Silence, skeptics! “Are the Blazers for real?” Hell yes, they’re for real.
The Blazers out-hustled and outwitted the NBA-best Indiana Pacers for a 106-102 victory that was one of the best in recent memory. The win kept the Blazers atop the Western Conference at 15-3, and handed the Pacers just their second loss of the season.
By the third quarter, it was one of those games where you thought, “this could be a classic.” The Blazers were down most of the way. Trying to gain ground felt like running through quicksand, uphill, into the wind. While that’s not the first time I’ve used that analogy, it’s exactly what it felt like.
It should be said that, from the outset, the Blazers were determined to win the game. They wanted to. The whole time. Save for some brief lapses, the Blazers put on a 48-minute performance, and it was glorious.
The played from behind nearly the whole game, but even early on, you had the feeling that if they could just put their offense together and go on a run, they might be able to play good enough defense to keep the door shut.
When the Blazers went on a run in the third that woke up the crowd and got them believing Portland could win, it was almost akin to prophecy being fulfilled. “Of course this is happening,” one thought. “It’s the Blazers.” And the Blazers just make these insane stops and these insane runs right when they need to. It makes you forget their bad habits and appreciate just how GOOD they can be and how well they work together.
The Blazers slowly and methodically built a lead in the fourth, some of it with their bench in the game near the top of the quarter. Both teams’ best players were rested for the final battle that was the last six minutes of the game.
With the Blazers up 6 with 6 minutes left and the ball, they squandered an opportunity to score, but Wesley Matthews drew the 6th foul on Lance Stephenson (more on Matthews’ defense in a minute).
On offense, the Blazers kept feeding Aldridge, who kept driving to the basket, and kept drawing fouls; making the free throws. In this manner, the Blazers went up 6 with 2:30 left when Paul George drilled a three over Matthews (who had been switched onto George after Batum’s 5th foul) to pull the Pacers within 2, but Lillard’s icewater three put the Blazers back up 5.
Then Paul George missed a three, the Blazers failed to capitalize, but defended well enough to force a Pacers timeout with less than a minute left. The Blazers held, Batum was fouled, and he hit both with to put the Blazers up 7 and about to win…
…until Paul George drilled another three. The Pacers then stole the inbound pass, and George got yet another look at a three.
A make would have pulled the Pacers to within one.
It rimmed out instead, and Lillard found his way to the charity stripe for two more free throws… but George hit yet another three (his 5th in the last three minutes). Just a phenomenal game from Paul George, who had a career-high 43 points, by the way. Luckily, Batum hit one of two at the other end, and the Blazers held on to win by 4. Amazing stuff.
First thing’s first: The Blazers defense. I don’t know how many bugs bit them to wake themselves up, but boy, what a difference a day makes. The Blazers were going full speed on defense, tracking their assignments as well as they’ve been tracking the ball on offense, and made life miserable for the Pacers at almost every juncture. Sure, there were lapses, and sure Paul George got his, but it was a very solid effort not only to make the run that got them their first lead in the third quarter, but to withstand Indiana runs and keep the game within 7 instead of letting them get 15+ points ahead. Those efforts are lesser known, but more important.
The energy and effort were incredible. It felt like a postseason game. I guess having two of the NBA’s best teams facing each other will do that. The Blazers deserve a whole, whole lot of credit for stepping up to the plate and refusing to be intimidated by a very handsy, aggressive Indiana team, and also for pushing the tempo in the face of the Pacers wanting to slow things down. As Lillard said during the post-game interview, the Blazers “wanted to speed up the game,” and they did just that when they needed to.
LaMarcus Aldridge is the team’s anchor, and he has been pretty much all year. He makes everyone else’s life easier. One move in particular (spinning to the middle and diving straight toward the basket) is getting him foul calls and making his own life easier, too. Shooters can rely on free throws to get warm or stay hot, and Aldridge feeds off getting to the line. Good to see him looking for it more and more. He finished with 28 points, 10 boards, 3 assists, and a block. Typical, impressive LaMarcus.
Damian Lillard also played extremely well, despite his shot not falling. Once he gets his shooting back… it’s going to get crazy. He finished with 26 and 6 with 3 assists and 2 blocks (!!!). He played hard all night. Kudos to him. He also shot 10-10 from the line, and was looking to drive often. He hasn’t been getting a ton of fouls called when he drives, but he hasn’t stopped trying, and tonight it seemed more or less fair. One wonders if that’s a coincidence, or if at some point you will get respect for being a guy who drives and tries to get contact.
Nicolas Batum was quiet, but his three pointer before the half had a (positive) jarring effect for the Blazers, and helped not only to get them within 1 at the half, but to give them the notion that they could hit some shots if they put their mind to it. That confidence is evident in how one moves, how one handles themselves with the ball and without, and can be the difference between the other team feeling good enough to try something they wouldn’t normally try. He also drew important fouls near the end of the game and made all four free throws. A solid if, underwhelming 8, 5, and 3 from Batum.
Wesley Matthews “only” made 1 of 3 from deep and “only” had 15 points. But when the Blazers asked him to stop Paul George at the end of the game, he did everything humanely possible to do it. One sequence with 1:50 left saw Matthews playing him so close that George was stuck and both men fell to the ground. Matthews then denied an easy pass and George got it with just 4 seconds left, and Matthews was stuck to him as he rose up for the three. You couldn’t have asked for better defense. And yet the shot went in and put the Pacers down just 2. Sometimes, great players make great plays.
Robin Lopez played as hard as he could and collected 8 points and 7 boards. He had one very nice play where he sealed off Hibbert to allow Matthews to get an uncontested layin (a heads-up defensive play that J.J. Hickson would probably never make). The Blazers are lucky to have Lopez, though a little practice setting proper screens wouldn’t hurt.
Joel Freeland also worked very hard, and he even successfully denied Roy Hibbert the ball by fronting him, an effort I thought was so spectacular and unexpected that I scribbled it in all caps in my notes. Freeland also got the dunk on the other end that got the crowd truly and fully engaged in the third quarter. He had just 2 points and 4 boards, but had the highest +/- on the Blazers with a +12. A great game for him.
Mo Williams had a measured and effective game. He was feeling it, but never really got to take advantage of his shot as he could have, instead opting (wisely) to play within the Blazers’ system and do what needed to be done to get the win. He had 13 points on 6-12 shooting, with 6 of them coming early in the pivotal fourth quarter.
The Blazers won despite shooting just 5-13 from three, their lowest number of attempts this season. They also only lost the points in the paint battle 26-30, stayed close in rebounding 40-42, and had just 14 turnovers to the Pacers’ 15. Of equal importance, the Blazers forced the Pacers to just 37% shooting in fourth quarter. This was after three quarters of 47, 45, 50 percent shooting, respectively. Very good, all things considered.
The Blazers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday, Dec. 4th in the RoseModa GardenCenter at 7:00 p.m.
And remember, for the best deals on Portland Trail Blazers tickets all season long, visit TiqIQ.com.