Last night in the world of sports New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees went a whole game without throwing a touchdown pass for the first time in 54 NFL games. One state over, a San Antonio Spurs team that started Patty Mills, Nando De Colo, Tiago Splitter, and Matt Bonner were one Ray Allen three-pointer from beating the defending NBA Champion Heat in Miami.
Why is this important in the context of Portland’s fourth match-up on this death march of an East Coast road trip, a soul breaker in the making against the Celtics in Boston? Here’s why: Any NFL expert would say, regardless of the outcome, Drew Brees would have thrown at least one touchdown pass on Thursday in Atlanta. Any NBA expert would say minus four major players (not including Steven Jackson and Kawhi Leonard) the Spurs would get run off Miami’s home court. However, these games still had to be played. The outcomes are unknown. The game won’t be decided by stats on paper, it will be decided by players on the court (or on the turf in the case of Drew Brees). Nothing in sports is predetermined, no matter how likely a potential outcome is.
That’s the mentality the Blazers have to take into Friday’s game. Boston isn’t in the top three of Eastern Conference teams. Without Rajon Rondo (out Friday to serve the first of a two-game suspension for protecting Kanye West’s honor with a two-handed shove to the mid section of Kris Humphries in the first Boston/Brooklyn throw down of the season) the Celtics are short probably their central cog. That being said, Boston is a much better, much deeper, and much more experienced team than Portland. Add that to the fact that the Blazers never ever play well in the Boston Garden, and smart money says this game will be over after the first 12 minutes.
But Friday’s game will be 48 minutes long, for better or worse. If Portland can stay connected and can stay competitive for 48 minutes, who knows what’s possible. Considering the Blazers can’t fall that much further following their most recent loss, and considering that nobody on earth expects Portland to compete in this one at all, playing like they have nothing to lose could very well turn this game in the Blazers’ favor. Who knows what that means for its ultimate outcome though.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Celtics Starting 5: PG Leandro Barbosa, SG Courtney Lee, SF Paul Pierce, PF Brandon Bass, C Kevin Garnett
What can we say about these match-ups? Portland might have an advantage at the point guard with Rondo out. Wesley Matthews versus Courtney Lee could be interesting if Wesley can find his stroke, although Lee is a pretty good on the ball defender. Paul Pierce will very likely get Nicolas Batum into foul trouble because that’s what he does. And any advantage LaMarcus gets over Brandon Bass will be rendered completely null and void every time KG skins J.J. Hickson.
To stay close in this game and give themselves a chance, Portland can’t shoot 40% from the field or less. To achieve that number, they can either not miss a lot of shots, they can take better shots, or they can find a way to get to the free throw line. The Blazers have been varying degrees of bad from the field in each of their last three losses. Maybe that means that Friday will be a night when they make shots. That would be nice. Wesley Matthews has to make up for his 1-of-8 from three. Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum have also not been super great. If those three can get on track, anything is possible.
The really unfortunate thing about Friday is that Portland’s bench is going to have to face Boston’s bench. The Celtics don’t have the best bench in the league, but Jason Terry is going to torch the Blazer’s second unit, of that you can be assured. Jared Sullinger and Chris Wilcox aren’t amazing, but Portland will have to play Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard a lot of minutes to combat Boston’s front court depth. Freeland needs to have a big game at some point to restore his confidence. Meyers, as always, has potential. A rookie’s first big game usually doesn’t happen in Boston. A young player’s potential is usually shot down, not realized, against an elite team. If the Blazers’ bench can get to double digits in scoring, and if they can keep the Celtics’ second unit from outscoring them by 30…Portland probably still loses.
What to Watch For
- Can Damian Lillard take advantage of the fact that Leandro Barbosa doesn’t really play defense. Rajon Rando versus Damian Lillard would have been a pretty good match-up. There’s a pretty good chance Rando would have made it his personal business to make Damian look like a rookie. He would have done it with defense. Barbosa isn’t nearly the defender Rando is. Barbosa will try to beat Damian by out scoring him. I want to see Damian get some easy looks Friday, but I want him to do it by shooting in the lane. Dame has yet to get any calls going to the hoop, it’s unlikely that he’ll start getting calls in Boston (although not going directly at Rondo will help because rookies never ever get calls against All Stars). Damian can get by basically anybody, but he hasn’t really shown he can finish at the rim. However, his mid range jumper is maybe better than his deep shot, and his floater from the front and sides of the rim is also money. That’s where he can help shoot himself out of his tiny slump.
- Will Nicolas Batum show up. This might end up being a question we ask prior to every game. Hopefully that won’t be the case all season, but right now, how well Portland plays hinges on whether or not Nic is engaged from the tip.
- Can Portland keep this thing from getting totally out of hand. Boston isn’t a high scoring, super powered offense like the Miami Heat, but they are coming off a bad loss to the new big boys of the Eastern Conference and their coach did just call his whole team soft. This could be a trap game for the Celtics. More likely, it could be a get-right game for the home team. They’re going to try and come out and snuff out the Blazers in the first quarter. If Portland can withstand that first push…you know what I’m going say.
Looks like Jason Terry will start at shooting guard, and Courtney Lee will move over to take Rajon Rondo’s place. This roster change demolishes most of my preview. Such is life. If you want, replace Jason Terry with every mention of Leandro Barbosa and vice versa. It won’t make much sense, but then again re-writing a whole preview 15 minutes prior to tip for a game that will probably be very one-sided and a lot of Blazer fans probably won’t watch anyway also doesn’t make much sense.