumphant return to Rose Garden on Friday with Timberwolves: He will have right knee surgery this week.
— Jason Quick (@jwquick) November 19, 2012
It speaks for itself really. I know a lot of Blazer fans were looking forward to giving Brandon the welcome home that he deserved. They’ll still get to give it to him, but it won’t be this coming Friday. My guess is he’ll be retired again before the All-Star Break. The good thing about Brandon retiring for good this time is that when we do get to honor him in the Rose Garden it will be as a civilian and not as a member of the opposing team. Here’s a piece from the Classical that ran when Brandon retired the first time.