The Blazers put forth a valiant effort on the back of LaMarcus Aldridge, but lost steam in the 4th quarter when LA exited the game to rest his injured ankle. The L-Train made sure to leave his mark on the matchup with a monster 3-quarter performance in his return to action. In just 32 minutes LA posted 30 points and 21 rebounds, two rebounds shy of his career high. Unfortunately, the Warriors were simply too much. League leader in double-doubles, David Lee, post his 56th of the season en route to a Golden State victory.
This game was a bit of an oddity in that four separate 3 point records were finalized between two different players on the same court. With his 272nd 3 pointer of the year, Stephen Curry surpassed Ray Allen for the single-season NBA 3 point record by 3 treys and established a new high for the Warrior franchise. With his 185th 3 pointer of the year, Damian Lillard extended his growing legacy as the Rookie 3PT record holder and Portland’s all-time single-season 3 point leader. You don’t see that every day, every year, or even every decade.
There were certainly some bright sides in the finale of Portland’s gloomy losing streak. Most notably, there was actually ball movement! I’m not talking about swinging the ball for 24 seconds; I’m talking about finding the cutter, making smart kick-outs, and pushing it through the pocket. I distinctly recall Claver finding Leonard for an 8 footer instead of hoisting up an ill-advised 3. What?! Since when have the rookies made those connections? Since they have had the minutes (albeit hard to watch at times) to develop into a functioning basketball team. The injuries to Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge may have meant our present demise, but it gave us a head start on our future success.
Which brings me to one Blazer in particular who has shined in the darkness. No, not Damian Lillard; a dimmer light, just starting to glow. Will Barton genuinely stepped up in Portland’s time of need. He brings pocket picking to a trampled defense and the drive to a stagnant offense. His shot isn’t stellar, but it will develop in time and he’s great at the rim. A guard that can finish a lob opens up offensive options missing for many NBA teams, and will definitely be important to the Blazers down the line. In 4 starts for Portland, he averaged nearly 17 points and 7 rebounds.
So think on that for a second. The Blazers needs depth and they need it for cheap. Barton’s contract is pennies to Portland, but we’ve found a solid reserve 2 guard in him. In fact, if we wished to execute a sign and trade involving Wesley Matthews this off-season for a big name, we could probably get by with Barton starting in his stead. But that is a tale for another time, whether a good idea or not.
In actuality, the whole team did well tonight. Hickson even sacrificed minutes for Freeland, who played a far better game than his stat-line would indicate. I’m not sure what the future holds for our resident Brit, but he showed glimpses of value tonight. Predictably, Damian Lillard had his 41st game with 20+ points, demonstrating his ascendency as soon-to-be-rookie of the year. It’s amazing that we can be so un-amazed by this. Of course, I mean that respectfully. We have grown so accustomed to the Damian’s brilliance when we had no right to expect it just 6 months ago.
This may not have been the ideal way to end the year, but I’m even more excited for the off-season. The Blazers are ready to branch out under the management of Neil Olshey and the recruitment of Damian Lillard. Who knows where we’ll be for the next 82? Despite the ‘Frail’ Blazer flashbacks, we’re just getting started.
Portland: (PF) LaMarcus Aldridge – 30 Pts, 21 Reb, 1 Ast, 3 Blk
Golden State: (PF) David Lee – 20 Pts, 10 Reb, 1 Ast, 3 Stl
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