Anybody can win a five-minute game — Terry Stotts
The above is the sentiment of the Blazers’ head coach when he asked why his team, after going on the very latest of late runs to beat the hot-shooting Orlando Magic 125-119 on Monday to improve to a pretty astonishing four games above .500, is so good at winning in overtime.
Maybe, since Portland is now a seriously astonishing 5-0 in games that go longer than 48 minutes, he should have said HIS team can win a five-minute game, since at this point nobody the Blazers have played in overtime have been able to pull it off.
Wesley Matthews says this team is built for overtime. Nicolas Batum thinks Portland wins in extra periods because his team is able to stay focused and stay together. Damian Lillard has shown he’s the kind of player who can struggle through most of a game and then show up when his team needs him the most. And probably most importantly, the Blazers’ major weakness (no bench) has absolutely no bearing on how Portland finishes close games.
The knock on this Portland team, even after winning a few big games, is that they have a negative scoring differential. For the layman, that means they give up more points than they score on aggregate. I don’t disagree with this being fact. What I disagree with is how important scoring differential will be to the remainder of 2012-13. Clearly, the Blazers outscore their opponents when they win, so even if their aggregate scoring differential was negative on this last road trip (a 20+ point loss against three close victories), they still came out with three wins, basically rendering the whole scoring differential moot.
Take the 1991 World Series as an example of the meaninglessness of scoring differential. Chosen by ESPN as the best World Series ever played, in this series the Atlanta Braves outscored the Minnesota Twins 31 to 24 over the course of seven games. But if somebody asked you who won the “Greatest World Series of All Time,” and you said the Atlanta Braves, you would lose any shred of sports knowledge credibility you might have once had. The scoring disparity in this World Series came from one single game, a game in which Atlanta outscored Minnesota 14-5.
If Portland continues to win close games while losing blowouts (especially if it comes at the pace of four close wins to one blowout loss) there’s no reason to think this team can’t make the Playoffs.
But the question still remains, why and how do the Blazers keep winning tight games? In my mind, if comes down to execution and luck. Two parts execution to one part luck. Monday, Portland executed on the defensive and offensive end in the game’s extra period. They got extra possessions through turnovers that became uncontested dunks, and before those uncontested dunks really turned the tide, they got the kind of looks they could convert. Portland’s first three scores in OT came on free throws by Wesley Matthews, an and-one lay-up and free throw from LaMarcus Aldridge, and a pull-up 21-footer from Damian Lillard. That’s execution.
The luck in overtime came from a nice bounce on a Lillard floater in the lane and three misses from three by J.J. Redick, who earlier in the evening couldn’t have missed the basket if somebody had paid him to.
That Portland executed so well in the extra five minutes of play Monday, may have some Blazer fans scratching their heads about how they finished the final two possessions of regulation. In one defensive possession and one offensive possession, Portland played like a team that didn’t care at all about winning their only winnable game for about the next week and a half. First with his team up three, Damian Lillard went under a high pick while trying to cover Jameer Nelson. Nelson is a dead-eye and he did what dead-eye shooters do when their man goes under a screen, he drilled a three.
On the next possession, Portland went flat with Dame going one-on-one with Nelson. Damian got a good look at a long three, but it was short, and the game went into overtime.
The Blazers’ final offensive possession sparked a mini debate on the second auxiliary press row on how exactly it should have been handled. My feelings were that time and score were probably not conducive to anything other than what Portland ran. If there were fewer ticks on the clock remaining, the Blazers could have run a play like they ran to get Nicolas Batum a quick trigger three against Cleveland or a one-bounce, high screen three like Dame had against the Hornets. The problem with having almost nine seconds on the clock and running a play for a quick shot is that make or miss, there is going to be enough time on the clock for at least one more possession. Terry Stotts said he wanted to make sure Portland had the last look, that means burning all that remains of the game clock.
The other good option on the Blazers’ last offensive possession would be a drive and dish to Nicolas Batum or LaMarcus Aldridge. Again, this set is problematic because the last thing Portland wants to do is turn the ball over. By keeping the ball in one players hands, the probability of a turnover is greatly limited.
Sure you’d rather see Damian attack the rim than settle for a step-back three, especially considering he was O-fer on the night from deep, but knowing that the worst case scenario is overtime, it makes sense to play it safe.
And considering how Portland’s played in overtime, while it makes settling for a less than perfect shot and OT not feel like settling at all.
That’s why next time Terry Stotts is asked how his team continues to win in overtime, he should respond by saying, “the 2012-13 Blazers are built to win five-minute games.”
The Blazers have two days off before they face the Heat on Thursday at the Rose Garden.
Couple quick things:
- Four of Portland’s five starters collected double-doubles Monday: J.J. Hickson (20 points, 15 rebounds), LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points, 10 rebounds), Damian Lillard (18 points, 10 assists), and Nicolas Batum (16 points, 10 assists). Wesley Matthews was the outlier, but his line wasn’t so bad: 24 points (7-of-11 from the field and 4-of-7 from three), four assists, and three rebounds.
- Ronnie Price led the Blazers’ second unit in scoring with eight. Every Blazer reserve scored (even if only one played more than 14 minutes), but Portland’s bench was still trounced 43-to-20. Almost all of Orlando’s bench scoring was done by J.J. Redick who had 29. Redick shot 11-of-17 from the field and 6-of-10 from deep. Redick and former Blazer Josh McRoberts both played more than 30 minutes off the bench. McBob logged a full 39 minutes. Imagine Portland with Orlando’s bench, and Orlando’s bench isn’t even that good.
- Standings Watch:Portland wins, the teams directly above and below them in the standings are idle. The Blazers currently sit at seventh in the West, .003 points ahead of Denver, and a full game behind Houston. If the post season began tomorrow, Portland would face the defending Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder. The Blazers host OKC this coming Sunday.