The Blazers played a mostly boring game, racking up double-digit leads about as easily as can be expected, only to inject some excitement by blowing everything and allowing Denver back into it. However, Portland executed when they needed to, and managed the 100-95 win in a game that was much, much closer than it should have been.
The Blazers really do like to make things hard on themselves, don’t they?
Sure, they were on the road, and yes, the Blazers are missing their best player and their best bench big (…and Meyers Leonard), but Denver is Denver, losers of 8 of their last 10 and also missing a chunk of their team themselves. This should have been a blowout.
At times, it looked like one. There was a sequence in the third where Damian Lillard (31-7-9 with a steal and a block) hit a three, then hit another more wide open than a barn door, then got a free throw, and THEN Nicolas Batum (16-6-3 with 2 blocks) drove and Denver got a tech. Just like that, the Blazers found themselves up by 18 in very short order. A 40-point win didn’t look completely out of the realm of possibility.
However, willed by forces unknown, Denver refused to roll over and die, and they rebounded their way through poor shooting to close within 13 going into the fourth.
The Blazers, thinking their night was all but over, didn’t take the threat seriously, even when the lead got into single digits. “No problem,” they must have thought, “when they get close enough to threaten we’ll just hit a few threes and walk away.”
But that’s really not how the NBA works. As Terry Stotts said during the pregame interview, even a team without upper echelon talent can buckle up and play with more intensity than their opponent and steal games.
By the time the Blazers lead was down to just 2 points with 4 minutes to go, Denver was more than just threatening, and Lillard knew it, taking it upon himself to drive and draw the foul. Wes Matthews (11 points on 2-14 shooting) did the same, in kind, but Kenneth Faried responded with two baskets of his own.
The seal didn’t come when Lillard hit a three, nor when Matthews stuck a pair of free throws. It came when young Batum found himself open on the left corner after a series of crisp passes and, without hesitation, let one fly from deep.
Splash. Game over.
Through it all, Robin Lopez had a career-high 7 blocks tonight to compliment his 12 points and 10 rebounds. It was an absolute necessity, seeing as the Blazers had no other bigs for most of the game. More on that in a second, but suffice to say that the Blazers wouldn’t have won without RoLo… and haven’t we been thinking that a lot lately?
The Blazers fly home to play the Brooklyn Nets tomorrow in Portland at 7:00 p.m. where, I hear, Robin Lopez pint glasses will be handed out to all in attendance.
Thomas Robinson’s knee flared out at a weird angle on a dunk in the first half, and he came back favoring it. He went out of the game, and after the half was wearing a stabilizing brace. His play seemed somewhat diminished after that, but at least he was playing.
Again: Robin Lopez had a career-high 7 blocks. Amazing. With no LMA, no Freeland, no Leonard, and no Robinson much of the game, every single one of those were needed.
The Blazers dared to put Mo Williams (14 points), Will Barton, CJ McCollum, Victor Claver, and Robinson on the floor at the same time. The result was predictably bad.
To that end, any lineup without Lillard on the floor stalled tonight. Batum was being particularly passive when he should have been the best player on the team. However, Batum did have the ice-cold three to seal it at the end, so give credit where it’s due.
Lillard gave the post-game interview, and called out Robin Lopez for being the guy who saves Portland’s perimeter players when they fail on the defensive assignments. Very, very true. Anyone wondering why Hickson was allowed a career-high 25 rebounds need not go further than the fact that, as Robin is scrambling to cover blown assignments, there were no other big bodies to seal or rotate over to get in position.
Lopez got shoved and held a few times… he complained on the way back down the floor a few times, then finally got the call near the end of the 2nd quarter, resulting in an and-one. That’s the smart way to work the refs: politely, yet insistently.
Lillard is doing two things more than ever: finishing at the rim with contact, and trying to throw down dunks in traffic. He had two big dunk attempts in the first half.