The Portland Trail Blazers’ bench got some extended run in a game that started to Portland’s advantage, and pretty much stayed that way throughout the whole game as the Blazers beat the Hawks 102-78.
The 42-19 Blazers didn’t need much out of Damian Lillard (12 points, with 4 boards and 6 assists), and needed next to nothing from LaMarcus Aldridge (1-13 shooting for 10 points, 6 boards, and 2 blocks) to rout the hapless 26-33 Hawks, relying on 44 bench points to bolster their starting lineup that saw no player score more than 14 points. When your game-high scorer comes off the bench (Mo Williams for 16 points, 4 boards, and 5 assists), AND you win by 24 points, AND you allow your starters to play fewer than 30 minutes apiece, you know you’re either clicking on all cylinders, or you’re playing a bad team.
Both were true in this contest, and while Nicolas Batum had another insane rebounding effort (18, while adding 14 points), nobody in red and black had individual stats to crow about.
Some observations: Meyers Leonard (4 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists) is learning, albeit slowly. He’s learned how not to bite on every pump fake, which is good. He’s also starting to figure out how to stay vertical on block attempts, which is also good. What’s not as good is that after he plays good face-up defense and the shot goes up, he seems unable or unwilling sometimes to box out. Focusing on the ball is good, sure, but it doesn’t mean much if your opponent streaks in from the side and grabs the ball from under your nose.
Also noteworthy is that the Blazers haven’t been able to comfortably assimilate Aldridge back into the offense, which is weird considering how he’s been the force around which the Blazers’ offense has revolved for a few years now. Lillard looks more awkward with an anchor in the paint than he did as the best player on a slash-oriented attack, but that’s to be expected. What’s more important: the Blazers play good defense and play motivated not just when they feel like it (and they clearly felt like it tonight), but every game, every quarter, every possession.
The difference between a good team and a great team is that a good team plays hard because they have to, and a great team plays hard because they want to. It’s in their bones. They feel compelled to work their asses off, for no other reason than if they don’t, it just won’t sit right with them. By that metric, the Blazers are not yet a great team.
The Blazers can test their mettle when they finally go back on the road and face the Dallas Mavericks on Friday at 5:30 p.m. PST.