The game of basketball is strange, to say the least. Thursday the Blazers got a huge win 92-90 over the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat. That in and of itself is strange. But you take a look at the final stats and the play-by-play breakdown of Thursday’s game, and it doesn’t get any less strange.
Take for instance the fact that nobody on Portland’s bench played more than 11 minutes and four of the Blazers’ five starters played at least 40 minutes. Or how about the fact that Portland shot 38% from the field (30-of-80), 33% from the three-point line (9-of-27), and 77% from the free throw line (23-of-30). Or better yet the fact that Miami shot 46% from the field (35-of-77).
That the Blazers beat the best team in the Eastern Conference while being out-shot is a miracle. That all of Portland’s starters survived a very physical game against a defensive minded stalwart long enough to get enough stops to tie the game, then hit a three to get the lead, and then hold that lead through the game’s final possession is basically beyond miraculous.
But for my money, the very oddest thing about Thursday’s game is this: the final box score counted four lead changes, and three of those came in the first quarter. On Thursday, Portland lead 2-0, 4-2, 10-8, 12-8, and 12-10 all before the 5:46 mark of the game’s first period. Miami grabbed the lead at 14-12 on a driving lay-up by Dwyane Wade with 4:35 left in the first, and the literally would not give it up for the rest of the game.
The Blazers’ would not reclaim the lead until a step-back 24-foot three-pointer from Wesley Matthews made it 91-90 in favor of the home team. This bucket came with 26.9 seconds remaining in the game, meaning that over the course of a 48-minute contest, the winning team lead for a few minutes at the game’s outset, and for two possessions at it’s end.
There’s no doubt that Portland fans and the Blazers themselves will be against calling what happened on Thursday “stealing a win,” but I can think of nothing better the call it. And you know what, I can see absolutely nothing wrong with that. Beating the best teams in the league is tough, if it weren’t tough those teams wouldn’t be the best teams in the league. Portland had no business beating Miami. They certainly had no business coming back on them like they did. But they did it anyway. They made the comeback. They got the stops when they needed them. They got the buckets when they needed them. And they made just enough free throws in the fourth quarter to stay connected enough so that they could win on a crazy, step-back three from a bad angle with no time left on the shot clock.
And unfortunately, that’s it. Thursday was a great win, stolen or not, but it was only one win, and worst of all it was the kind of win that is both not replicable, it is the kind of win these Blazers should try very hard to not replicate ever. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Damian Lillard can’t play 40-plus minutes a night, not if they want to finish a season with anything left in the tank for the Playoffs (I’m talking about some future season). Portland can’t continue to get absolutely nothing for their second unit (Thursday Miami’s bench outscored Portland’s 26-8). And the Blazers can’t continue to rely on lucky breaks and lucky bounces to win close game.
There are serious issues with the sustainability of this team. Thursday’s win spoke to those issues. At least addressing them in a win is better than addressing them in a loss. That the win came at the expense of the reigning best team in the league makes it that much more important.
I know that maybe it sounds like I’m taking some of the joy out of the best night of the Blazers’ 2012-13 season, but that’s not really my intention. Thursday night was great. I’ve been in the Rose Garden for some crazy games, and Thursday’s was up there with the very best of them. I’ say that my attitude right now is cautious optimism. Being cautiously optimistic about the rest of this season is how I suggest other Blazer fans also proceed. Beating three of the top teams in the league (the Knicks, the Grizzlies, and the Heat) is nothing to scoff at, but it also doesn’t this team has accomplished anything. At any moment the bottom could fall out. We need to be prepared for that possibility.
Let me break it down for you like this. I have a friend who played college tennis at University of Portland and then spent some time coaching tennis with elite level high school kids. Part of this coaching included showing his charges video of professional tennis players from which to watch and learn the best techniques etc. He told me once, when we were talking about tennis, that he never ever showed his players video of Roger Federer. Why not show young players video of the very best tennis player of all time? Because Rodger Federer doesn’t do anything wrong. He’s too good to learn anything from.
My point here is this. Thursday was a fantastic game. It was great for Blazer fans, it was a huge confidence booster for a young team that thinks they belong in the Playoffs, and it’s the kind of thing we’ll all remember for awhile. But like Roger Federer is too good to learn from, Thursday’s game is such an outlier, such a unique occurrence that there really isn’t much to do with it.
Besides celebrate of course.
Portland travels to Oakland to play the Golden State Warriors on Friday. Golden State is the fastest rising team in the Western Conference. The Blazers never play well at Oracle, but in reality it matters very little considering how this Heat game ended.
Just two quick things:
- J.J. Hickson struggled on Thursday. He got stopped at the rim more often than not, had a couple very bad turnovers, and continued to show he has no idea how to throw the ball out after an offensive rebound. I like J.J. More accurately, I like the way he’s playing right now. That being said, it will be beneficial in the short-term of this season and in the long-term of his career for J.J. to play just a little smarter, there’s no doubt he can’t play any harder.
- Standings Watch: Portland at seven is back to fractions of a point ahead of Denver at eight and half a game behind Houston at six.