The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Golden State Warriors to round out their preseason with a 5 game winning streak. Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 21 points, followed closely by LaMarcus Aldridge with 16. On Monday, I stated that “I am beginning to suspect that [Lillard] will continue to lead the Blazers when Aldridge returns.” If last night was any indication, this could be true, since Damian Lillard scored 5 more points than Aldridge in 5 fewer minutes of play.
Beyond Lillard’s performance, let’s look at why the Trail Blazers were so successful last night. The final score was 90-74 Blazers, yet the Warriors made more field goals. Portland shot 30-83 and Golden State shot 32-97. The Warriors may have made more buckets, but the Blazers kept them missing most of them all night. Going into the game, the Trail Blazers were 2nd in opponent field goal percentage during preseason. Their defense has drastically improved since coming in 29th in the regular season last year.
That’s part of why Portland was able to keep up with Golden State while not shooting particularly well, themselves (36.1%). The other part is free throws. The Blazers played with unequaled aggression and were able to attempt 28 free throws as a team, making 24. It was the best team showing in that regard all preseason, which has been otherwise filled with struggles from the line.
The Warriors, in comparison, attempted only 12 free throws, making 8. For those of you counting at home, that 16 point deficit is equal to the overall difference on the scoreboard. The Blazers made three times as many free throws, but, more than that, committed only 15 personal fouls to the Warriors’ 26. Portland’s defense functioned spectacularly while attacking on offense paid dividends on the other side of the floor.
When I look at the Blazers, I no longer see a broken team. I see one that knows when to push, knows when to hold, and knows how to play as a unit. The ineptitude of last year’s bench and the inexperience of last year’s rookies are, for the most part, problems of the past. Most importantly, the Blazers have gotten smarter. If they continue to play with the same controlled urgency on offense and steady effort on defense, the Portland Trail Blazers will be a playoff team.