Thankfully, the Blazers came to play (for most of the game at least) and took Denver’s crowd out of the game until the fourth quarter to power past the Nuggets 113-98, winning in the mile high city for the first time since 2007’s amazing 13-game winning streak.
Summary: Energy, energy, energy, then… bupkis, before waking up just in time. The Blazers had it, perhaps not every player all at once, but it was consistently decent and was overwhelming in spurts. Where was this last game in Phoenix? We may never know. The Blazers built an insurmountable 26-point lead, then, inexplicably, every player in black and red went cold at the same time. Denver finally gave the crowd a reason to wake up, bullying and intimidating the Blazers to get within 8 before the Portland wrapped it up at long last.
Racap: The urgency that was so obviously lacking in Phoenix came back with fury. Even though the Blazers played a back-and-forth game through most of the first half, they looked different in the best possible way. Lillard cracked it open a bit with 8 points and an assist in just a little over a minute to push the lead to 13 midway through the second, and Portland led by 14 at the half. The Blazers blew it wide open when Matthews went insane in the third. More on that shortly. The Blazers led by as many as 26, and finished the third up 20 after weathering a spirited Denver run which continued into the fourth. Denver cut it to 7 (yes, 7!) midway through the final quarter before a calming three by Wes Matthews mercifully restored order and the Blazers closed it out on a flurry of LaMarcus Aldridge jumpers.
The Good: There’s plenty to go around, so lets use bullet points:
- Wesley Matthews, and his third quarter in particular. RIGHT when the Blazers were letting the Nuggets back into the game, Matthews decides to nail 3 threes and a tough contested drive to pour in 12 points in just 58 seconds and push the Blazers lead to 21. After an atrocious preseason and first regular season game, this must have been pure heaven for Wes Money. He had the Blazers’ only double-double with 21 points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
- Aldridge played very hard, sacrificing his body throughout and hitting the ground hard a few times in the first half. When your leader is putting himself out there, it makes it much easier for everyone else to follow suit. He’s also noticeably more aggressive than he’s been in recent memory: even little things like slapping down hard on rebounds give him an intimidation factor he’s not known for. Most importantly, Aldridge provided a bucketful of jumpers (four, to be exact) and scored 8 straight Blazer points to contain Denver late in the fourth. He ended with 25 points, 12 boards, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
- Batum’s first half. He scored the Blazers’ first 10 points of the game and finished with 21 at halftime. He didn’t do it all night, but he set the tone for the rest of the team early on.
- Damian Lillard continues to show that he has a switch that he can turn on at will. It’s going to be scary for Blazer opponents if Lillard decides he wants to control an entire game rather than minutes at a time. He finished with 18 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds.
Intangibles: Joel Freeland. It’s clear why Stotts picked him over Meyers Leonard: he wasn’t always spectacular, but more often than not he knows where to be, and he knows how to extend possessions by getting position for offensive boards. He finished with 4 of them on the night (some of those leading to assists on kick-outs to the perimeter), 7 rebounds total, 5 points, and 3 assists. Nice work, Joel. Thomas Robinson also provided some crucial rebounds early in the fourth when Denver was threatening.
The Bad: The Blazers’ 26-point lead petered down to 7 and gave Blazer fans everywhere a bad scare. They just can’t allow that to happen. Basketball is a game of runs, yes, but when you’re up nearly 30 there’s no excuse to let your opponent back into the game. Also… Paging Mr. Lopez… Mr. Lopez, are you there..? Mr. Lopez..? Robin provided a healthier presence than last game (2 blocks and a handful of altered shots), but finished with just 2 points and 5 rebounds. The Blazers didn’t need him tonight, but it would really help in those games when you can’t get a 26-point lead.
The Frustrating: Mo Williams’ third quarter. Outside of a layup, the shots he took looked terrible, were poorly timed, and didn’t come within the flow of the offense. It doesn’t matter that he made some of them: Portland’s sputtering offense that allowed Denver to start a run rests heavily with him. He’s got to reign it in and realize that just his being on the floor as a threat is useful for the team. He doesn’t have to jack it up every time he touches the ball.
The Puzzling: Where did Batum go after the first half? We all know his consistency fluctuates, but this was ridiculous. Every one of his 21 points came in the first two quarters.
A road win? We’ll take it. The 1-1 Blazers play tomorrow in Portland against the Spurs at 7pm PST.